The Unmanageable Life of Rob Ford

“Give me five or six months, and if they don’t see a difference, I’ll eat my words.” – Rob Ford, November 2013

It seems quaint now, but when I called Rob Ford an addict—in the first thing I ever wrote for Hazlitt, almost a year ago—some people said I was rushing to judgment. Evidence of drug use isn’t evidence of drug addiction, and really, wasn’t my distaste for Ford getting in the way of a more sober (pun mostly intended) assessment?

Of course, even the first crack video (and we now live in a city with multiple videos of the mayor smoking crack, so, yay us) was not the first evidence of Ford’s addiction, as anyone who’d spent even a cursory amount of time reading up on the man knew. Indeed, all the signs were there before he was elected, something the media wasn’t exactly shy about telling voters. Voters didn’t care.

Now, in what are all but certainly the final months of Rob Ford’s political career, the first walls of denial have finally broken down, and Ford has taken the first (as in, of 12) steps: admitting that he’s powerless before alcohol and that his life has become unmanageable.

I don’t wish Ford to suffer further, and as another human I hope he gets better. But we have years of evidence to make us skeptical of his chances for success, and of the sincerity of his desire to change. He and his family spent the past 12 months smirking, building a wall of lies around his addiction, denying its existence and blaming the media for doing its job—blame some quislings in the press corps were more than happy to repeat, because useful idiots are always everywhere.

(Also, are we allowed to reserve some scorn for the Ford matriarch, who said of her youngest son, “he doesn’t live with me, so I don’t know what he does every minute of every day”? As if Ford’s addiction weren’t literally being broadcast to everyone with a television?)

The sequence of events, as we understand it now, is that Ford decided to take his leave of absence the moment the Globe and Mail asked his office about Crack Tape II—but not before calling his most reliable stenographer in the local media, only to be confronted with the fact that other outlets had still more recordings of him. This is not, at first glance, the act of a person who is serious about getting healthy. It’s the act of a person who thinks this is just an interruption in their re-election campaign.

If that sounds cruel, all I can say is that in my experience, compassion for addicts starts when the lying stops. And Ford, 14 years into his misbegotten political career, has not yet stopped lying to others or to himself. (Told by the Toronto Sunof what he was recorded saying, Ford denied using the words and said he’d have to verify the audio, as if he were some forensic technologist.)

The peculiar dementia of political writing in times like this is to wonder what the latest Ford news will mean for the 2014 election. I think it will mean relatively little: Ford’s illness is almost certainly baked into the numbers as we understand them. He may get a slight boost when he returns from treatment, but he’ll then return to the same baseline he’s had since late 2011: the large majority of the city will vote for any credible candidate but Ford.

The more important question is what the latest evidence means for the city. His obscene language about Karen Stintz deserves a sincere apology, but Ford is incapable of sincerely admitting fault. His language about gays and lesbians puts the final nail in the coffin of the Fords’ claim that they’re not bigoted homophobes, but what do we do with that? My heart breaks for better people than I, such as Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who extended Ford every charity to build a bridge for him to the LGBT community, only to be confronted with the unshakeable fact that, as she puts it, “it’s not that he doesn’t get us, he hates us.”

Then there’s the casual use of racist slurs from a man who claimed to be the black community’s best friend at City Hall—while regularly using language that suggest he imagines Toronto’s black community is a feral beast only he can tame.

Oh, and the fact that the Mayor of Toronto smokes crack while he’s already under criminal investigation because of the last time he was caught smoking crack seems like it might be a net negative for the city, too.

But the city we live in now is one where Ford’s supporters will excuse the latest evidence of his manifest unfitness for office just as they’ve excused every previous round. And long after Ford is gone, Ford voters will remain, willing to give a pass to the most egregious conduct as long as they see someone “kick some asses” at City Hall—and as long as they get to imagine they’re wearing the boots.