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November 6, 2013

I grew up in Toronto.

I lived there from the time I was three until my mid-30s, when I moved to Vaughan. In truth, I miss it. I think that’s why I needle Vaughan so much: I miss Toronto. I’ve been lucky to have travelled to many places throughout the world — nowhere has ever felt as much like home as Toronto.

I’ve avoided writing about politics here. My criticism of Vaughan has always been more towards what could largely be described as a faceless entity: The Vaughan. I’ve avoided discussion about the Left or the Right. I’ve strayed from criticism of any political party or any party member and instead used my words to describe things on a more micro level: Owen, my fence, my basement…

However, it’s with a sense of despair, and perhaps with sense of longing for “home,” that I will, at least for a moment, reflect on my feelings towards what has recently befallen Toronto.

In 2010, then Councilor Rob Ford beat out a crowded group of competitors in a general election to become Mayor of Toronto. The son of a one-time Provincial politician, Ford had carved a niche for himself on council as a fiscally conservative “penny pincher,”(Ford rarely used the money allotted to him for office expenses; he instead paid for things from his own salary) and for his often outlandish behavior at City Hall (during a debate about whether the city should donate to an AIDS prevention program, Ford said, "If you’re not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn't get AIDS probably, that's the bottom line...those are the facts").

Ford campaigned for mayor on the premise of “cutting the gravy,” or cutting what he believed was rampant government waste. Coming on the heels of Mayor David Miller, a left-leaning politician who, in his eight years atop city council, (among other things) exhausted a billion dollar contingency fund to balance Toronto’s budgets, Ford’s “every man” persona and his campaign promises resonated with suburban Toronto.

Ford’s campaign was fraught with controversy. Reports soon began to circulate that , in 1999, Ford had been arrested in Florida for Driving Under the Influence and for marijuana possession. When pressed for details, Ford denied the charge, arguing instead that he was arrested for refusing a breathalyzer test. He later recanted and admitted that he had pled guilty to the DUI. When pressed further, Ford eventually acknowledged that he omitted the marijuana charge, which had been dropped by prosecutors when he pled no contest to the DUI, because it had “completely, totally slipped my mind.”

Coming on the heels of the DUI conviction, another incident came to light when, in 2006, an intoxicated and belligerent Ford was escorted from a Toronto Maple Leafs game at the Air Canada Centre. Reports at the time had a drunken Ford hurling abuse and insults towards an out-of-town couple seated near him. When the asked to comment about the incident, Ford reacted angrily, “This is unbelievable, I wasn't even at the game, so someone's trying to do a real hatchet job on me, let me tell you."

Ford was later forced to admit his role in the incident.

This pattern of denial, laying the blame at others — particularly the media — before admitting the truth and apologizing would soon become a recurring theme.

To his supporters (affectionately dubbed ‘Ford Nation’), however, Ford’s promises to reign in rampant tax increases and “wasteful” spending clearly struck a chord above any blights that might have marked his personal life. And, on October 24, 2010, with 52% of the eligible electorate casting ballots, Rob Ford received 47% of the vote and was elected Mayor of Toronto.

Ford got to work immediately. He cancelled a previously-established transit plan that he deemed incongruent with the wishes of his constituents and instead instituted a bold plan to build subways throughout the city. (Ford promised at the time that each new subway track would be funded through private investment and that he would not raise taxes to pay for his plan; three years later, not a single penny has been raised through the private sector and a special transit tax was recently enacted). Ford scrapped a five-cent surcharge on plastic bags, he eliminated the vehicle renewal tax, and he contracted out half of the city’s garbage services — all to the delight of his most adamant Ford Nation supporters.

During the first year of his term, by most accounts, the mayor set a feverous pace on the job. By late 2011, however, cracks began to emerge when, in late December, police were called to the Ford home. Ford’s mother-in-law, in the early hours of the morning, called 911 to report that the mayor, intoxicated, was trying to take his children to the airport, against their mother’s wishes.

It wasn’t the first time that police had been dispatched the Ford household.

In 2008, Ford was charged with assault and uttering a threat towards his wife. The charges were eventually withdrawn. Following the December incident, Ford’s propensity towards increasingly irrational and troubling behavior would continue. On St. Patrick’s Day, 2012, video surfaced showing a clearly intoxicated Ford, slurring his words, and struggling publicly to walk. Reports eventually surfaced indicating Ford later returned to his city hall office where continued to drink well into the early morning. Security officials noted that “It was quite evident that [Ford] was very intoxicated as he had problems walking, was sweating profusely and was swearing at [his chief of staff] Earl Provost.”

The report concluded with, “We did our best at keeping him away from the public eye due to his condition.” The year reached a sour note when Ford was ordered removed from office for violating conflict of interest laws. Though eventually overturned after a series of appeals, this would not mark the end of the controversy surrounding Ford’s tenure as mayor. In February, 2013, word circulated that Ford was asked to leave a gala event celebrating the Canadian armed forces because organizers were concerned he was impaired.

It has been recently revealed that Ford’s inner circle had, for nearly a year, pressured the mayor to seek treatment for his clear substance abuse issues. By now, it was affecting his work. He was showing up later and later for work (Ford has always maintained that he was answering his constituent’s calls and visiting their homes to personally deal with their issues). Ford’s attendance at council has also begun to diminish and he now attends fewer committee meetings than ever before. It has been alleged by members of his inner circle that most committees have essentially gone about their business in spite of the mayor, rather than at his behest.

In the spring of 2013, the Toronto Star and the website Gawker.com each reported that their correspondents had been shown a video of Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine and uttering homophobic and racist remarks. Ford vehemently denied the claims, saying that, “These allegations are ridiculous. It’s another story … the Toronto Star going after me.”

He later commented that “I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine. As for a video, I cannot comment on a video that I have never seen or does not exist. It is most unfortunate, very unfortunate, that my colleagues and the great people of this city have been exposed to the fact that I have been judged by the media without any evidence.”

Toronto police began an investigation of Ford and his (then) alleged drug use. After months of shadowing Ford and his associates — during which Ford’s brother, himself a Toronto councilor, called the media “maggots” for their dishonest telling of the story — police arrested the mayor’s close friend, and occasional driver, Sandro Lisi, for the distribution of narcotics. Police later released photos showing Lisi and the Mayor purportedly placing envelopes and packages into the Ford’s car at all times of the day and at locations as varied as gas stations and parks. The mayor was even photographed, arm in arm, with reputed gang members outside a crack house — a house owned by Ford’s childhood friends. It has recently been revealed that Ford paid the utility bills for the owners of the crack house, each of whom have been previously charged and convicted for drug- and prostitution-related offenses.

Things came to ahead recently when Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair announced that, despite Ford’s contention that it didn’t exist, they had come into possession of the notorious crack video.

Pressed to admit he smoked crack, Ford, under intense pressure, finally admitted days later what most already knew.

Sadly, he failed to acknowledge that Toronto deserves better than Rob Ford.

Ford has been a failure in most every respect. Putting his personal issues aside, of the 60 council votes over the past three years that were deemed “important”, Ford has lost 28 of them. (Miller, to put things into perspective, lost one in nearly eight years.) Ford alienated the left (whose votes, ultimately, he’d need to forward his agenda). He bullied centrist members on the right, and he vilified the media for reporting his misdeeds.

And most of all, he has lied, both consistently and aggressively. He has lied about the scope of his accomplishments. He has lied about his personal life. He has lied about how his personal life affects his ability to run the city.

The mayor is, at best, a functioning alcoholic; at worst a violent drug-abuser who enjoys the company of street thugs. And, as always, it’s consistently the fault of everyone else. The media hounds him. It’s the left wing establishment’s that’s railroading him and his fiscally conservative policy agenda. The police chief in unethical and out to get him.

What Ford and his supporters fail to acknowledge is that his problems predate his time as Mayor. Ford’s affinity for booze and drugs date back at least a decade, long before the “liberal media” had ever heard of him. Ford’s and his supporters fail to grasp that his accomplishments, both real and imagines, are not being chipped at by some long-festering “left-wing conspiracy” whose ultimate aim is to see him removed from power, they’re instead being minimized by his own weaknesses and vices.

Ford, himself, is the only one to blame.

Not the media. Not the by the liberal elites. Just himself. And to suggest that he simply smoked crack, and now that he has apologized we can move on, is inane and misguided. It’s Ford’s clearly practiced MO to deny, deflect, apologize and sweep things under the rug. One would hope, in this case, that no rug is big enough to hide this from view.

And yet, his support among the electorate remains strong. Some polls suggest that it has even increased — which perhaps is what saddens me the most. We have become a nation of people that will overlook nearly anything if it saves us a buck. No behavior is inexcusable if we can forgo having to pay a nickel on every plastic bag we use. A successful politician is now measured by the cost we pay to have our trash removed rather than the integrity they bring to office. “Ford Nation” refer to the mayor’s problems as “personal issues,” and then gleefully extol how he “towed the line on taxes.”

And, were you to ask them about his ties to gangs and drug dealers, they deflect with “But so-and-so did this,” and “such and such did that.” It’s impossible to speak on elevated terms with people so focused on the bottom line that they’ll ignore anything that doesn’t involve the lining of their wallets.

Unable to force him from office, Toronto council is currently crafting measures to strip the mayor of much of his authority. In reality, this might be moot. Ford has proven little more than an empty suit pretending to be the mayor for some time. He speaks in platitudes towards himself and his accomplishments to mask his abject failure.

I sincerely hope he finds the help he needs to deal with his demons if, for nothing else, for the sake of his wife and children. Toronto, however, can’t wait for him to show the courage to ask for help.

I miss Toronto, but I’m glad he isn’t my mayor. Even The Vaughan deserves better than Rob Ford.