To fully appreciate public office at its worst, look no further than the front page of Canada’s so-called national newspaper last Friday. There, depicted in all his inglorious bluster, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is telling a mob of reporters that he’s staying put.
Forget the fact that his own police chief had, only hours earlier, confirmed that the long-rumoured video of Mr. Ford smoking what seems to be crack-cocaine is, in fact, real and that the Toronto drug force has a copy of it.
Forget the fact that the cops had just unloaded a trunk load of documents outlining more than five months of phone calls and meetings between the mayor and one Alessandro Lisi, an alleged drug dealer.
“The digital file that we have recovered depicts images which are consistent with those that have previously been reported in the press,” Police Chief Bill Blair said at a news conference on Friday. “As a citizen of Toronto, I am disappointed. I know this is a traumatic issue for the citizens of this city and for the reputation of this city – and that concerns me.”
The individual it should concern most, of course, is Mayor Ford. Apparently, it doesn’t. “I wish I could come out and defend myself,” he told reporters. “Unfortunately, I can’t because it’s before the courts. That’s all I can say.”
Others had plenty to say, most of it archly critical.
“If Mayor Ford truly has the city’s well-being at heart, he would step aside,” architect Jack Diamond told The Globe and Mail. “Whatever the courts eventually decide, the circumstantial evidence is enough to constrain the mayor on any issue to the extent that managing the city’s affairs can only be harmed.”
And, of course, the editorial pages of Hog Town clamored for Mr. Ford’s removal.
“Under (the) circumstances, having Ford at the helm badly undermines Toronto’s reputation,” The Toronto Star declared. “If Ford possesses even a scintilla of respect and concern for the city he is supposed to lead, he will step down as mayor.”
Concluded The Globe: “For months, Mr. Ford has been stonewalling. He can’t do that any more. His behaviour can’t be explained away, and he isn’t even trying. He’s simply ignoring and evading that which cannot any longer be denied. Toronto deserves better.”
I reality, Toronto is a big town. It will survive Mr. Ford, just as it has other public officials who have besmirched its reputation. The trains will continue to run on time. The wheels of the buses will continue to go round and round.
But “Fordgate” is a particular species of political scandal that seems be growing more common these days. When faced with evidence of their wrongdoing – or, the appearance of their wrongdoing – certain public officials seem to think that defiance, rather than circumspection, is in order.
True, none of the allegations against Mr. Ford have been proven in a court of law. (In fact, they are not actually before the courts). But the mayor of the country’s largest city at least owes a debt of indulgence to those elected him. He is an office
“holder”. He does not own the position of chief magistrate.
All of which is to say that the public institutions we trust to protect our democracy from perdition are only as good as the quality of the people we assign to run them.
Senator Mike Duffy blathers on about being knifed in the back by staffers at the Prime Minister’s Office, while accepting no responsibility, whatsoever, for his own considerable role in his undoing.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper changes his tune regarding his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, declaring that he “dismissed” the man. (He had formerly allowed that Mr. Wright resigned of his own accord).
As for Mr. Wright’s reputation, it seems broadly intact. His friends tell the Globe and Mail that he possesses “high integrity” and “unbelievable ability.”
All of which is to say that everybody makes mistakes. It’s what we do about them that counts in both private and public life.