The false heroes of the Rob Ford saga

The councillors, staffers and journalists who once supported Ford have some explaining to do
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford sits in the council chamber as councillors look to pass motions to limit his powers in Toronto on Monday November 18, 2013.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Chris Young/CP

While most of the world fights the good fight against Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, a few false heroes are emerging from the fracas.

Councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and Karen Stintz, former Ford staff members Mark Towhey and Adrienne Batra, and editorialists across the country: these men and women share some of the blame for the semi-permanent circus that is Toronto City Hall. And in a way, they are more at fault than even the bumbling, stumbling mayor himself. After all, they helped Ford get to where he is today. They put him in power only to turn on the monster they created. They offer no apologies or regrets, just cheap jokes and even cheaper politics. They expect praise—perhaps even a conciliatory mayorship for their trouble—but they deserve only scorn.

This isn’t to say that people cannot have a legitimate change of heart, or a sudden lapse of sanity. But all these players in the Rob Ford soap opera—airing daily on your favourite cable news network—are not looking to repent, or offer even the slightest of mea culpas. They are playing the simple game of self-promotion, looking to score points with a sympathetic public, which they hope has a short-term memory.

Minnan-Wong is perhaps the worst offender here. The east-end councillor has been the Mayor’s most dedicated gravy-hunter, and found his way to council by spouting the same sort of shrill populism that helped Ford so many times over his stupefying career. Although he may have indeed known nothing of Ford’s vices—though surely he could not have simply ignored the rumours that have swirled around City Hall for years—Minnan-Wong still put his political weight behind the Mayor for years, all for the sake of cementing his fiscally conservative brand.

Now, Minnan-Wong—always one to sense which direction the political wind is blowing—has turned his back on the Mayor (literally), and become the city’s unofficial anti-Ford spokesman, at least when television cameras are around. Has he offered to explain his role in Ford’s rise to power? No. But surely he’ll be thrilled to talk about his mayoral ambitions if asked. (His latest solution to the Ford fiasco: Asking the province to move up the date of the mayoral election. Brilliant!)

Stintz is in the same boat as her fellow councillor, though at least her power plays are so blindingly obvious that she isn’t fooling anyone. Another member of the rotunda’s fiscally conservative club, Stintz has a history of siding with Ford (though she did not, as incorrectly stated earlier, endorse Ford for mayor). Two years into Ford’s mayoral term, though, she went rogue, resuscitating the transit plan Ford so vehemently fought against. (Don’t worry: she eventually reversed her decision on that, too.)

Now that she’s officially announced her intentions to run for mayor in 2014, it’s only understandable that she would take every opportunity to denounce Ford. “I do understand he’s apologizing, but again, these apologies are becoming fast and frequent and increasingly meaningless,” Stintz told reporters last week. Yet, no apology for her role in Ford’s career has ever surfaced.

Towhey and Batra are another matter: behind-the-scenes Ford-ites who helped craft and perfect the politician’s “fight-for-the-taxpayer” message, unconcerned that such a rickety and patronizing platform was harmful to the city in the long run and cheap political rhetoric at its worst. During their tenures with the Ford camp—Towhey as chief of staff, Batra as press secretary—they both helped spit-shine Ford’s muddy image. They were responsible for selling a politician who, even discounting his obvious personal problems, was not ready to be the leader of the city. They both sold Toronto a false bill of goods, and, as smart and capable people, they both knew it.

To be fair, Towhey and Batra were simply doing their jobs, and doing them well. They shouldn’t be punished for that, necessarily. What does deserve scorn, though, is the fact that they have now used Ford’s implosion to boost their own personal brands, at the same time refusing to acknowledge how they helped get the city to where it is today.

Batra, as the editor of the Toronto Sun‘s comment section, has garnered praise for her paper’s suddenly critical take on Ford. Again, it’s fine for people, or newspapers, to have a change of heart, to realize the error of their ways. But has the Sun or Batra ever come clean on how much they pushed Ford on the city in the first place? How much they needlessly ridiculed his competition? Nope. But hey, check out those hilarious headlines!

Towhey, meanwhile, has decided to take the opportunity that is the Ford circus to crack wise on Twitter, and position himself as a self-proclaimed whistle-blower, the one man who stood up to Ford and lived to tell the tale. But as the mayor’s one-time chief of staff, it was Towhey who helped Ford pass three budgets and generally push a distracting political agenda (gravy! respect for the taxpayers! subways subways subways!) that has sadly been overshadowed by more meme-worthy crack- and vodka-fuelled antics.

Although Towhey would probably like everyone to think he left the Mayor’s office due to some high-minded sense of civic responsibility, he was actually fired this past May, and has since taken every opportunity to crack wise about the beast he built. His tweets get circulated across the web—his latest missive: “Jobhunt Update: Thought about naming my new business venture: Burning Bridges Group. Then again, maybe not.”—but it’s all just a semi-clever move to mask the fact that, like the others, he’s partially to blame. But man, those tweets, right?

Yes, it’s amusing to poke fun at your old job—especially if that old job is now making headlines across the world as a den of vice, sin and possibly cunnilingus—but that doesn’t mean you deserve plaudits.

Minnan-Wong and others are right to ask Ford to finally take responsibility and step down. But they should also heed their own advice, and admit they are just as much to blame.