We know why Rob Ford lies. What’s everyone else’s excuse?

November 8, 2013


For a variety of reasons, we can expect Rob Ford to deny, lie, and obfuscate. Whether it’s guilt, or addiction, or stubbornness,  the pattern is clear: Deny. Eventually apologize. Attempt to move on. Repeat.

But the Mayor, as many have pointed out, is just one man, with one vote at city council. While his flaws, both political and personal, have been well documented, he’s rarely lacked political support. Some city councillors have abandoned his bullying, ignorant leadership, but he’s maintained support from plenty of politicians who have spent so much time looking the other way it’s a wonder they can still move their necks.

Let’s briefly review some highlights of the Ford scandal timeline:

On May 16th, Gawker and the Toronto Star reported the existence of a video in which Mayor Rob Ford smoked crack.

For a moment, let’s give Ford the benefit of the doubt: This was a serious allegation, and it was made without definitive evidence. You could argue the Star reporters misinterpreted the video: It wasn’t crack he was smoking, and his comments were misheard. But Ford simply denied the existence of the video: “Absolutely not true. It’s ridiculous. It’s another Toronto Star whatever.”

To argue that a major newspaper would simply make up this sort of thing strains credibility; say what you will about the Toronto Star, but they have lawyers who can explain how libel laws work. Indeed, if The Star really did fabricate allegations of illegal drug use by the mayor, it’s hard to understand why he wouldn’t respond with an lawsuit.

A week after the video allegations, Ford fired his chief of staff, Mark Towhey, allegedly for telling the mayor to go to rehab. Towhey is no left-wing media maggot; he was one of Ford’s key advisors, and helped him get elected.

When Ford finally made a full, definitive, yet still rather weaselly, denial of the video’s existence on May 24th, his former Press Secretary Adrienne Batra wrote that “the statement the mayor read Friday, was barely recognizable compared to what his staffers had given him. I am told Ford’s family basically wrote the statement, with only a sprinkling of staff input.”

On May 27th, Ford’s press secretary and assistant press secretary resigned. Three more staff members would resign in the next few days.

And then nothing happened. The video never appeared, despite Gawker’s best efforts to purchase it. Things returned to normal.

(“Normal”, in the case of Rob Ford, includes showing up drunk in public on a regular basis, ranging from getting wasted at City Hall on St. Patrick’s Day 2012, to being accused of groping Sarah Thomson in March 2013, to being drunk at Taste of the Danforth in August. It turned out he’d been writing reference letters, on mayoral stationery, for convicted criminals. He also wiggled around background checks to get another convicted criminal a job helping him coach high school football. Most of these incidents came and went without any comment from any of Ford’s allies.)

(Eventually the Ontario Press Council ruled that the Star’s reporting on Ford was responsible and ethical.)

And then, finally, it all started to unravel. Ford’s friend Sandro Lisi was arrested on drug charges that came out of an extensive police investigation into Ford & Lisi. Oh, and the police had the video of Ford smoking crack and making homophobic and racist remarks.

This naturally cued an abrupt political sea change in Toronto: People finally got around to being offended by the mayor getting drunk, doing drugs, and hanging out with drug dealers in parks.

Doug Holyday, Ford’s former Deputy Mayor and current MP, had this to say:”I’m not current on what’s going on at city hall. That’s in the past as far as I’m concerned and I really can’t give you a comment on what’s going on down there.”

This is some staggeringly hypocritical bullshit. Holyday won his provincial election a few months ago, thanks in part to Rob Ford’s tireless campaigning. This was after the initial reporting of the alleged crack video, after his drunken St. Patrick’s Day shennanigans, after half his staff had resigned. After Holyday defended Ford by suggesting the video could be faked, in one of the numerous press scrums he held while the mayor was hiding from the media. He later suggested video of Ford being drunk on the Danforth was inconclusive.

Holyday has spent much of the past three years covering for the mayor and excusing his behaviour in vague, non-admitting ways. But now, he can’t comment on allegations that have been around for five months.

As one of the senior and most-respected faces of Ford Nation, Holyday should have to answer some questions:

  • Did you ask the Mayor to address the accusations he used crack?
  • What was his explanation, and did it satisfy you?
  • Were you concerned when most of the Mayor’s staff resigned?
  • To what extent were you aware of his public drunken behaviour?
  • Do you think it was appropriate for you to be Deputy Mayor when the Mayor rarely took your advice?

Holyday was replaced by Peter Leon, who was appointed to council on October 10th. Leon recently said that his primary concern was for Rob Ford’s well-being. Unsurprisingly, Leon did not express any concerns about the Mayor’s well-being when he accepted a position on his executive committee, because at that time there was slightly less evidence that Rob Ford had a problem with alcohol and drugs.

Provincial Conservative leader Tim Hudak arguably benefitted from Ford’s popularity as much as Holyday. But as close as Hudak and the Fords have appeared in recent years, his recent comments on the Ford scandal lacked depth: “If Rob Ford called me for advice, I’d say the way I’d handle it, you have got to put your family first.”

If Rob Ford called me for advice. A nice, broad hypothetical, which clearly won’t happen. Apparently, the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party has no way of getting in touch with Ford to offer his advice. Like everyone else, Hudak had little to say on the subject of Ford’s increasingly obvious association with criminals.

Tim Hudak didn’t have any advice for Rob Ford when he was writing references for a man convicted of threatening to kill his girlfriend. When the crack allegations broke in May, Hudak said “There is a controversy that I know has consumed media, with the mayor and the allegations . . . I have nothing to add to this debate.” Not even advice.

So if you were to ask Tim Hudak for advice – which you totally don’t have to do, by the way – he would probably tell you to look after yourself and your family, unless you think you can effectively ignore it and try to discredit your accusers, in which case he will probably refrain from commenting.

(There’s an entire other article to be written about how so many Conservative politicians are suddenly so forgiving on the subject of illegal drug use.)

Councillor Vince Crisanti wrote that he was “disappointed with what has been reported through the media concerning the Mayor”, and it was “unfortunate that the Mayor’s statement did not include acknowledgement that addressed taking time off to sort out his personal issues.”

Crisanti has to resign himself to what has been reported through the media, because, like poor Tim Hudak, he can’t possibly have any way of contacting Mayor Ford directly. Despite being a city councillor and sitting on the Executive Committee, and voting with Rob Ford over 90% of the time, Crisanti has demoted himself to the level of a mere city hall spectator.

(To be clear, I doubt Crisanti knows anything about Rob Ford’s extracurricular activities. I’m sure he’s very happy to keep it that way.)

Ford’s former allies Mike Del Grande and Denzil Minnan-Wong have both made more overt criticisms of Ford’s behaviour, with Del Grande alleging another incidence of public intoxication. Del Grande’s comments seem to suggest that he’s never really been on board with Ford, though that’s never stopped him from accusing other councillors of pursuing political vendettas against the mayor. While it’s admirable that these two councillors are standing up to Ford’s behaviour, one wonders why they had nothing to say about it until now.

Rob Ford has a long history of alcohol use, inappropriate behaviour, and lying. He has faced serious allegations for at least the past year, ranging from the inappropriate to the illegal. While the full extent of Ford’s behaviour may not have been known – it still isn’t – it’s impossible to deny that he has raised many questions.

Since The Star first reported the existence of the crack video, Ford has appointed a new Deputy Mayor and several councillors to his executive committee, and campaigned for a Member of Provincial Parliament. All of these men have had opportunities to ask him to address the accusations made against him. They have had many opportunities to stand up and say I’m uncomfortable with the Mayor’s response, and cannot support him.

Rob Ford may need help for any number of issues, and could conceivably face criminal charges at some point. But the real embarrassments are the many politicians who used him to their advantage, those who propped him up and covered for him when he was popular but now step back and protest that, hey, how was I to know?

Either they knew about his behaviour and supported him anyway, or they deliberately looked away from the mounting evidence in hopes of benefitting from Ford’s popularity without being implicated in his personality. If the media won’t find out which it was, their constituents certainly should. Rob Ford has frequently pointed to the 2014 election as a referendum on his suitability as mayor, but it should also be about the willful ignorance and political cowardice of those who supported him.