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Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Ford show goes on in Toronto


The Ford show goes on

Well, we still have Rob Ford to kick around some more.
The good news for Rob Ford: he lives to fight another day.
The bad news for Rob Ford: he has to keep on fighting, and it’s been a while since he’s won those fights with any consistency. Roughly a year has passed since he had any real control over council’s agenda, and he seemed to see his alliances weaken even more through the last budget process. Though today’s decision keeps him in office, it does so on the very narrowest of criteria, finding that council had no authority to impose a $3,150 penalty on Ford, and because of that the subsequent votes don’t count. But he would have been in conflict, the appeal court ruled, if council had been acting within its authority, and he was willfully blind and failed to exercise good faith, as the original judge found.
At its core, this decision keeps Ford in office, but it doesn’t change anything else about the pitiful position he’s been in lately.
It doesn’t erase the shameful incompetence Ford showed on the stand in the original court hearing. It doesn’t repair the bridges he torched in all directions at City Hall. It doesn’t endear him to the great number of voters who tell pollsters they will not vote for Ford again. It doesn’t change anything about the impending results of his campaign finance audit (another legal process that could potentially remove him from office).
What it does is give him a chance to try to demonstrate he’s learned something from his experience, that he’s grown in the job, and that he can manage both the city and his personal life more effectively. If he can turn his administration around, he stands a chance of accomplishing some more of his goals and winning re-election next year. But I wouldn’t bet much money on the prospect of Ford convincingly becoming a whole new mayor. At his press conference today, Ford began by saying “This has been a very, very humbling experience…” and then went on to show that humility by bragging that he’s run Toronto better than anyone in history, done exactly what he said he would do, and would continue to do so for “the next six years.” When a reporter asked him specifically to elaborate on his newfound humility, he said it came from the realization that he’s beloved. “What I’ve learned is there’s so much support out there.”
So it was less of a “Please, baby, I can change…” speech than a “You like me! You really, really like me!”
My money is on the clown show honking on for the foreseeable future.
For Ford’s opponents on city council and elsewhere, there’s a silver lining to this decision too: it means that not only can council continue to try to find alliances and points of agreement that let them govern the city as they were elected to do, but there’s more time to continue talking with each other and with residents about the kind of city Torontonians want to build, and what that means beyond the next election in 2014. The movement that has been springing up against Ford was always sort of building to the next regular election, with all the time for thinking, debating, and clarifying that allows.
When the Deus Ex Machina of a court decision suddenly came down, it meant Ford-haters appeared to have an easy way out. But the catch was it wasn’t so easy: the result would seem galvanizingly illegitimate to many voters, the scramble to find a replacement in short order would mean finding quick fixes, the debate would focus on the definition of conflict of interest and the harshness of its penalties rather than on the direction of the city and the competence of the person who leads it. Already the forces left, right and centre were splintering under the competing strategic interests and ambitions of longtime teammates and newfound allies. Ford’s removal was going to be chaos for all involved, and traumatic for the city.
A full campaign—if we do indeed get there after the machine-Gods still hovering in the rafters (campaign audit, possible Supreme Court appeal) are lowered onstage—allows a proper debate. It’s that kind of long, thorough democratic process that has allowed some of Toronto’s most inspiring victories. David Miller likely wouldn’t have won a snap campaign in 2003. Rob Ford probably would have lost a snap campaign in 2010. Over in Calgary, it’s doubtful beloved mayor Naheed Nenshi could have come from nowhere in a short mid-term emergency election. A movement for real change, if that is indeed what Toronto wants, will come from a real debate, a real election, focussed on the real issues facing the city. Bigger issues than Ford’s stubborn refusal to mind details or submit to binding legal authority.
The price for that is another two years of the Ford Football & Comedy show occupying our seat of government.
Ford and Toronto are stuck with each other for a while yet. For everyone involved, that’s the news. And it’s good, bad, and ugly in almost equal measures.

PHOTO: RICHARD LAUTENS/TORONTO STAR
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