Tag Archives: Rob Ford

The Big Smoke is now under Bruce management (sort of)

I never really got to know my distant cousin John Tory. Though we share an antecedent (my great-grandmother, Sarah Jane Tory Bruce was his great-great-aunt. . .I think), he became a wildly successful lawyer, corporate executive and fundraiser for charitable, good works, whilst I, in contrast, became a curmudgeon.

Last week, Cousin John ascended on a wave of strategic voting to the position of Mayor of Canada’s largest metropolis.

Last week, I wrote five columns for the Moncton Times & Transcript, walked 28 miles, and wondered when Damon on “The Vampire Diaries” would finally push the veil between dimensional plains and re-enter the “real world”.

All of which is to say that Toronto, the city of my birth, got the better product of the Tory-Bruce issue to lead it.

Then again, that’s actually not saying a whole helluva lot.

John prevailed, with 40 per cent of the vote, in the municipal election last week; but that was just seven points ahead of Doug Ford, who ran on his brother Rob’s behalf.

Rob, we should never forget, is the man – four years the mayor – who appeared in public as “tired and emotional” as he explained why his incessant drinking led to his recreational fondness for crack cocaine, racial and sexist slurs, and bizarrely bad, almost ritualistically suicidal behaviour.

That his older brother Doug should have come within single digits of electoral success, without any platform for change or progress – indeed, without any ideas at all – is all anyone needs to know about politics in The Big Smoke.

Call it Tammany Hall, Canadian-style.

I covered that city’s politics when Mayor Art Eggleton was in power. At the time, in the 1980s, the late, great Jack Layton was a progressive member of council. He would routinely fomate against the “power” of the “man”, not noticing that, somewhere, back in the far green belts of northern Etobicoke, Scarborough and Mississauga, the power of the “common man” was quietly forging “Ford Nation” from an unlikely consortium of disaffected white folks, and transplanted Jamaicans, Indians and eastern Europeans.

This is the city that Cousin John inherits.

And yet, he says this in his giddy acceptance speech: “Tonight, we we begin the work of building one Toronto – a prosperous, fair, respected and caring Toronto. Together, like never before, we begin building Toronto the Great.”

Meanwhile, Rob Ford still manages to nail it from his political hospice: “If you know anything about the Ford family, we never, ever, ever give up. . .I guarantee, in four more years, your going to see another example of the Ford family never, ever, ever giving up.”

I believe him. Does my Cousin John?

The ill-mannered, the crazy, the utter buffoons have always been able to purchase our attention (and our votes) cheaply. In the grips of their handlers, they become not the maniacal outliers of our society, but the mainstream managers of our democracy. They become, inexorably, the normative value to which we lend our faith, our hope, our dreams.

Toronto, the city of my beginnings, where I was raised for the first, formative years of my life – where I learned to read, calculate, think, emote, dress myself, tie my own shoes, eat my own supper, make my own friends, avoid bad guys, embrace good guys, know the difference between the dark and the light – give this cousin of mine a chance.

I can almost guarantee that this 60-year-old man will not list here and there, speaking poor West Indian patois, whilst sucking from a water-bong. I can almost guarantee that “cuz” will be as diligent and boring as the largest city in this great nation now needs in its leader.

But Canada, also know this: The Ford empire is far from done. It may be temporarily disenfranchised in The Big Smoke, but its ideological tendrils extend everywhere – to the big cities and small towns of the shield, plains, prairies and coasts of this nation.

It’s the small mind writ large by ambition and cynical determination.

Good luck, oh cousin of mine.

You’re going to need some.

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All hail our towering examples of public service


We are, in every way on every day, blessed in this country to count among our citizenry the finest class of politicians and civic leaders humanity has ever seen fit to produce. Of course, we dare not stare too long at their like, lest these glittering specimens of probity and circumspection blind us where we stand.

Perhaps, then, only a glance or two will suffice.

What say you Rob Ford, Lord High Mayor of yon Hog Town? When last we checked your calendar, you were just emerging from several weeks of. . .ahem. . .well-deserved rest, having spent several years working overtime to become habitually. . .well, let’s just say. . .tired and emotional.

According to the Globe and Mail this week, hizzoner says it is “irrelevant whether or not his family firm does business with a large U.S. printing company he and his brother opened doors for at city hall, arguing the Ford’s company has too many clients for him to declare a conflict on every one.”

In fact, the mayor’s exact words were: “People come with ideas to save the city money. I’ll be the first one to bring them in, bring the managers and say, here’s some ideas. If thats a conflict, I’m going to have to declare a conflict with almost every business or person in this city. I guess I am in a conflict.”

That said, Mr. Ford trundled off for a photo-op at a new playground in the GTA’s North York borough. There, he joined some kids on the monkey bars and exclaimed his abiding support for the new space and others like it across the city. Which was strange, because, as the Toronto Star reported, “he was the only member of council to vote against a proposal to let the city use $140,000 in private money to build the park. The proposal passed 34-1.”

Again, according to the Star, “Local resident and advocate Talisha Ramsaroop, 21, said Ford told her and two other young people at the ceremony that he has done more for low-income communities than any other mayor – and that he ‘started’ the park project. ‘Those were his exact words: ‘I started this,’’ Ramsaroop said.

“In fact, the park, Reading Sprouts Garden, was (an). . .initiative of local councillor Maria Augimeri. Ramsaroop said she was ‘really upset’ when she was informed later of Ford’s opposing vote. ‘To be quite’honest, I didn’t know that politicians were allowed to lie to your face,’ Ramsaroop said. “Like, I know this sounds really optimistic, but I was completely unaware that politicians were allowed to lie to the face of the people.’”

Elsewhere in Oz, the Senate of Canada was debating whether or not to sanction one of its members for some such misdemeanour.

Nope, it wasn’t mighty Mike Duffy, rumoured to be from Kensington, Prince Edward Island, now facing 31 counts of fraud and breach of trust. Neither was it his colleague Pamela Wallin who’s still facing the RCMP’s music.

It was the heretofore all-but-unknown Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, a Conservative senator who got his wrists slapped for hiring his girlfriend. As a Star piece noted, “A Senate committee is debating what – if any – sanction to level against a Quebec Conservative who was found to have breached parts of the upper chamber’s conflict-of-interest code.

“Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu got a chance Monday to testify behind closed doors about why he continued to employ his girlfriend as an assistant, even though it violated Senate guidelines.

“Boisvenu renewed a job contract for his girlfriend twice, and tried to ensure a two-week special leave for her as she moved from one job to another in Senate administration. . .Boisvenu was found to have acted inappropriately by not only renewing the contract but also by lobbying Senate leadership over how time off Lapointe had taken was to be counted.”

Meanwhile the Upper Chamber’s ethics commissioner, Lyse Ricard, is recommending that no sanctioned be leveled against the former victims’ rights advocate as he didn’t mean to break the Senate’s rules. His “error of judgement,” she said, was “made in good faith.”

But of course – among the political class, aren’t they all?

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Mayor Rob Ford’s unerring instinct for survival



Like the proverbial cat of lore, though a conspicuously rotund one, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is possessed of nine lives – one for nearly every fatal blunder possible in the brutal cosmos of elected office.

About the only outrage this recovering substance abuser hasn’t committed in his relatively short career in front of the footlights is an old-fashioned sex scandal involving a mistress whom the media’s hound dogs reveal to be a foreign spy.

Everything else – from public drunkenness to smoking crack cocaine with “persons of interest” to Hog Town’s sturdy constabulary – he has covered with enviable bravado and originality. It now remains to be seen whether he manages his public reconstruction with equal dollops of brio. 

He’s off to a truly Fordian start.

“When I look back on some of the things I have said and some of the things I did when I was using, I am ashamed, embarrassed, and humiliated,” Mr. Ford practically wailed before a crowd of Toronto reporters who had gathered at City Hall on Monday, exactly 24 hours after his release from 60 days of self-imposed rehabilitation at a facility far from prying eyes.

He said he was “wrong” and had no one to blame, “but no one”, but himself. He talked about enduring “some of the darkest moments” of his life as he relented to treatment that, nonetheless, “saved” his life. He blathered on about spending a good deal of his time in charge of Canada’s largest city – a metropolis of between two and six million souls, depending on how one parses census data – “in complete denial” about his “personal demons.”

Then he launched into a vigorous defence of his political record and vowed to represent the people of his city with matchless determination and characteristic devotion. 

The meta message, therefore, was along certain lines thusly: “Sorry for all the bother folks. but I’m all better now. Let’s move on; nothing to see here anymore. . .Anybody got a candy bar I can scarf? Getting off booze and drugs is hungry business. . .Gotta tell you. . .Ooo, is that a donut I see?” 

The degree to which one believes Hizzoner’s declarations of personal cleanliness and sobriety depends entirely on one’s perspectives about public office and what it may or may not do to those who serve at the democratic will of the electorate. 

Over the past few decades, Toronto has become a true melting pot of people from divergent world cultures. Some have zero tolerance for the sort of shenanigans that has typified Mr. Ford’s regime. Others are decidedly sanguine about their mayor’s peccadilloes and proclivities, if only because he has deliberately made a populist of  himself – a posture they appreciate. 

He’s no elite, they say. He’s a man of the people. And like any man of the people, he has his faults. We should forgive him for these, shouldn’t we? At least he’s not a nail-biting, politically correct elitist. 

Better yet, he doesn’t go around shooting people in the dark, as burgermeisters of many less enlightened cities in disadvantaged nations often do when their critics cross the line and commit the unpardonable offence of questioning authority.

But if this is, indeed, our litmus test for municipal leadership in this country, then we have reached a truly sorry state of affairs. 

Mr. Ford’s crimes against common decency demonstrate his colossally poor judgement. His tirades – drunken or otherwise – against his colleagues reveal dimensions of immaturity and paranoia that would otherwise fill a therapist’s calendar for years to come. 

He has yet to apologize personally to his rival for mayor, Karen Stintz, for outrageously inappropriate remarks he made about her while sucking back a few brewskis in a bar in April. 

And he has never acknowledged the shellacking his behaviour has visited upon Toronto in the court of world opinion. According to a CBC item posted to its website recently, “A new media-monitoring analysis suggests the Rob Ford saga received more intensive media coverage in the United States than any other Canadian news story since the turn of the century.”

Toronto mayoralty candidate Olivia Chow is right when she declares, as she did to the Globe and Mail this week, “The question is not whether Rob Ford is clean and sober. The issue is that he is a failed mayor.”

Still, will that matter four months from now when municipal election day rolls around?

This cat’s come back from the brink before.


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Exporting Canada’s bad boy image

No one's coming up smelling like roses these days

No one’s coming up smelling like roses these days

If I didn’t know better, I might say a certain collusion is afoot in the Great White North, where our national reputation was once as pristine as the driven snow.

Consider a few dispatches from the world press last week:

“(Justin) Bieber posted bail of $2,500 US, and faces charges of driving under the influence, driving with an invalid licence, and resisting arrest without violence after being stopped while ‘drag racing’ in a residential neighbourhood,” the CBC reported. “His rented, yellow Lamborghini was impounded.”

According to the arresting officer’s official report, which tweeted faster than a song bird in heat on Thursday, “I caught up to the yellow Lamborgini (sic) and initiated a traffic stop. . .I approached the vehicle on the driver side. I asked the driver to place the vehicle in park. At this time, the driver began to state, ‘Why did you stop me?’ I explained to the driver that he was stopped because he was drag racing with (another) Lamborgini (sic). I immediately smelled an odor of alcohol eminating (sic) from the driver’s breath and bloodshot eyes. The driver had slow deliberate movements and a stuper (sic) look on his face. These are all indicators of an impaired driver. I asked the driver to exit the vehicle. . .The driver stated, ‘Why the (expletive) are you doing this?’”

Meanwhile, back at the barn in good, old Hog Town, Burgermeister Bob was up to his old tricks. According to the Toronto Star, “Mayor Rob Ford was off the wagon at an Etobicoke steak joint this week, impaired and rambling, associating with accused video extortionist Alexander ‘Sandro’ Lisi and hurling profane, expletive-laden insults at Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair. . .’(Expletive) Chief Blair,’ Ford says in a videotape made at approximately 1 a.m. Tuesday. ‘They chase me around for five months. . .You know how much that costs?”

Later in the week, the Star’s Robyn Doolittle reported, “A couple hundred suits who’d gathered at the Hilton Toronto on Thursday afternoon grumbled quietly to each other about the mayor’s extreme tardiness. Rob Ford’s speech to the Economic Club of Canada was supposed to start at noon, but when he was still a no-show 45 minutes later, an entire table got up to leave. . .The mayor was an hour late for his speech.

‘We were stuck in an elevator,’ his spokesperson Amin Massoudi insisted.”

The question for the conspiratorially minded among us is, of course, are these separate and unrelated events or are they, rather, strategically conjoined displays of bad behavior designed to promote Canada’s new and improved tough guy image abroad? And if the latter is the case, who’s pulling the strings?

More questions swirl:

Is it really mere coincidence, dear reader, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has campaigned vigorously over the past year for a national hardline reset on everything from environmental rules and regulations to foreign policy just as Messrs. Bieber and Ford began to act out?

The former has 48,996,563 twitter followers. The PM has a mere 408,102. If you were him (Mr. Harper, that is), whose social media presence would you count on to  popularize the message that we Canadians are, in fact, bat-guano crazy?

Former federal Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae doesn’t go down conspiracy row with any sort of aplomb, but he made some excellent points this past summer in his political blog on Huffington Post, to wit:

“Canada has become the classic practitioner of megaphone policy. . .We have the megaphone, the Prime Minister telling the American President in his own country that ‘he won’t take no for an answer’ on Keystone, John Baird . . .expressing skepticism but having no information and no knowledge to assess what is actually happening in Tehran. In my recent travels and discussions with seasoned foreign policy experts and politicians in the U.S. and Europe, I haven’t met one who took Canada seriously anymore, except as a posturer, a poseur, a political game player.”

Oh, I don’t know about that. The stridently hawkish Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, seems to think we’re pretty swell.

Then again, he may may also think that a country’s international reputation can only benefit from blanket coverage of its boozy mayors and sloshed, foul-mouthed post-adolescent superstars.

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Politicians say the darndest things

If only fatheads could float far away

If only fatheads could float far away

They don’t really mean the nonsense that, so often, trips off their tongues. They just libel can’t help themselves. Theirs is less an affliction than an occupational hazard. It comes with the territory upon which the politician must trod, oh so publicly, every day.

We shan’t soon forget this beauty, courtesy of former U.S. President George W. Bush, circa 2004:

“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

Nor can we let current U.S. President Barack Obama off the hook for this campaign trail blooper some years ago: “I’ve now been in 57 states – I think I have one left to go.”

There’s the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan on the environment: “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.”

There’s U.S. Congressman Joe Barton on wind energy:

“Wind is God’s way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it’s hotter to areas where it’s cooler. That’s what wind is. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up?

There’s former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on being gay: “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals, like in your country.”

There’s former U.S. Representative Todd Akin on pregnancy resulting from sexual assault: “It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

There’s Canada’s former Minister of Public Safety on an opposition MP who criticized new government legislation designed to fight online pedophilia: “We are proposing measures to bring our laws into the 21st century and to provide the police with the lawful tools that they need. . .He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”

Now we witness Toronto Mayor (in name only) Rob Ford throw his hat into the arena with what is clearly a litigious attack on Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale, who has returned fire with a libel notice.

Mr. Ford’s remark in an interview with Conrad Black on The Zoomer TV show earlier this month was, verbatim: “Daniel Dale in my backyard taking pictures. I have little kids. When a guy’s taking pictures of little kids, I don’t want to say the word, but you start thinking, you know, what’s this guy all about?”

To which Mr. Dale’s lawyers responded, “This is a vicious libel of Mr. Dale. In its plain and ordinary meaning, Rob Ford is calling Mr. Dale a pedophile. . .This letter shall constitute notice under section 5(1) of Ontario’s Libel and Slander Act. . .ZoomerMedia and Rob Ford should immediately retract the false and defamatory statements in their entirety, and apologize to Mr. Dale – publicly, abjectly, unreservedly and completely – if they wish to even begin to undo the harm caused by the broadcast of Mr. Ford’s outrageous statements.”

Yeah, good luck with that.

Methinks Mr. Ford, who has admitted to smoking crack cocaine and being outrageously drunk in public and, yet, remains technically in office, believes his skin in made of teflon. And maybe it is.

Maybe that is the secret of public office: Regularly say the the most ludicrous things you can imagine and, pretty soon, people become inured to your absurdity.

Conversely, when a smart, articulate guy says something just a wee bit silly, the remark stands out.

Here’s New Brunswick Liberal MLA Don Arseneault critiquing the new Tory drug plan for the province last week: “If a single mother or anybody in New Brunswick misses a payment – maybe because of being out of the country or being in the hospital or just not being able to make ends meet – the government is going to multiply that fine by the number of days and the person can be fined up to $5,200. . .Do you think that is right?”

To which Health Minister Ted Flemming replied, “Any person who is in need is not going to be paying under this plan. . .To suggest that New Brusnwickers are a bunch of people who are not going to p[ay their bills is an insult. . .and you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

Careful, fellows. . .You are heading dangerously close to Rob Ford territory, where nonsense is a way of life.

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Conrad and Rob hate the press. Alert the media?

What goes up...needs hot air

What goes up…needs hot air

On the subject of embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, Conrad Black – former guest of the U.S. penal system, former millionaire newspaper-chain owner and current television talk-show host – has had a change of heart. Sort of.

According to Newstalk1010 Radio’s website, an interview last month with Mr. Black suggested that Mr. Ford was not the ex-media baron’s “candidate of choice in the last municipal election and (that) Toronto deserves someone with a little more dignity than a person like Ford. ‘People saying what kind of example he’s set’ (said Mr. Black). ‘Well, maybe it’s not a great example, but that’s what you have elections for.’”

Having had a moment or two to reflect, Mr. Black now thinks “the piling on to Mayor Ford has been excessive.”

One may speculate as to the precise amount of “piling on” Mr. Black considers acceptable, but his point is simply that Mr. Ford “was elected mayor of Toronto.” Therefore, reason allows, “those who do not like his style will be free to vote against if he runs again. If there is sufficient evidence to prosecute him with crimes, due process should be followed. But he should be accorded a full presumption of innocence unless he is justly convicted. Beyond that his accusers should put up or shut up.”

Mr. Black comes to these conclusions – posted to the blog site of his TV show, The Zoomer – following an hour-long chat with Mr. Ford last week. The interview appears tonight on the Vision network. After which, Mr. Black is sure to lament, “Gadzooks, the piling of the scrofulous media degenerates, exhibiting undiminished determination, continues unabatedly.”

For the moment, what we do know is that Mr. Ford doesn’t mind sharing. In fact, he tells his new chum, “If they want me to do a drug test, a urine test, I’ll do one right now. If there’s any drugs in my system, any alcohol in my system. . . I have no problem doing that test.”

To which Mr. Black responds with almost avuncular solicitude, “Rob, there is absolutely no need to do a urine test right now.”

That’s right, Roddie, old boy: At least wait until you’re done with the interview.

Some will see the pairing of Messrs. Black and Ford as odd.

After all, Mr. Black is a scion of the Canadian establishment, a recipient of a privileged and excellent education, a famously successful businessman, an accomplished historian and author, a British peer who renounced his Canadian citizenship, and an ex-con who was (he insists) wrongly incarcerated on trumped-up charges of fraud and obstruction of justice.

Mr. Ford is. . .well, none of those things.

Rather, he is the son plain, working stock, who grew up and went to public schools in Toronto’s vast suburban wasteland. As a politician, he’s a right-wing populist and a proud flag-waving Canadian who, somewhat incongruously, likes immigrants because immigrants, by and large, keep electing his impressively rotund rear end into office whether or not he admits to drinking to excess (he does) or smoking crack cocaine (again, he does) or referring to a certain part of the female anatomy in crudely animalistic terms (one of those “inflammatory malapropisms” Mr. Black, himself, has warned Mr. Ford to avoid deploying whenever possible).

Mr. Ford is bologna and white bread. Mr. Black is caviar and toast points. Mr. Ford is yellow mustard. Mr Black is Chablis Dijon. Mr. Ford is a pickup truck. Mr. Black is a Bentley Mulsanne.

Still, the combination works precisely because it is so bizarre. The various controversies and public outrages that have made their respective careers so publicly accessible unite them – one, elite; the other, hoi polloi – in a sentiment that a growing number of Canadians – regardless of backgrounds – share: the media, as Mr. Ford has inelegantly put it, are maggots.

Do you want to act like an idiot whilst holding public office? Forget it; it’s not going to happen. Blame the media.

Do you want people to stop asking impertinent questions about embarrassing circumstances, even though such circumstances are a matter of police investigations? You’d have better luck finding a snowball in hell. Blame the media.

And while you are at it, stay away from mirrors. Like TV cameras, they add ten pounds, mostly to that region between the ears.

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One nation united in logical impairment


When the Great Rending of Canadian culture occurred is hard to say, exactly. It’s easy to locate the momentous event in one of the terms of office enjoyed by Stephen Harper and crew of grumpy old men and women. They helped it along, of course, but they didn’t start the tear in the tissue of society.

At some point, years before the Great Recession exposed the nasty truth for all to see – the rich really do get richer, and the poor really do get poorer – we began to separate into two camps, a process that lazy mainstream media was all to happy to enable with facile headlines and preposterous sound bites.

On one side of the moat sauntered the educated elites, the vile progressives, the evil socialists – the loathsome Liberal establishment.

On the other bank stood the underschooled commoners, the conspiracy theorists, the science-doubting bootstrappers – the reactionary Conservative outliers.

These might have remained only convenient stereotypes to feed late-night standup comics their gag lines. But, somewhere along the line, we began to believe the characterizations about ourselves.

And while some of us pranced around displaying our Keynesian colours, spouting good-government bromides, a goodly number of us actually became the blunt-nosed, opinionated hardliners we were said to be. Indeed, suddenly, we were proud to count ourselves among such company.

On the subject of embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford – now stripped of many of his official powers, though his Conservative bonafides reportedly go all the way to the Prime Minister’s Office – a reader recently wrote to The Globe and Mail.

“There is a coup at city hall in Toronto, no different than in some Middle Eastern country, except they stopped before there was bloodshed,” he observed. “They have done a marvellous job of character assassination on Mayor Rob Ford. Meanwhile, in your front-page index, you reported that ‘no one in Ottawa has offered an apology – or an explanation – for the apparent disappearance of $3.1 billion that had been allocated for anti-terrorism projects.’ Well, maybe Rob Ford should become prime minister.”

Another reader, writing in a different publication, suggested that Mr. Ford’s crack smoking, public drunkenness and violent outbursts were all tolerable as long as he continued to put the boots to the true enemies of the people: liberals.

The ironies, in all of this, abound, too numerous to count. But Globe columnist Jeffrey Simpson did his level best the other day when he wrote, “You can see the contradictions everywhere in the Conservative/conservative world. Conservatives who support Mr. Ford are the ‘tough on crime’ voters of the kind also targeted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. You would logically assume therefore that a mayor who confesses to having broken laws – smoking crack cocaine, for example – would be just the sort of public person the Conservatives/conservatives would revile. Apparently not.”

This syndrome of systematic logic-impairment, however, extends far beyond the gates of fair TO.

No real thinking is required (in fact, none is preferable) of the jerky-kneed, law-and-order type who likes the cut of Mr. Harper’s jib as he pilots his penal reform agenda through society.

Actual crime in the streets may be at an all-time low, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon our plans to send more people to jail for increasingly minor offences (such as possession of marijuana) over the next several years.

Actual prisons in this country face what Correctional Services Canada now calls “imminent” threats related to “the risk and implications of serious failure of physical infrastructure, critical to life safety, security, operations, and occupant health.” Again, though, that doesn’t mean we should spend the billion-or-so bucks to upgrade them.

Let the bad guys suffer. Who cares if we turn them into very type of people we find we must keep locked behind bars at the extraordinary expense of the one thing we truly care about: our personal bank accounts?

Where is the moderate middle when you need one?

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Musings on an approaching birthday


As the dreaded anniversary of my first appearance on this sullen orb approaches with all the inevitability of a shale gas protest, I resolve to experience that which has, so far, eluded me, lo these 52 years, 11 months and 20 days.

Given my soul’s temperament, serenity and wisdom may be too much to expect. But, at my age, nothing beats a fresh diversion or two.

For some time, it has been one of my fondest desires to coin a word and have it recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary. This month, the venerable OED has heralded ‘selfie’ as its word of the year. According to the Guardian newspaper, it refers to a “photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

The term debuted in an Australian online forum in 2002, to wit: “Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

The OED’s editors noted that the word secured its ranking after the dictionary’s language research program showed that the frequency of its usage jumped by 17,000 per cent in 12 months. Other words that made the shortlist included: bedroom tax, binge-watch, bitcoin, olinguito (a miniature racoon), schmeatn (fake meat), showrooming, and twerk.

None, I hasten to add, holds a candle to my entry for consideration in next year’s competition. What do we call a political scandal that involves prostitutes, illegal narcotics, foul language, pornography, violent outbursts, grandstanding? Why, that would be ‘Fordmageddon.’ Naturally.

On the subject of new experiences, my wife and I will be passing through the town that Rob wrecked in about a month en route to New York City. There, from our room at the Chelsea Pine Inn, we shall embark on a walking tour of lower Manhattan, taking as many nibbles out of the Big Apple as time (all of eight days) permits.

Those of us who were born and raised in Toronto have a nasty tendency to assume that those who weren’t haven’t yet graduated to indoor plumbing. That’s why the Ford fiasco troubles us so deeply: The emperor’s clothes have gone missing, and what is revealed is simply unspeakable.

But it behooves us to recognize that New York remains North America’s preeminent destination for municipal mischief of every variety. Last May, in a piece entitled, ‘Scandal and Redemption in NY Politics,’ Beth Gerbitelli barely skimmed the surface when she reported in MetroFocus.com, “a formerly disgraced pol from New York, Anthony Weiner, returned to the front pages when he discussed the possibility of running for mayor in the pages of The New York Times Magazine in April.

“After holding out for almost a month and teasing the New York tabloids with reports of hiring campaign staff and  recording an announcement video, Weiner laid suspicions to rest with a midnight campaign rollout the week before Memorial Day.

Weiner resigned from Congress two years ago after accidentally, publicly sending lewd pictures of himself through social media. Weiner first claimed the pictures were the work of a hacker before coming forward and acknowledging that they were taken and sent by him. . .‘Look, I made some big mistakes, and I know I let a lot of people down,’ Weiner stated. ‘But I’ve also learned some tough lessons. I’m running for mayor because I’ve been fighting for the middle class and those struggling to make it for my entire life and I hope I get a second chance to work for you.’”

Sound familiar? It’s the universal call of the publicly humiliated, unreconstructed campaign addict.

On the other hand, Mr. Wiener, who torpedoed his run for the mayoralty in much the same way as he did his congressional career, seems to have acquired a degree of circumspection about which Mr. Ford’s detractors can only dream.

“I’m just an empty, soulless vessel,” the disgraced New Yorker wrote about himself.

Aren’t we all, Tony? Though, some of us be more soulless than others.

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Partygoer Rob Ford overstays his welcome

Ford Nayshun ahead. . .Lock up yer daughters Hog Town

Ford Nayshun ahead. . .Lock up yer daughters Hog Town

On any given day, I drink a glass of wine with supper. I do not show up at office parties in any state other than one of profound and sober resignation. And if, at any point in the evening, my wife asks me to leave with her, I am happy to oblige. Quietly.

For these reasons alone, I am fairly certain that I do not qualify to fill Rob Ford’s shoes.

If you’ve been off planet these past few years, you won’t know that he’s the mayor of Canada’s largest city, North America’s fourth biggest metropolis, the Centre of the Universe, Hog Town, Toronto.

You also won’t know that Mr. Ford admits that he has smoked crack cocaine and bought illegal drugs, that he knows people in low places, that, in a video, the 300-pound-plus baby throwing a tantrum over some sleight, real or imagined, is, indeed, his goodself.

He even admits that he might just need some professional help, even if that’s only a trip to beachfront bar in Fort Lauderdale this Christmas vacation.

The tragicomic antics of Canada’s very own Boss Hogg is not merely the biggest story in Toronto these days. It is the only story, numbing all who come within its orbit with vast doses of intrigue, mendacity and outright sleaze. If you’ve ever witnessed a train wreck in progress, you know that to look away is impossible.

“Did you hear the latest from that guy?” the cab driver asked me on the way in from Pearson International Airport last week. “He says he’s done all those things in a drunken stupor, and he still won’t resign. It’s like he’s proud of himself or something.”

I laughed and mentioned that his dear, old mum told an interviewer the other day that the only thing wrong with her sonny boy is that he’s packing a bit too much weight.

Without missing a beat, the cabbie quipped, “Yup, especially between the ears.”

Moments later, I found myself in the outer office of a Bay Street type, for whom I was doing some consulting. His assistant told me he had been delayed and asked if I would mind waiting. After ten minutes, my client emerged, red-faced and chuckling.

“Sorry,” he said. “I just had to see the end of the latest press conference. You know what? Television does not do justice to our colourful mayor.”

Of course, not everyone is laughing. The mayor’s public approval ratings, which actually shot up following his admission of cocaine use, are plummeting. Even his once ardent defenders and confederates are calling for his ouster.

Meanwhile, Canada’s national newspaper is beside itself with old-school Toronto opprobrium.

“How is this man still the mayor?” last Thursday’s Globe and Mail editorial beseeched. “He’s an admitted crack smoker, and an admitted liar about it. He’s been publicly drunk – ‘hammered’ and ‘extremely, extremely inebriated,’ in his own words – on several occasions. . .On Wednesday morning, he confessed to having purchased illegal drugs while mayor; by mid-afternoon, police documents ordered released by a judge were detailing a whole new series of allegations, by his own staff, of intoxication and drug use.”

In fact, there’s nothing especially instructive about any of this; no great lessons in civics and public administration may be plucked from this fiasco, save, perhaps, one:

It seems broadly absurd that Toronto, that most sophisticated of burbs, that beacon of commerce and culture, is utterly powerless over the machinery of its own governance. Why is there no code of conduct for elected officials, including the mayor, that makes things like illegal drug use, public drunkenness and bald-faced lying impeachable offences, the penalty for which is summary dismissal?

Rob Ford won’t quit for two reasons.

The first is he doesn’t have to.

The second is, despite his protestations to the contrary, he’s having way too much fun directing his own, personal psychodrama before the camera’s vacant stare. Every day that passes, he ups the ante by issuing fresh confessions, accusations or sundry pornographic observations lest the pot of public outrage and disgust stops boiling.

This is, after all, Rob Ford’s party and, apparently, we’re not allowed to leave.

Not yet.

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Teachable moments from the living dead


What accounts for the unrelenting zombie craze that finds perfect prime-time expression in the American Movie Channel’s The Walking Dead and in the distraught, if otherwise perfect, visage of Brad Pitt, hero of the summer blockbuster World War Z?

Let us say the scholarship on the subject is diverse.

According to one Todd Platts, a researcher at the University of Missouri’s Department of Sociology, “It may be tempting to brush zombies aside as irrelevant ‘pop culture ephemera,’” he writes in a recent edition of Sociology Compass. “Zombie infected popular culture, however, now contributes an estimated $5 billion to the world economy per annum. In addition to movies, comics, books, and video games, individuals routinely don complex homemade zombie costumes to march in zombie walks and/or engage in role-playing games like Humans vs. Zombies.”

None of which should surprise anyone, says Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Tufts University and the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies.

“Zombies thrive in popular culture during times of recession, epidemic and general unhappiness,” he writes in The Wall Street Journal. “Traditional threats to U.S. security may have waned, but nontraditional threats assault us constantly. Concerns about terrorism have not abated since 9/11, and cyberattacks have now emerged as a new anxiety. Drug-resistant pandemics have been a staple of local news hysteria since the H1N1 virus swept the globe in 2009. Scientists continue to warn about the dangers that climate change poses to our planet. And if the financial crisis taught us anything, it is that contagion is endemic to the global market system. Zombies are the perfect metaphor for these threats.”

Still, this doesn’t explain why zombies are more suitable, metaphorically speaking, than other types of monsters to represent our scared-stiff times.

When I was a kid, growing up in Toronto and Halifax, the preferred creatures of the night included Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man, Godzilla, and even Mothra. These were physical and spiritual mutations, solid incarnations of Cold-War dread. They reminded us of the existential threat – nuclear annihilation – we were not quite powerless to control. But just about.

These bad guys also had personality. Some of them even had rhythm.

Ever see a zombie dance? It’s not a pretty site.

But, of course, that is the point.

There is nothing especially charming or quaint or ingenuous about life on Earth in the breaking decades of the 21st Century. More often than not, mobs, not individuals, enlist our attention. Good ideas are becoming indistinguishable from bad ones as the steady feed of information from the world’s 650 million websites fries our neurons.

Eventually, facts become no better than opinions. Meanwhile, the weight of one’s opinions grows only in direct proportion to the number of “absolute unique visitors” to one’s blog.

In 2013, zombies are the monsters we deserve. We don’t see them coming, though they are slower than molasses in winter. They are lousy conversationalists, and yet they always move in packs. And like members of any mob, they are at their most annoying when they swarm.

We didn’t see the dotcom bubble of 2000 until it was too late. Ditto about the financial crisis of 2008-09.

We didn’t notice the chorus rising up against science (evolution versus intelligent design; global warming versus climate conspiracists) and cheering on folksy, everyday heores (tea partiers versus “elites” of any and all persuasions).

As Mr. Drezner notes, “there’s a real downside to constant references to the living dead. The most serious problem lies in the suggested analogy. Policy entrepreneurs piggyback on zombies to capture attention, but they too often overlook a key element of zombie stories: They are relentlessly, depressingly apocalyptic. In almost all of them, the living dead are introduced in minute one, and by minute 10, the world is a wasteland. The implication is that if zombielike threats emerge, the state and civil society will quickly break down.”

But this is neither the time nor place for yet another dissertation on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

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