2013 Villain: Rob Ford
Nominated for: everything.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 2 p.m. on January 1. At 4 p.m. we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
While I was writing this article, the power went out because of the ice storm and half of my work was was lost, forcing me to start fresh. This ended up being helpful in the end, because in the interim Rob Ford reminded everybody exactly why he was a Villain in 2013.
To recap: after the storm hit Rob Ford held a press conference to explain that despite there being 300,000 Toronto Hydro customers without electricity in the middle of winter (amounting to as many as one million people), this was not a state of emergency. (He also provided incorrect instructions for how to report downed power wires, then falsely claimed that declaring a state of emergency would mean having to shut down stores, transit, and cancel a Kanye West concert.)
In fact, he explained helpfully that a real state of emergency was a “tsunami or hurricane.” It did not seem to matter that the ice storm was at least as destructive as the flooding we experienced this summer. You may remember that rain storm as the one where Rob Ford explained how serious the situation was, and then went home to huddle with his family in his car.
For the sake of comparison, when Calgary experienced drastic flooding in June, Mayor Naheed Nenshi worked around the clock and literally had to be ordered to take sleep breaks. This is because Naheed Nenshi is a responsible public servant and Rob Ford is a worthless git.
A straight-up insult, yes, but what else can be said? The ice storm was clearly, obviously a state of emergency. One million people without electricity in the middle of winter is an emergency. There was no reason not to declare a state of emergency—except for the fact that, following the removal of virtually all of his powers by city council, if Ford ever does declare an emergency the authority to manage it will rest with Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly. Rob Ford’s refusal to declare a state of emergency was, in essence, a temper tantrum writ large.
At this point you might suggest that Ford’s track record of constituent service disproves the notion that he is selfish. On the contrary: it reinforces it. After all, we know what Rob Ford constituent service looks like: he shows up; makes some concerned noises; and summons senior staff who are paid considerable salaries to manage large-scale problems, not micromanage individual ones. And then he goes. When he issues those summons he isn’t actually addressing the underlying issues in any way; he’s not thinking about or tackling root causes. He’s just using his influence to move one particular person affected by one particular instance of the problem up the queue.
Does that sound like a dedicated public servant? Or is that how someone who wanted to feel noble without putting in the actual effort to be noble would act?
There’s a certain tendency for people to assume that Doug is the actual reason Rob Ford is so terrible: “Doug bullies Rob” and “Doug’s the brains”—that sort of thing. And it’s certainly true that Doug is an awful human being in his own way as well. But this line of thought insulates Rob Ford from responsibility for his own seemingly endless series of awful acts: acts he gets away with because he has no sense of shame, a willingness to fight dirty, and a large amount of money to insulate him from consequences that would give others pause.
Another recent incident: Ford implying that Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale is a pedophile in a television interview. What made Ford’s subsequent apology for lying about Dale so noteworthy is that Rob Ford, for once—with the danger of a libel suit hanging over his head—had to not just say he was sorry in some sort of vague way that someone might have been offended, but explain, in detail, what he had done wrong. Most Rob Ford “apologies” (and there have been so very many) are in fact thinly-veiled complaints that we’re all obsessing about some bad things Rob Ford did or maybe we just thought he did, and why can’t we just all get over it?
Of course, he didn’t actually mean it when he apologized to Dale, because Rob Ford never, ever means it when he says he’s sorry; that is the special magic that Rob Ford brings to our public discourse. Given his track record with apologies, it’s fair to say that Rob Ford thinks an apology is what you do to get people to stop bothering you just because you did something stupid or irresponsible.
Like, for example, going on drunken binges. Or smoking crack cocaine in the company of criminals. Or potentially being involved in a coverup of evidence of the aforementioned crack smoking. Or threatening to sue former staffers for their admissions in police interviews. Or talking about going down on your wife on national television. Or trotting out your wife to stand there, humiliated, while you apologize insincerely for what you said on national television. Or lying, lying, lying, lying, lying about absolutely everything all the time, every single day, not caring about whether your lies are easily disprovable or whether they’re just enough of a smokescreen to create just enough plausible deniability to keep smirking.
The Fords are currently planning their 2014 campaign. In many ways it will be like the 2010 campaign that earned Rob Ford his first Supervillain of the Year award from this publication; it will be packed full of obvious lies, irresponsible promises, and crimes against math. Rob Ford will continue to portray himself as standing up for “the little guy,” a pernicious fiction in the face of policy positions and a voting record that don’t help actual poor people.
Rob Ford wants to pretend that he’s a hardworking champion of the common man. The problem is that Rob Ford, in real life, shows up to work late all the time (or sometimes not at all), and generally is not interested in the business of being mayor. Again: it has become is about the inner life of Rob Ford, and the city stands waiting while a spoiled brat who never grew up lives out some fantasy.
Some of you, by now, might think this invective too vicious. You’re going easy on our awful mayor, just as Torontoist’s collected writers and editors nearly went easy on him when we considered, briefly, refusing to let Rob Ford be a Villain candidate this year (the second time we’ve done that), because Rob Ford always wins and will almost certainly win again this year. (Some of us have our fingers crossed for Doug as a dark horse candidate). But if (and when) he wins he will still, and again, deserve it.