It wasn’t a worthless exercise. Between the insults, the keening, the mawkish professions of horror, the disinterment of ancient pissing matches, Toronto city councillors achieved on Wednesday what reporters tried in vain to do for six months: they put Rob Ford to a public grilling.
The mayor has indeed purchased illicit drugs. He has sought professional help over his substance abuse. He feels “embarrassed and humiliated” by accounts of his own behaviour. All this we learned thanks to the harumphing and posturing of elected officials who not long ago scurried away at the sound of the mayor’s footsteps.
If that seems thin as Ford revelation goes, well, wait 10 minutes: even as councillors droned on, the trickle of scandal continued at a courthouse about a block away, driving the saga forward. Turns out Hizzoner may have had a hooker in tow that St. Patrick’s night he got hammered at his offices in City Hall, which, when you think about it, was always the missing piece in this particular tale of booze, drugs and power.
No, today’s meeting in the giant egg off Queen Street was never about exposing the truth. It wasn’t even about forcing the mayor to take a leave, because council doesn’t have that authority. It was about showing the world that Toronto the Good wasn’t dead, just resting. And if that wasn’t clear to the CNN crew going live from Nathan Phillips Square, Coun. Anthony Perruzza made it so with his agonized oh-the-humanity plea to douse the fire before it consumes us all. “THIS HAS TO STOP!” he cried, pounding the air with a fist. “IT CANNOT GO ON!”
Melodrama? Sure. But noteworthy melodrama. By this point, nearly a dozen of Perruzza’s colleagues had risen to voice disgust with Ford’s self-admitted misbehaviour, and the stain it’s left on North America’s fourth-largest city. Some were Ford allies, some not. Most leavened their censure with a bit of sympathy for a guy with obvious substance issues. But there was no mistaking the unstated theme: to a person, they’d lost their fear of both the mayor and rock-solid voting base known as Ford Nation. Something out there has changed.
Indeed, when the smoke had cleared, council had passed Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong’s motion requesting Ford apologize to Torontonians for lying about the crack tape, and to take a leave to solve his substance abuse issues. The margin was 37-5, with some of the mayor’s closest former allies voting in favour. By council standards, that’s a novelty sized card reading, “Please Just Go Away.”
The mayor’s reaction was predictable—”I’m not an alcoholic. I don’t have drug problem. I’m absolutely not taking a leave of absence.” And it’s not like anyone might force him to go. Minnan-Wong had planned to amend his motion to call on the province to remove Ford should the mayor refuse to step aside. But he abandoned the plan after senior provincial officials advised him they have no intention of sticking their oar into this reeking, Toronto-made mess.
Yet the man left behind has been husked, exposing a side few of his supporters had seen. Gone on Wednesday was the shrugging galoot who responded to critics as a football coach might a bad call. In its place was an evasive pol who whined to the council speaker, Frances Nunziata, and tried with an excruciating lack of success to parse language. He was asked, for example, about a 2006 incident at the Air Canada Centre when a drunk Ford hurled profanities at fellow hockey spectators; Ford had promised it would “not happen again,” but when reminded of that pledge Wednesday, he dodged. “I said it would not happen again,” he said, voice rising, “and it has not happened again at the Air Canada Centre.” (Emphasis mine.)
That’s not the Ford that Toronto’s discontented suburbanites thought they knew. Since he was elected in 2010, they’ve forgiven his transgressions because they believed he spoke truth to them when it counted. Now, when it counts more than ever, he’s reverted to avoidance and hiding behind process, acting in the manner of the politicians he once held in contempt.
So congrats Toronto councillors. Authenticity might not be your strong suit, but for a while, at least, you gave us a glimpse of the real Rob Ford.