I know, I know, I did a bad thing. We don’t need to recap the disasters to qualify that Rob Ford was awful. Watching his mayoralty caused shudders, laughter, and overall astonishment that it actually happened. It felt just like watching The Room. Tommy Wizeau was in charge of Toronto, and it was partly my fault. I couldn’t have imagined this. The most that can be said for Ford is that he didn’t own a pair of jackboots, but my god. Mayor Ford seemed like he’d attend a book burning not to protest a particular book, but books in general.
Some time ago Edward Keenan from the Grid rightly excoriated him for what was, at the time, the latest Fordian slip (there were several more) and one line particularly hit home:
“What we didn’t necessarily expect was for the mayor himself to turn it into a hearing all about his own basic competency for office, and the competency, by incredibly uncomfortable implicit extension, of the city who elected him [emphasis mine].”
Keenan was talking about me. I ride a bike, I live downtown, my obsessions include high-brow literature and music, and I play chess at about a 1500 level. I am not Ford country on the surface. So, what was going through my head when I voted Ford?
First of all, I am not looking to be absolved (I am most certainly guilty), but I’d like to cast a redeeming light on people who voted Ford but totally regret it, and also in the naive hope that unpacking my mistake will go some way towards preventing future disasters.
On my way to the voting station, I still did not know who I was going to vote for. Looking back, I didn’t exactly pass over Lincoln or Churchill. I wasn’t enthralled by anyone. I was, and am, inherently skeptical and distrustful of all politicians but I wanted to vote for somebody. I resented the fact that I was voting based on what platitude I liked best, but I never did the work to get beyond that level. Perhaps I read perfunctorily and only out of duty, but clichés abound in political journalism. He appealed to my abstract love of economy. Not in a financial sense, and certainly not in a refusal to pay for worthy things, but in the part that hates prolixity, and shudders at a forced five move checkmate when the same position offered a more elegant solution in three.
All things equal, I got a kick out of sticking it to the left because I had recently graduated from OISE teacher’s college and the reek from their paltry and corny progressive garbage was still very much in my mouth. The left’s platitudes sounded like blatant and juvenile pandering. Grand ideas that weren’t meant to be realised, just designed to sound palatable. Ford’s ideas seemed smaller, and therefore plausible to bring about. I had a choice between what I perceived as two cons, and I opted for the one I thought was the least ambitious (so less could go wrong) and at least aimed at financially responsible adults.
In 2008 the National Post reported that local politicians were angry with Ford (just some nobody then) because, unlike them, he didn’t expense his office equipment. He bought his own stapler, et cetera. This was before “gravy” entered the city’s vocabulary and before “the taxpayer” became a refrain. It struck me as honest and, I daresay, principled. So, two years later when he campaigned on essentially this notion, I had some basis to believe he was sincere. Meanwhile, claims about Ford’s ineptitude seemed not just exaggerated, but made up. Could anyone be so wildly unfit? Yes. It turns out, yes.
I didn’t know that he came from a millionaire family with a history in politics, and it was just posturing to catch suckers like me. Was he affecting folksy honesty in anticipation of a run for mayor? This seems too farsighted and calculating for our mayor, yet in effect this is what happened. I have learned never to second guess my cynicism, and to this day I trust my instinct and continue to think the worst of everyone. My bullshit meter is severely recalibrated, my political innocence gone, gone, gone.
Perhaps a distinction should be made between Ford voters and Ford supporters. I can’t be the only one of my set who voted for him. There are others. They’re likely the ones who maybe nod a bit but remain silent during Ford bashings. Maybe they’ll read this and feel okay coming out of the closet. I hope so! Torontonians are good people, and I expect the admission will inevitably elicit righteous ridicule, but ultimately forgiveness too.
As a further sign of goodwill and for personal penitence, I impose on readers to suggest to me ideas for community service I can take up. I love Toronto and I want to repair, in some way, the harm I’ve caused. Perhaps like buying a carbon credit as it doesn’t actually fix the pollution, but I cannot undo my vote.
Let’s add a nuance to the simplistic notion that anyone who voted Ford is a Neanderthal from the outer reaches of Toronto, even if generally true. Reasonably smart and decent human beings here made a mistake.
Ivor Tossel has written a book called The Gift of Ford. Essentially, Ford was such a blatant catastrophe that people across the political spectrum have united in their renewed concern for smart urban planning. But Tossel also claims that voters knew what they were getting; one idea from a combative and uncooperative simpleton. This is how it turned out, but despite what he seems to think, some of us were surprised. Perhaps he takes for granted that he was a journalist covering city hall. A simple message during a campaign isn’t unreasonable. My vote was a mistake, but not a conscious one.
In this light, please grant a period of immunity for those who regret voting Ford, and don’t write off their intelligence or basic decency. Clemency is a virtue and I won’t vote like that again. On the other hand, those who watched the circus thrilled that they voted Ford need to be reined in, and we should at once ready the beds, prepare the straight jackets and fling open the gates to our city’s mental asylums.