Rob Ford’s strange comedy has become a story about how Toronto is changing .. and maybe Canada too?

Nov 8th, 2013 | By | Category: In Brief

Visibly upset federal Finance Minister and longtime Ford family friend Jim Flaherty choked up when asked about Mayor Rob Ford's current dilemma.

The English actor Patrick Stewart on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show last night made the telling point that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is some new kind of comedian. (At least that’s what I took him to say.) In a similar spirit I’d give a prize to Stephen Lautens’s tweet : “It’s easy – just tell Rob Ford he already resigned as mayor in a drunken stupor and refuse to show him the video.”

Locally, getting Mayor Ford out of the mayor’s office – for a while at least – seems to be what many regard as the first step towards less comedy and more traditional Toronto common sense at city hall. Yet the one thing that may be keeping the mayor together is his determination to remain in office, and continue doing what he was elected to do. (Which is what, you may reasonably ask, as your property tax bill in fact keeps rising?  See below.)

One sign of the growing frustration is an uncharacteristic overtly political plea in this week’s issue of Inside Queen’s Park – still the best-by-far newsletter on government and politics in Canada’s most populous province of Ontario, of which Toronto is the capital city.

Here is the strategic part : “IQP considers that we cannot subject Toronto and the province to any more of the damaging delay and discord inflicted by Rob Ford. (The preceding sentence was written in the late morning of November 7 , before the release of the Toronto Star’s purchased video with the mayor practicing his death-threats.) …  Enough! We can’t allow this circus to go any further. Send out the clown … The Province simply must act.”

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Mayor Ford (centre), with Toronto gay activist Jane Farrow (left) and then “openly gay provincial cabinet minister” and now Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (right). May 2011.

The Province of Ontario does appear to be the only power point with the constitutional authority to remove a terminally unwilling Mayor Ford from office. (Municipalities under Canadian constitutional law are mere “creatures of the province,” etc, etc.) Yet even or especially Ontario’s excellent openly gay Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne – with only a rocky minority government at Queen’s Park herself – may be reluctant to act for her own good narrow political reasons.

Those whose main objective is to ensure the defeat of Mayor Ford in next fall’s election may also want to take special note of the latest weird Forum Research poll : “Rob Ford could win 2014 mayoral race if he goes to rehab: poll.” You can click on the link here for the details. Generally, it seems that if dear Robbie takes “time off from the mayor’s office” to deal “with personal issues” and “emerges clean and sober,” he could beat even the previously favoured Olivia Chow, in a race that includes Karen Stintz and John Tory. If he sticks to his current determination to remain in office, hell or high water, he’ll at least be toast next October. So …

As a “mildly populist” happy-warrior native son of the almost ancient city of churches on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario, now alas in my late 60s, the only real thing that seems clear to me at the moment is how Rob Ford’s strange comedy act ultimately illuminates the changing nature of Toronto. And I was pleased, even relieved, to see a piece by the much younger Toronto novelist and Esquire columnist Stephen Marche, in this past Tuesday’s New York Times : “Toronto’s Hot Mess … What Mayor Rob Ford Knows About Toronto.”

Some key strategic sentences here include: “Mr. Ford is a populist, no doubt, but his popularity is real. He captures, better than anyone, the deep currents of outsider rage against the city’s institutions …  The values of the old elites also survive. It may be one of the most multicultural cities in the world, with over half of its residents born in another country, but Toronto retains a strong legacy of the British Empire.” And, like it or not, in some important ways, Toronto today “is the city of Rob Ford now, an expanding hot mess, fueled by dark secrets, inarticulate desires and inchoate fury. Overcoming nearly 200 years of sensible decisions and ingrained humility, Toronto is starting to get interesting. It has become a city making a spectacle of itself.”

Watching the current Senate expense scandal in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa – and the coterminous “political strategy behind Quebec’s values charter” – may even suggest that it is not just Toronto that is starting to get interesting. It is all of Canada’s vast home and native geography, “from coast to coast to coast.”

And who knows? Maybe that is what Rob Ford was really elected to do in the first place. He may have thought he was just ending the local public sector gravy train. But he has actually started to end something else altogether? And halleluiah for that! (“Et le conseil du nouveau maire de Montréal à son homologue torontois ? « Essayer le Coke diète », s’est contenté de répondre Denis Coderre.”)

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