Lessons from the Rob Ford saga

By Pat Watson Wednesday May 07 2014 in Opinion
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It has been just over a week since the world’s most imperfect mayor issued a written statement that he was going to check himself into a rehabilitation facility to treat his dependency on alcohol.


Now, there is no shortage of pillorying that has been heaped on Rob Ford, Toronto’s 64th mayor, in the almost four years that he has occupied the office, but more important than focusing on just one man who has mystifyingly achieved negative attention across the globe, there are lessons and understanding to be taken from this sorry saga.


One very useful understanding is that despite the ongoing efforts by many in the healthcare and addictions fields to enlighten the public about the nature and characteristics of alcoholism or any similar condition that involves substance abuse, most people generally have very little patience for individuals in full-flight addiction. Given all the anger and mockery that has been directed at Ford, there is very little patience for those who refuse to face up to their substance abuse problem and get help.


There was some patience and room for understanding given to Ford when his behaviour first came to light, especially when he said he would go on the wagon. Not that there weren’t doubters. But, the trust was lost when he could not keep his word.


Anyone who has a relationship with a person struggling with addiction yet continually failing to abstain from drugs or alcohol knows the heartbreak. Ford has been quoted as saying apparently in one of his binges that his wife and children hate him.


It bears recognizing that as with other illnesses, when one family member is seriously ill, the entire family is affected, in one way or another. There is hardly any escaping it.


Ford’s addiction and his behaviour, which is characteristic of an addict, have had a negative impact on an entire city. City councillors, a group of strong egos who are contentious at the best of times, have clearly shown the strain of working with the disordered psyche that Ford carried with him wherever he was.


Another useful piece to this picture is actually puzzling. It is hard for some of us, and that includes this observer, to understand how it is that Ford continues to receive the support of many persons of colour, even as Ford has been well documented – beginning with the first controversial video a year ago – as using slurs to refer to Black people with appalling regularity.


Some of the strongest voices calling for media to ‘leave Ford alone’ have been from this community. How are there so many who are so strong on being treated with respect, yet so willing to shrug off this show of patent disrespect? If a politician of another ethnicity did the same thing, would that also be greeted with a shrug and continued show of support?


Furthermore, if a Black politician maintained a public profile the likes of Ford, would he still have the strong support Ford has from segments of this community? As appalling as Ford’s use of slurs is, it is more appalling that there are people in this community who engage in upholding obnoxious White privilege. And yes, there is a name for that.


One more point: A 28-day program of rehabilitation for someone who has been a habitual user of drugs or alcohol is but a start in recovery. Hardly any lifestyle can be changed in just one month. Looked at another way, if a person has been living out a pattern of substance abuse for four years, it would take at least four years to begin to undo the associated physical damage and psychological and emotional disorders. Moreover, there is hardly a person who is self-medicating with substances who does not have more profound problems than just substance abuse. The abuse of drugs and alcohol are almost always symptoms of deeper issues.

A note on hidden gems in the city…


If you go off the beaten path around the University of Toronto’s downtown campus, take a stroll along Cecil Street east of Spadina Avenue to discover Julius Deutsch Park. The park is not large but it is uniquely designed with outdoor gym equipment that makes fitness fun.

Pat Watson is the author of the e-book In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose. 

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