By PAT WATSON
Television, it’s been said, is the medium that allows you to have in your living room people you would not otherwise invite into your home. Thus it is with Rob Ford, current mayor of Toronto, and his eldest brother Councillor Doug Ford, Ward 2, two politicians who are currently in the spotlight because of behavior deemed for the most part socially offensive.
But this troubling set of circumstances – evidence of a video of the mayor of Toronto consorting with criminals, spending his leisure time in what appears to be a crack den, blackmail, extortion, obscene language, and just plain spectacle, along with his enabling brother – involves not just these individuals, but all spectators.
We may allow ourselves to gawk at this show in disgust, amazement or amusement, but prudence requires some context and perspective, otherwise we may be surprised at where our participating in this whole mess will take us.
First, we have all become part of a scenario that can best be described as an alternate reality. Or if you will, some form of insanity, because soundness of mind is not what is operating at the source – that source being the Fords.
Part of what is so dizzying about the Ford Circus is much of what is happening creates psychic and emotional dissonance. Normally, when someone in a position of public trust breaches that agreement he resigns from that position. This has so far not been the case with Rob Ford. This leaves pundits with no formulaic answer for what is happening and what will happen next.
Part of the confusion is that Ford retains loyalty among his supporters in the face of undeniable antisocial behaviour. But it bears remembering that other politicians who have been in the spotlight for scandals have seen their popularity ratings also go up, former U.S. president Bill Clinton being a prime example.
Another matter to be aware of is that the politics of the dollar has taken primacy. Rob Ford repeats after just about every apology that he is keeping spending down, that he is ‘looking after the little guy’ and that he’s saved this city a billion dollars. All of these claims can reliably be disputed, but as the saying goes, if you repeat a lie often enough it comes to be believed as the truth. Even the liar believes it.
Politicians have made hay with economic insecurity to the extent that a significant enough portion of voters will make allowances for all kinds of oversights as long as politicians can convince them that they are looking after ‘taxpayers’’ money. This reaction has not happened in a vacuum. There has long been dissatisfaction with the way money given up by everyday people to various levels of government has been mishandles or wasted.
The votes that brought the Harper Conservatives to power a decade ago came after revelations about funding improprieties by the Chrétien Liberals, the so-called sponsorship scandal in which monies were paid out to Quebec advertising agencies for work that was not done or overpayments were made. It was a $2-million debacle that eventually put the Liberals in third place in Parliament. The Senate scandal is also about money.
Spending baggage is also haunting Ontario’s Liberal government. By now we should all be familiar with the litany of fiscal waste attached to the current provincial Liberal legacy. Add to that the outrage fueled by right-wing media reporting on retiring municipal politician Kyle Rae’s $14,000 send-off party and we begin to see why and how an outlier like Rob Ford won through. Ford had, after all, made a reputation of railing against pretty much any government spending.
No one likes having his or her trust betrayed. When government leaders do that at the most base level of concern – money – they are stepping deep into the public’s vested interest. So if a person with political ambitions comes along with a message that he will “stop the gravy” train, desperate people will cling to it like a life raft.
We may laugh or be aghast at Ford, but he’s not the only one creating this dystopian drama. He is but a symbol of our collective focus on the almighty dollar. This then is what happens when we make money our god; it turns around and makes a mockery of us all.
A note on…
The Federal Conservatives needn’t hold their breath about winning the Rosedale riding formerly held by Bob Rae in the Nov. 25 by-election. This one is between the Liberals and the NDP.
Pat Watson is the author of the e-book In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.