Rob Ford: An (un)appreciation

We’re heading up to the heady days of Gay Pride in Toronto, and guess what? Rob Ford is on my mind.

God and all the trombone-wielding archangels help me. That’s at least two brain cells gone forever.

Fellow Torontonians of the queer persuasion will understand, instantly, why my brain is thus occupied. As erstwhile Mayor of Toronto, when it came time to preside at the Pride Official Opening, or take part in the Pride Parade, Ford found himself conveniently otherwise engaged and out of town — missing in action. He squandered the opportunity to prove that he could show true leadership, put aside personal prejudice and be the Mayor of everyone.

But this was not a huge surprise. As Mayor, he continually exhibited the frustration, temper and childish resentment of someone who had been placed in a position whose responsibilities he knew he wasn’t capable of meeting. As a private citizen, a guilt-ridden (as it unhappily turns out, also cancer-ridden) “secret” addict, he had the defensive demeanour and uncontained ferocity of a cornered animal.

If only that ferocious energy could have been harnessed for good; that is to say, not just good for Rob Ford and his ego, but truly good for Toronto and all of its citizens.

I hated as his intellectual and political mortal enemy his utter lack of vision for this city, a predictable, dispiriting focus on “stopping the gravy train” (though consultants KPMG, hired to identify the “gravy”, found none), and lowering taxes (because taxes, in the black-and-white world of the Tea Party and their spiritual ilk, are always wrong, taxes are big government’s flame-thrower in the war against property owners, the war against the car; though no one asks how else, for example, roads would be planned and paved and maintained, or who would be paying for them. Apparently not car owners, or the manufacturers).

It was, true to the conservative ideology, a mayor-dom of negatives, a great big world full of “no”; if you can’t cut it, close it, stop it or jail it, it’s not in the conservative toolkit. Their social Darwinist predisposition is to build nothing, but simply dismantle what’s there with no intent beyond the David-versus-Goliath optics and a supreme ignorance of historical context.

Ironically in Ford’s case, his hatred of “big government” was coupled with an egomania so pathological and a sense of entitlement so dictatorial that he failed to comprehend that his mandate was not to rule by fiat but to achieve consensus via City Council.

This is how you wake up one day and discover that your mayor and his brother — that phrase in itself speaks scary volumes — are advocating for a casino and a Ferris wheel on the most historic section of Front Street. Ideology or crack cocaine? Only a conservative would know for sure.

Rob Ford (1969–2016). The controversial, rabble-rousing former Mayor of Toronto died of cancer on March 22nd at the age of 46.

Rob Ford. I was mad, Christina, so very mad at the dirt of his misogyny and his homophobia and his sheer willful plodding idiocy and his “just plain folks” demagoguery that painted all government as inherently bad, all spending as inherently gratuitous, all culture as an unnecessary frill.

I hated that he had wadded himself with fat, the better to bulldoze his way through life; hated his embarrassing outbursts (who’s Margaret Atwood, though that unbelievable comment is properly attributed to his angry buffoon of a brother).

Above all I hated how he divided us: 905 versus 416 (burbs vs. downtown); gay against straight, elites vs. middle- and low-brow; Canadians against immigrants, cars against bikes, every fucking thing against everything else.

A true leader, with vision, who has the courage to ask, “What kind of city do we want? How can we do better by all of our citizens? What are we going to do about poverty and homelessness? What kind of environment do we want to leave to the next generation?” — a true leader thinks to the future; a true leader unites, inspires and energizes.

Poor Rob Ford. What a regular guy.

Men learn to be men of vision, to be civilized beings instead of marauding appetite machines, from mentors: painfully, slowly, step by humiliating step. It takes a lifetime.

Rob Ford surely had poor mentors.

And now that he’s gone, if I were to dwell on Rob Ford and his “journey”, I could feel for him; experience sadness about lost potential and limited horizons and separation and low self-esteem and fear. I could probably bury the hatchet.

I could do that.

But I’m greedy for exceptional men. Regular guys can do my accounting, I want exceptional ones to be in charge. If you hold public office you are accountable for your actions and the potential harm you do affects millions; harm that may take decades to heal.

Give me the grace to stop now before I become uncivilized. The ersatz king is dead. Long live Toronto.