BY JACQUELINE FRISCH — Rob Ford, the controversial mayor of Canada’s largest city, still remains standing, but it is only a matter of time. On November 15, 2013, Toronto’s City Council finally stepped in and showed Torontonians, Canadians, and the world at large that Ford’s entrenched mayoral position rests on much shakier ground than he once thought.
The spectacle that is Rob Ford began several months ago when word got out about a video that showed Ford smoking crack cocaine. Ford initially denied the existence of the video and consistently denied that he smoked crack cocaine. But his denial took him only so far. By late October, the Toronto police announced that it had obtained a copy of the video, and this eventually prompted Ford to admitting on November 5, 2013, that he did, in fact, smoke crack cocaine. Ford then tried to justify his recorded behavior by explaining that he did it while he was in a “drunken stupor.” This explanation was heard and ridiculed around the world.
Amid the scandal, Ford announced that he had every intention of remaining in office and continuing to serve as Toronto’s mayor. And in spite of mounting pressures to resign, Ford stuck to his word and resisted. This revealed an alarming deficiency in the municipal level of government – namely, that there is no mechanism for removing the mayor from office in the province of Ontario.
Fordgate worsened on Thursday, November 14, 2013, when he got particularly irate about an allegation that he had performed oral sex on one of his female staffers and shocked Canadians on live TV with graphic and obscene language. He said: “(The police document) says I wanted to eat her pussy. I’ve never said that in my life to her. I would never do that. I’m happily married. I’ve got more than enough to eat at home.”
This latest incident revealing misogynist and repugnant undertones induced Toronto City Council to take stronger action on Friday, November 15, 2013. In its meeting, City Council decided it had experienced enough embarrassment and voted to strip Mayor Ford of executive committee and emergency powers. So those fearing that democracy was all but lost in Toronto (and I’ll include myself in that demographic) could now breathe again. But what exactly does it mean to say that he will be stripped of his key executive powers? It means that while Ford technically remains mayor—maintaining the power to theoretically lead the council and preside over official functions—he no longer has those key powers that were delegated to him by the council. So, he’ll stay in his position, but he won’t have power? That sounds pretty good, seeing as he seems to be in no way fit to have the kind of power or influence that his position offers. But how about wording it differently, City Council: he won’t have power, but he’ll still look like he does? Now, I’m not so sure…
This ceremonial role is problematic because it fails to address the main reason for the vote: that City Council and the city of Toronto have been utterly humiliated by Rob Ford’s dishonorable behavior and actions. How does keeping him in office as mayor rectify the ongoing humiliation? And what kind of message does that send to kids? “You can smoke crack cocaine and you can have drunken stupors and you can talk in an obscene way and you can get away with it?” Where is the lesson on accountability and that “there are consequences for your actions?” Where is the quintessential caution: think before you speak, kids, and think before you act?
Toronto City Council is expected to meet on Monday, November 18, 2013 to take further action, such as freezing the operating budget for the mayor’s office. Additionally, the premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, has indicated that the provincial government might intervene. And to that, I say, amen. It is time. It is not enough to keep him in office but simply remove his powers. Ford does not deserve his position anymore. As an official who is supposed to represent and embody the people of Toronto, as well as make them proud of the city in which they live, he is failing. So City Council and Provincial Government, it is up to you to mend his wrongs and heal Toronto from its total embarrassment. The only way to do that is to remove him from office and restore integrity to the city and citizens of Toronto.