When Rob Ford was elected Toronto’s mayor last year, mostly it was by accident: Two reasonable, qualified candidates split the moderate vote, allowing the hard-right Ford to get elected.
Ford is loud, uncouth and abusive. A conservative ideologue who denies climate science, he favors cars over public transit and rails against government while happily accepting Ottawa’s cash for his pet projects. Ford wants to privatize city services, picks nasty fights with the media when it reports on him critically, and squabbles incessantly with city council. A bit homophobic, he tried cancelling the city’s long-standing support of Pride Week that brings in huge numbers of tourists spending lots of money, and he’s fat.
Meet Canada’s Chris Christie.
Avowedly anti-green, Rob Ford wanted to abolish the city-mandated five cent charge for plastic grocery bags and believes cars are Toronto’s future.
One of his first acts was to cancel an auto tax, implemented to discourage city driving. Then, he removed many bike lanes, insisting streets are for cars and spending some $300,000 the city didn’t have to do it.
Hard on the heels of his “screw bicycles” policy, Ford scrapped a mass transit plan that his predecessor developed after years of consulting with businesses, unions, residents and civic groups. The plan called for a network of LRT lines to supplement existing tram and bus routes, and feed five subway lines. The city got buy-in from the provincial and federal governments, which agreed to fund most of the project.
But Ford didn’t want LRT, preferring a relatively short extension of a subway line that would have cost about the same as the massive “Transit City” project. While LRT would serve some 80,000 new riders every day, the subway would carry only about 15,000 – almost all living in an area that voted heavily for Ford.
Not even his most-ardent city council supporters could overlook the widespread public ridicule of his harebrained idea, voting the mayor down flat. Transit City was reinstated.
Like Gov. Christie, Ford defaults to bullying when cornered.
The Toronto Star ran a highly-critical series about the mayor and his tight-knit circle of cronies that includes Ford’s brother, a city councilor. It included documentation of campaign spending irregularities and insider contracts for city projects. Ford reacted by cutting the Star off from news: The paper’s city hall reporters stopped receiving alerts telling when Ford would appear at events, hold news conferences, and issue statements or propose new ordinances.
With the exception of The Toronto Sun – think New York Post but owned by an anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic Quebec separatist from Montreal that would support Ford if he mooned a pre-school – the media went ballistic.
The mayor’s office backed down.
But, a few weeks later, Ford chased a different Star reporter through his neighborhood because the mayor thought the journalist was "spying" on him. I can’t make this stuff up.
It’s not just reporters that Ford attacks: He went after an established, highly popular, network satire show, “This Hour Has 22 Minutes.”
During its long run, the program has targeted everyone from prime ministers and provincial premieres to activists and causes on the left and right. Often, it relies on “ambush” interviews with the mighty, who go along with the gag good-naturedly. Like SNL, its actors create characters to mock targets. One regular is Marg Delahunty, played by a wonderful comic actor named Mary Walsh. Marg is an outrageous doyen who manages to be naïve and incredulous at the same time.
One morning, Marg – in full costume and trailed by a five-person camera crew – approached Ford as he left his home. Ford swore at her and ran into his house, frantically calling 911. When police didn’t appear instantly, he phoned again and ranted at the hapless operator, calling her borderline racist and misogynist names and dropping F-bomb’s repeatedly.
Ford denied being abusive until the 911 tape was leaked. So then he insisted she didn’t know who Marge was – although she’s been on TV every week for years – and feared he was going to be attacked, ignoring that Marge was in her garish outfit, is a foot shorter and a half-ton lighter than Ford, and was with a CBC crew. When that barrier was breached, Ford’s last line of defense was that he feared for his kid’s safety – even though they were inside the house and Marge made no attempt to enter.
He never apologized, invoking the I’m-not-sorry-but-I-gotta-say-this line of, “If anyone was offended …”
Canada hasn’t been cursed by a corporate-funded and controlled tea party that plagues the US. But an ultra-conservative prime minister won a majority government thanks to Liberal Party disarray and a weak leader, and Ford was elected because neither of the two reasonable candidates would step aside to allow the other a victory.
The effect has been as crippling as in America: Ideologues are in power who want to dismantle government, shred social benefits, sell public services, cut environmental protection and govern for the benefit of the mighty.
Canada still can pull itself back from the brink of American paralysis but only if the nation realizes what’s happening to it.