Memo to candidates hoping to replace Rob Ford as Toronto’s mayor: When you finish a debate and an incompetent known for smoking crack cocaine emerges looking better than before, you’re doing something wrong.
That’s precisely what happened Wednesday in the first televised debate of this year’s mayoral race. Ford rattled through his talking points — mostly exaggerations and falsehoods — and attacked his four main rivals’ records. They challenged him on policy and made some allusions to scandal. But not one ventured to directly criticize Ford’s indulgence in crack cocaine.
It’s a bizarre omission, one that left observers baffled as far away as in Hollywood. "Over the course of 90 minutes, the word ‘crack’ was mentioned one time, and it was by a reporter," said late-night comic Jimmy Kimmel. "How is that possible?"
There are three conceivable explanations: Ford’s rivals don’t consider his drug use a valid issue, since it isn’t a policy matter; they’re too polite to challenge him on it; or they see political gain in holding back, perhaps hoping to win Ford Nation votes if the mayor self-destructs in coming months.
It’s a bone-headed strategy either way; one that has Ford laughing.
For the record, Toronto’s mayor has confessed to criminal conduct while in office. Ford has admitted smoking crack cocaine. And he told city council he engaged in illegal drug deals as mayor. These aren’t personal quirks or minor imperfections — they’re violations of Canada’s Criminal Code.
Then there’s Ford’s frequent association with gangsters, his blasé attitude toward drunk driving and an ongoing police investigation exploring other possible offences.
It’s obvious this man has no business holding any public office whatsoever, let alone serving as chief magistrate of Canada’s largest city. Yet his rivals shied away from mentioning Ford’s drug use. "There’s no news there and that’s not a policy," said Karen Stintz after Wednesday’s Citytv debate. And debates, she explained, are supposed to be about policy.
This election is about choosing the best possible person to guide Toronto forward. Policy enters the equation, to be sure, but the essential first requirement is to have a leader who doesn’t indulge in criminal behaviour, pal around with thugs and isn’t at risk of arrest partway through his term. No one labouring under such circumstances deserves to be mayor — regardless of policy — and it’s absolutely fair to point that out.
Pretending this stuff doesn’t matter simply plays into Ford’s hands. While admitting "I’m not perfect," he says his drinking and drug abuse are "personal" issues and should be off-limits. And it’s old news anyway.
When they fail to hammer Ford on this, Stintz, Olivia Chow, John Tory and David Soknacki implicitly agree with him: Crack isn’t an issue. They give Ford a free pass and, along the way, they elevate him to their own level as worthy candidates. That’s the downside of staying quiet and hoping Ford’s candidacy will simply implode.
Silence isn’t good enough. It’s misleading. Any mayor who betrays his city by committing crime in office should be forcefully and repeatedly held to account in every public forum in which he dares to show his face.