Aside from a weird interlude where everyone waited to see how Mayor Rob Ford would react when he met his likeness in butter—and, yeah, a depressing Krista Ford thing—the story of the week continues to be the mayor’s legal mess and the mounting realization that this really could be the beginning of the end for the Ford administration at City Hall.
At OpenFile, John Michael McGrath has a really good Explainer detailing the implications if Ford is found guilty. You can also read a pretty hilarious legal transcript in which Ford, facing cross-examination, tries to claim that he doesn’t remember anything about anything. But then he gets asked about football, at which point the mayor gets a little excited and tries to solicit a donation from the opposing lawyer.
Like most things Ford-related, this whole story is full of ridiculous details and fun asides. The mayor has a unique way of making himself look guilty while proclaiming his innocence. Still, I’m sticking to my guns on this one: removing Ford from office early isn’t in Toronto’s best interest. It’d be bad for the city.
Here’s why. There’s a pervasive narrative pushed by diehard supporters of Rob Ford that says that the mayor is so disliked by so many because of his tough budget policies. The argument is a bit muddled, but it goes something like this: left-wingers love spending public money on useless things and Rob Ford’s conservative fiscal management has put a stop to them, and so left-wingers really hate Rob Ford. Hate him so much that they will routinely lie, embarrass and insult the mayor without provocation. Ford’s opponents are often accused of making things personal.
This argument, of course, makes little sense. As much as his supporters may want to believe that Ford has radically impacted the city budget, reining in spending like some sort of folk hero, the numbers don’t back him up. At the macro level, the City of Toronto’s fiscal plan under Ford is largely the same as it was under David Miller. Ford’s budgets, driven mostly by arbitrary demands, ideological tics and a grab-bag of competing interests, are definitely messier and less coherent than previous ones, but they don’t point to a mayor who has any capacity for actual fiscal management or long-term thinking.
And even if he wanted to, the mayor’s ability to set budget direction over the next two years has been severely curtailed. The guy simply can’t win votes on the council floor.
But some people will always buy into the idea that Ford, a tough-talking conservative, has changed the culture of spending and saved public money, enraging special interests and left-wing councillors and union types. It’s hard to dislodge that narrative. And it’ll get way harder if Ford’s opponents manage to get the mayor kicked out of office on a conflict-of-interest charge relating to a small amount of money. It’ll only further the notion that this mayor must have been doing good work.
To become a better and more forward-thinking city, Toronto desperately needs to move past its weird obsession with Ford-brand politics. This mayor needs to lose, decisively, to an opponent that better lays out a civic future that goes beyond cutting expense accounts. A guilty verdict and removal from office just isn’t the way to do it. It will only push us toward another election where city building is pushed aside in favour of Ford-ish rants about budgetary boogeymen.
I’m not arguing that Ford deserves special treatment—the law is the law—but I will argue this: there won’t be reason to celebrate if a guilty verdict comes down on the mayor next week. Politics in Toronto needs to change, and that verdict will only guarantee more of the same.