A Rob Ford nation

Published November 13, 2013

Canada is consumed with the antics of Toronto mayor Rob Ford.

OK, the fact Ford remains in office in the country’s biggest city is grave. He earlier admitted to smoking crack, and today publicly said in city council that he purchased illegal drugs (while still claiming “zero tolerance for guns, drugs and gangs.”) These are the latest chapters of a long sordid saga, and yet for months nothing has ousted this man from the mayor’s office.

Even the spectre of a murder had no apparent effect on his popularity: a man named Anthony Smith was shot and killed some time after Ford was reportedly photographed with him earlier this year. A poll last week suggested that the mayor’s approval rating sat at about 44 per cent, while another poll released today reported that one in four city residents continue to believe he’s fit for office. (Though Ford was — very politely, in true Canadian fashion — asked not to lead the city’s Santa Claus parade.)

Rob Ford has provided terrific fodder for American comedians Jon Stewart and Jimmy Kimmel, and readers from Ireland to Asia are getting blow-by-blow details. Today’s headline in the Los Angeles Times was choice: “Crack-smoking Toronto mayor makes U.S. pols look good.” From coast to coast in Canada’s media, coffee shops, and even at my own table, it’s become impossible to avoid news reports or talk  about Toronto’s mayor.

Perhaps Ford’s case is merely another example of Canada’s famous tolerance – in this case for politicians behaving badly. Canadians, for example, gave the federal Conservative party a strong majority in 2011 even after its minority government was defeated over contempt of Parliament. We reacted with a collective shrug to this spring’s Federal Court finding of widespread fraud in that federal election. The province of Quebec is currently being roiled by revelations from a commission into corruption. Even without its recent suspensions of three senators, Canada’s Senate is … uh, well, I won’t even get into that can of worms.
Or maybe Ford’s case is just another blemish on a continuum of politics, lately slithering toward an extreme.

Either way, Canadians have proved ourselves too tolerant (or apathetic) to face down a miscreant mayor, and clearly not up to the task of improving a flawed political system. Neither excuse explains our obsession with the man. However, and especially in the context of truly important things happening domestically and globally, the obsession with Ford confirms something I’ve come to suspect about Canada’s character: Canada is no longer a serious country.

And I don’t quite know how to respond to that realization. To cry in shame, for what is lost? To laugh in relief that, while other places suffer worse economic hardship, wage real wars, or battle nature’s caprice, Canada’s problems are still so mild that we have the luxury of being absurd?

Copyright © 2013 Deborah Jones

 Contact: djones AT factsandopinions.com

Update March 22: Rob Ford was diagnosed with cancer in Sept., 2014, and died on March 22, 2016. Read the Canadian Press obituary here.


DebJones in Spain

Deborah Jones is a founder and the managing partner, editorial, of Facts and Opinions. She  reported for more than 30 years on breaking news, social and economic policy, science, and whimsey, mostly for Agence France-Presse, Canada’s Globe and Mail, and Time Magazine. She freelanced for a range of publications from the New York Times to medical journals, and held staff positions as a Canadian Press desker and on the Vancouver Sun editorial board. Her education includes an early focus on biology, economics, and political science, with a mid-career Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Simon Fraser University and post-graduate Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. Interests include civility, freedom of thought and expression, and ecology.

Jones’s family was displaced from Europe by World War II and relocated in Alberta and the Northwest Territories, where Jones grew up skiing, horseback riding, canoeing, and reading books. Prior to journalism she worked as a first aid attendant on bush planes, assistant museum curator, slinging beer in pubs, and as a junior park naturalist. When not traveling Jones is based in Vancouver, Canada.


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