THERE’S A DISTINCT ethical calculus that applies to addiction. Here’s an example: mayor Ford’s indiscretions over the years – the bad choices of personal friends and associates, the bursts of erratic behaviour, the denials that there’s a problem – are “the drugs talking.” He’s not completely in control of himself. The drugs and alcohol are, and his actions should therefore be seen as at least in part the symptoms of an illness, or a compulsion, that keeps him in its grip. He’s an addict, and he needs help, and it’s a good thing he’s now seeking it.
That’s one way of framing the news of the past twenty-four hours, and it’s also the most compassionate and generous. Maybe that’s why Ford Nation will have none if it. Predictably, critics of the mayor, and especially critics in the media, are once again being described as mean-spirited thugs by Ford’s supporters. What the mayor does in his spare time is his business, they say. There’s no problem here, except that the media keep beating up a great leader.
Now that Mr. Ford has committed himself to rehabilitation, I hope and expect that the tone of the conversation will change, and that the mayor will be left alone as long as he’s on his leave of absence, busy at the work of getting well. To this point, however, the public behaviour of this elected official has been fair game. The media were doing their job. As for the political circus of this city, in my view it’s no longer about the Ford brothers, it’s about Ford Nation – and it has been for a while.
In politics there are thresholds and milestones that can never be uncrossed and unpassed, and disgorged closets whose contents can never be re-hidden. Some events coarsen the public in a way that is enduring, if not permanent. Tens of thousands of people in this city have declared and re-affirmed, again and again, their approval of a mayor whose conflicts of interest, close associations with drug dealers and abusers of women, unethical behaviour, and serial public rages are of no concern. Mayor Ford has saved them some money, and that’s all they care about.
There’s more to Ford Nation however than love of money. These folks are defined by the things that they hate: the media and the “elites.” Elite is their politically expedient code for the gays and the freaks and anyone else who differs. They hate, hate, hate these people, and that’s why a principled, cost-cutting conservative won’t do for Ford Nation, now that they’ve tasted and got hooked on the surplus junk rage of their beloved Fords. Addiction is a problem in Toronto politics, all right.
I’m convinced that Ford’s base simply hates Toronto. Ford Nation will once again bring out this hate vote in October, and they’ll deliver it to Rob Ford if given the chance. But the Fords won’t be around forever, and that’s why this is no longer about them. For me the legacy of this past year is that I’ll never see this city the same way again. Ford Nation has left an indelible mark, and while I still love Toronto, I’ve lost all confidence in its politics.