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Behind a Scandal: What Rob Ford Really Means for Toronto

News media, both in Canada and abroad, has been flooded with reports involving the crack cocaine abuse and drunken antics of Toronto Mayor, Rob Ford. The now-infamous video of the mayor smoking crack cocaine has been authenticated and although only having been seen by a handful of people, has caused significant discussion over whether he is still fit to continue as the city’s municipal head. Adding more fuel to the debate, another video has surfaced which shows an extremely intoxicated Ford shouting obscenities and repeatedly threatening to kill an unnamed person. Although undoubtedly a hit to his professional reputation, voter approval ratings have remained strong throughout the scandal, even increasing by 5%  following the Toronto Police’s confirmation of the video’s existence. A paradoxical event that the president of the polling agency says is possibly due to sympathy. Even though Ford remains strong in the polls, there are many who call for his resignation, calling his behaviour inappropriate for an office that demands integrity and responsibility. His supporters, cheekily referred to as “Ford Nation” by the media, remain fervent that as long as the Mayor is competent in his duties and adheres to his campaign promises, then there is no need for such harsh action. Although Rob Ford’s mayorship will likely be remembered for the recklessness of his actions outside of city hall, it is his handling of the city’s finances that will have the largest long-term impact on Toronto and her tax-paying voters.

His dishonesty regarding his personal affairs has sadly created a smokescreen, diverting attention from his dishonesty regarding the city’s fiscal record. Perhaps the most embarrassing claim made by Ford, was his announcement that the city had saved $606 million worth of “efficiencies” during his time as mayor. This claim was recently proved to be a gross exaggeration after a Toronto Star analysis of budget documents found the actual total to be somewhere closer to $300 million. Ford has also famously asserted that due to his efforts, “Over the next 10 years, we are reducing our city debt by over $804 million.” This now seems highly unlikely after a 2013 budget document revealed that no such reduction is likely, with forecasters conversely predicting Toronto’s debt to increase over the next decade.

Even the mayor’s claim that “we’re spending less money one year than we did the previous year” is utterly incorrect as spending has increased consistently since Ford took office. One would think that this would be somewhat disheartening to Ford’s supporters as a reduction in spending was one of his core campaign promises during the 2010 pre-election season. In a bizarre turn of events, it would seem that what many would consider an act of ‘political suicide’ has shifted the public’s eye away from Ford’s abysmal performance with regard to the management of Toronto’s finances, and the fulfilment of his mayoral mandate. This is not to say that he will walk away unscathed from this disastrous scandal, but rather that the public will likely remain generally uninformed about the more important, but admittedly less attention grabbing factors at play. This is not only an issue for Torontonian’s wallets in an aggregate sense, but also for Ford’s successor who will be charged with the unenviable task of convincing a demoralized voter-base the true state of the City’s financial affairs.

While the details of Ford’s drug activities make for entertaining dissection, they have stolen the spotlight from the ‘regular’ flavour of political discourse that helps voters gain an accurate view on their city’s condition; something integral to the functionality of any democratic system. Toronto’s voting population has  indeed been misled, but not in a way that will likely ever be displayed on late night television.

 – David Hughes

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