The former Mayor of Toronto revealed how one could survive scandal and political gridlock, so long as he did it his way.
Canadian politics today is characterized by the smooth-cut, boyishly handsome face of Justin Trudeau, a champion of immigrants, feminism, weed, and just about anything else guaranteed to bolster his popularity among liberals. When asked why his cabinet included so many women when being sworn into office, Trudeau simply responded ‘because it’s 2015.’ Canada is one of the few solid bastions of liberal democracy remaining in the West, following the conservative populist wave which has upended European and American politics.
However, just a few years ago, Canada was rocked by the scandalous career of Robert Ford. In 2006, then-Councillor Ford argued against an increase in AIDs-prevention spending, saying that ‘If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS probably, that’s bottom line.’ It drew condemnation at the time, but it also allowed him to set himself apart from other politicians in the years leading up to his successful mayoral bid. Elected in 2010 on a platform of moderate conservatism, his rhetoric both antagonized and entertained much of the Canadian public.
No slip of the tongue could compare to the revelations that would emerge in 2013. On May 16th, tabloid website Gawker reported that a cellphone video existed of the Mayor smoking crack, recorded in 2012. Leaving his house next day to a barrage of media questions, Ford unequivocally denied the accusations, before going to work. After months of staff members quitting his cabinet, media outlets asking for clarity, and fellow politicians calling on him to resign, Ford admitted to smoking crack on November 5th, 2013, ‘probably in one of my drunken stupors’ (some of which were also video-documented). Asking why he lied, he responded by saying “I wasn’t lying. You didn’t ask the correct questions”.
Though calls for his resignation increased exponentially, Ford refused to step down. The city council stripped him of as much power as they could, and Ford attempted to govern with what he still had, all while picking fights with the media. However, on April 30th, 2014, a second video emerged of Ford smoking crack, and his lawyer announced that the Mayor would be taking a leave of absence. For the next two months, Ford would be in rehab,, returning to work on June 30th. Up for reelection that year, Ford abruptly withdrew his candidacy on September 12th, with his brother taking his place. Five days later, media outlets learned that Robert Ford had been diagnosed with cancer, citing it as the reason for his withdrawal. Robert Ford’s term ended on November 30th, and his brother failed to win the election.
Robert Ford died from cancer two years later at the age of 46. Described in 2010 as the ‘Obama of Toronto’ due to his appealing personality, Ford demonstrated that even smoking crack was not enough to usurp a powerful democratically-elected politician. Even at the height of the crack shitstorm, Ford enjoyed a 42% approval rating, and it was not until cancer took him that his political enemies could breathe a sigh of relief.
Justin Trudeau steadily replaced Ford as the face of Canadian politics, and memories of the mayor faded into obscurity. However, Ford’s ability to navigate his way through his numerous controversies, so long as he remained popular with his base, no doubt drew the attention of Trump as he was gearing up for his Presidential campaign. It’s hard to say just how much Trump was inspired by Ford, but he no doubt learned a few tricks. Whether the President can get anything done if his powers are steadily taken away is another question.🔷