After years of acting badly without consequence, Rob Ford isn't likely to understand that he must leave office.
So, that happened.
Practically every media outlet in Toronto has already called for Mayor Rob Ford’s resignation: the Star, of course, but also the Globe, the Post, and even the Toronto Sun (we repeat, the Toronto-goddamn-Sun, which has over the last few months realized what a hole it has dug for itself with respect to enabling Ford’s particular brand of incompetence, and has backpedalled desperately to avoid wearing this latest scandal like an ill-fitting suit). We could write an editorial ourselves about how Ford should resign, but frankly, that would be sort of predictable and, what’s more, redundant. After all, once the Sun is calling for Rob Ford’s resignation, what more is there to say?
Well, there is this: there is a good chance that Rob Ford won’t resign. And we should talk about that.
In a press conference—if you can call something that lasts just over one minute a press conference—held shortly after Chief Bill Blair announced that the video is, in fact, in police possession, Ford failed spectacularly to respond to any real questions about the investigation, and gave every indication that he has decided to try and tough this one out. You could actually see Rob Ford mentally toughening himself up for the fight ahead as he gave his statement, his voice starting out soft and slow as he told us he wished ever so much that he could address the “allegations,” but unfortunately, they were “before the courts,” and so he couldn’t. And then his voice got stronger as he went into his usual spiel about taxpayers and returning phone calls and all the rest. By the end, he sounded like his usual self.
This should surprise practically nobody, because Rob Ford’s entire political career has been characterized by his making messes and then skating away without any consequences—at least, without consequences for himself. The fact that Ford routinely arrives at City Hall somewhere in between late morning and mid-afternoon is one that often doesn’t get discussed in the major media, and it should. Would anybody else in any other position get away with that kind of behaviour?
It started when he was given a joke job by his daddy and claimed he had “corporate experience”—as if any major corporation at this point would trust Rob Ford with a stapler, let alone any serious management duties. Rob Ford faced no serious consequences for his DUI in Florida, none for stumbling around drunk and possibly committing another DUI at Taste of the Danforth, and none over his conflict-of-interest trial.
Rob Ford, in short, gets away with things. Partly this is because Rob Ford, in his life, has rarely been held accountable for his behaviour, and partly this is because people more generous of spirit than he are willing to give him chances to atone (although Rob Ford is likely capable only of appearing to atone). It is probably quite true that if Rob Ford had admitted back in May that, yes, he had smoked crack, and it was him in the video, and he was taking a leave of absence from the mayoralty and going to rehab, political allies and enemies alike would have fallen over themselves to say he had a serious problem and needed help and this wasn’t the time to condemn him, and so forth. He would have been forgiven.
Here’s the problem: someone who establishes a track record of avoiding consequences is not likely to suddenly confront a difficult situation head-on—especially not when that confrontation would be, as it is at this moment, entirely optional. After all, we can’t force Rob Ford out of office. Even if he gets charged with a crime eventually (and who knows if he will), we can’t even force him out of office then. Rob Ford will stop being mayor only if he resigns or if he misses three consecutive council meetings (that is, he would have to be not only convicted of a crime, but also imprisoned for a minimum of about 90 days).
So why would Rob Ford leave? Really, this is a question of game theory as much as it is anything else. There is no benefit to Rob Ford leaving office – not for Rob Ford, anyway. Even if he were to come out tomorrow with that mea culpa speech he should have given in May, his political future is almost certainly dead. The window for a plausible, graceful exit and redemptive return closed when he said that the video—the one the police now have—does not exist. (Not for nothing have we been far more angry about Rob Ford lying about his drug use.) Ford’s position as mayor confers on him a certain amount of privilege and support—he has a staff, and security guards outside his office, and many other supports not available to private citizens; if he were to resign, Ford would only be making himself more vulnerable.
Despite all that, there is a possibility, however slim, that Rob Ford will be re-elected mayor. Voting day isn’t for a year. Things happen. Maybe other candidates collapse in scandal. Maybe Stephen Harper gives Toronto a blank cheque for all the subways it can build in an effort to make people look the other way on the Senate scandal. Maybe Ford Nation decides that Bill Blair is just part of the liberal elite conspiracy out to get the Fords. Rob Ford has the city’s biggest bully pulpit, his own weekly talk radio show (until CFRB pulls the plug on that, and honestly, why would they do that now?), and still has enough allies in council that he can declare war on whatever he decides is “wasteful” this week. He might even be able to bring the Sun back on board.
All of that is, of course, very much a long shot. But it’s better than nothing, and if Rob Ford resigns, that is what he has left. Which means that the only reason for Rob Ford to resign would be out of a sense of shame—and Rob Ford and shame do not often share the same postal code.