They’re calling him the Teflon mayor.
After the Compliance Audit Committee voted yesterday to not proceed with prosecution, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s campaign audit woes came to an end. With his defamation suit, most likely his conflict of interest case and now the campaign audit behind him, it’s a safe bet that we won’t be seeing Ford in another courthouse — unless something else comes up.
I’m not sure the “Teflon” label really works, even if the mayor has gone three for three in his recent legal battles. A mayor who really embodied the non-stickiness of Teflon probably wouldn’t have been dragged into six months of grinding judicial war in the first place. Virtually every other Canadian politician has managed at least that.
But whatever you want to call him, it’s time now for Ford to get back to work.
It didn’t escape my notice yesterday that when Ford started to listing his mayoral accomplishments in his post-victory speech, virtually none of them came from the last six months of his term. Aside from a mention of this year’s budget — which he barely commented on as it was put together by former budget chief Mike Del Grande — all the major victories he listed came from well before his legal troubles began. Reading the speech, it’d be fair to assume that the mayor hasn’t really accomplished much lately.
That’s a frustrating reality to live in. Toronto is a city that needs strong leadership. Issues like the Toronto casino or the question of how to improve traffic congestion require a decisive voice. We haven’t had it.
But it also didn’t escape my notice that a new Forum Research opinion poll has Ford at a 48 per cent approval rating. That’s the highest it’s been in more than a year. I don’t expect it to stay in that range, but it seems likely that Ford’s overall popularity has been improved to some degree through his legal troubles.
I’ve got a pretty good guess as to why. When Ford is actually able to focus on the business of being the mayor, the question voters ask themselves is whether he has the right ideas for the city. His popularity rises and falls based on that criteria. But when the mayor is routinely in court fighting to keep his job, the question voters are forced to ask themselves is whether Ford deserves to be the mayor of Toronto.
And the answer to that question is, I think, pretty obvious for a lot of people: Yeah, of course he does. He won an election.
Don’t get me wrong. Aside from maybe the defamation suit, the cases brought against Ford were basically well-founded. That he was able to escape with no penalty sets at least a couple of bad precedents. In yesterday’s decision, it seemingly became legit to use a great deal of money from a family-owned company to finance an election bid. And after the conflict of interest case, there is now a precedent where a sitting councillor solicited money from lobbyists — for a good cause, sure, but that was always immaterial — and got away with it.
But there’s no use looking back. Love him or hate him, Teflon or not, Ford is the mayor. It’s in everyone’s best interest to get back to the business of running the city. For his supporters, Ford clearly needs a few more policy wins beyond his first-year achievements if he really wants to come up with a strong platform for reelection. For detractors, there’s a pattern that indicates that Ford is actually more popular when he’s stuck on the sidelines than when he’s actually trying to get things done. If the goal is to unseat the mayor in the 2014 municipal election, fighting him on policy grounds is a good place to start.
Either way, let’s hope this is the last we hear of our mayor in court.