Ever since Rob Ford became mayor, the city has been transfixed by the spectacle of a man uniquely unsuited to hold high public office, inflicting remarkable damage to the municipality, to city council, to the office of the mayor, and to Toronto itself. He distorted provincial politics and debased the language beyond all imagining. He made us a laughing stock. His defiance of the basic rules of civility mocked all our political conventions. In sum, he has conducted himself in the most disgraceful way imaginable.
Ford — elected by so many perfectly decent people from all walks of life — held up an uncomfortable mirror to this city. He reflected something in our civic DNA that was dark, shocking and small-minded. But despite all the scandals and antics and humiliations, his core of support held, and held, and held.
For many people, Ford continued to be the One True Fiscal Conservative, the only politician capable of staring down the myriad special interests allegedly determined to pick-pocket the ordinary Joe.
So in the wake of two extraordinary revelations — the news exploding around 9:15 pm like a cluster bomb — the single most important story is not about the impact on the election campaign or his supposed treatment/recovery cycle.
It is about the thousands of unquoted, private conversations that are taking place around the kitchen tables of Ford Nation.
I’m not talking about the yahoos who bellow for him at ball games. Many people who voted for Ford are ordinary, conservatively-inclined Torontonians, concerned about their taxes, skeptical about the promises of progressives, and going about their lives. I may disagree with their politics, but I am reluctant to stand in judgment of what they deem to be important in their own lives.
In my years covering municipal affairs, I’ve met so many people, of all political stripes, who know precious little about what goes on in their name at City Hall. They have busy lives and other concerns, some of which involve money, or the lack thereof. So when Torontonians tuned in four years ago and heard this guy saying he was going to put an end to all the self-dealing, many of us — us! — found that message appealing.
As we now know, this man was very much not the person he appeared to be. Yet Ford’s supporters toughed it out during the first innings of Crackgate, and some continued to stick by their guy during last fall’s revolving door of revelations.
But we often forget that Ford wasn’t just lying to the media and the city’s progressives. He was lying to Ford Nation, too. He talked about humility at his campaign launch and kept telling all those loyal supporters that he was sorry, that he was moving forward and mending his ways.
In short, he took Ford Nation for a bunch of chumps, and I’m guessing that a growing number of his backers are waking up to the bitter taste of betrayal — the searing realization that their guy, the only man they trusted to protect their modest interests, is nothing but a vulgar, misogynistic, serial liar in the throes of an untreated addiction. Ford lives a life that is unrecognizable to most Torontonians, including many of the people who fervently believed he represented them.
What are they feeling when confronted with these new revelations? Anger? Pity? Dismay? Disgust? I can tell you this: it won’t be love.
illustration by Kevin Nunez