Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
That children’s nursery rhyme says a lot about the situation Toronto Mayor Rob Ford finds himself in, following the release of police reports, yesterday. The mayor is in, to put it politely, a pickle. Rather than reiterate all the brouhaha and the details of what the police reported, I direct you to read the CBC, Toronto Star, National Post, Globe and Mail and even the notoriously pro-Ford Toronto Sun newspapers and websites. They all say much the same, differing only in how much gleeful I-told-you-so they can insert into the stories.
Whether Ford is guilty – and remember, nothing has been proven – the story has been titillatingly sensationalized in the media so that pretty much everyone but Rob Fords thinks he’s guilty. Of what? Well, something. We’re not sure but he’s gotta be guilty of something. That’s what media sensationalism does.
Until he is charged with some crime, much of it is, of course, merely allegation and innuendo. The police haven’t charged him with anything. And if they do, his guilt is a matter for the courts to decide, not the media or the public. The public will have its say on Rob Ford on election day, in 2014.
Don’t get me wrong: I have no affection for the man, or his style. I think he has handled the story wrongly from the very beginning. He’s a boor, a loudmouth and a redneck with the media relation skills of a bull rhino. But I can empathize with him about how sensationalism in the media can align with allegation, rumour and gossip to damage your reputation and your ability to do the job you were elected to do. And there’s damn little you can do when you get on that roller coaster.
What matters right now is governance. And the relevant question is: does Ford’s situation hurt the effective governance and operation of the city?
The likely answer is yes. Ford’s ability to manage the role is seriously compromised, regardless of the truth of any accusation. If nothing more, the job is too often interrupted by non-sequitor media questions. Too much attention on the allegations, not enough gets given to the business of running Canada’s largest city.
Yes, Toronto can manage without a mayor, but people elect mayors not just for symbolic roles. They elect someone to stand out in front and lead the charge. I also suspect that internecine power struggles would erupt more openly if Ford handed the reins to the Deputy Mayor (Norm Kelly). Kelly hasn’t shown any talent for leadership yet and the crucible of Toronto council has proven harsh and unforgiving.
Ford has lost a huge amount of confidence from both council and the public. Will that translate into a weaker local economy? Will it affect his relations with the province? Affect funding and grants? Agreements for the next transit expansion? Will it affect the day-to-day operations of Toronto city hall?
And I expect the answer to all these is also yes.
Which is why I think Ford should welcome a motion of confidence being raised at council.
Why? It has no legal standing, cannot change his role, cannot remove him from office or affect his power. It won’t change his status in or outside the council. But it will clearly align the sides of supporters and non-supporters; make the polarities very clear. The media already dislike him, so that vote will make no difference in the way the media treats him. Or the brusque way he treats them.
Ford already knows he has a love-hate relationship with his council. This way he draws the line in the metaphorical sand, gets his remaining supporters to make a commitment. And it makes evident those whose support he has lost.
I expect Ford will stay in office unless forced out (almost impossible to do, under the Municipal Act, without criminal charges). That means he has a year left and many tasks to accomplish. A vote of confidence will help him identify what allies he has for any future initiatives. It might also identify those he most needs to woo.
No, I don’t expect him to agree.
Should he resign, or at least take a leave of absence? The media are calling for resignation, the Toronto Board of Trade for a leave of absence, but in his shoes, it probably seems like an admission of guilt. Again – he hasn’t been charged with anything, let alone found guilty. And Ford’s still protesting his innocence. That becomes more difficult - not because he blusters and yells – but because if it’s a police or court matter, he can’t say a lot. While he is constrained, the media and the rumormongers get to make all the allegations they want. Hardly a fair playing field.
Is Ford guilty of saying there wasn’t a video or one he wasn’t aware of? Sure, but that’s bad judgment, or stupidity, not a crime. No more so than the Prime Minister hedging his ever-changing answers over the cheque to Senator Mike Duffy. If the PM doesn’t have to resign for answers of questionable or variable truth, why should Ford?
Ford making homophobic and racist remarks in a video? Caught on camera peeing at a curb? Tossing a drink cup over his shoulder to the road? No one who voted for him should be surprised he’s a redneck. Charge him with littering, but that won’t get him kicked out of office. Substance abuse? Okay: that’s bad, but prove it. Don’t just allege it.
We don’t hang people for being obnoxious. If we did, we wouldn’t have many people left.* Besides, a whole lot of people voted for Ford knowing who and what he was. They voted for him because he was loud, crude and boisterous.
So I have to side with him and say no: no resignation, no leave of absence under the current circumstances. Instead, the media and the public should press the police to resolve the matter, to either press charges or to close the case. Make the police do the proverbial crap-or-get-off-the-pot. Let Toronto council get back to the business of governance.
My whole point here is that, like him or not, we should accord Rob Ford the same basic rights and assumptions we – as Canadians in an open, democratic and civil society - accord to everyone else. Innocent until proven guilty. And that means proven in court, not in the newspapers. If we don’t, this whole thing is nothing more than a medieval witch hunt gussied up in fancy clothes.
* Who gets to decide who is obnoxious? The media? A panel? If it were me, I’d be stringing up the posters who can’t tell the difference between a possessive and a plural noun and stick an apostrophe in where it doesn’t belong. One person can’t make that decision, not even a group. Taste cannot be quantified or legislated.