As of December 1st no member of the vampiric Ford family will be Mayor of Toronto; though in Crazy Town it is never quite over until Diane Ford sings. For now, however, it appears that the FoFam has been left licking their wounds, shunted to their Ward 2 stronghold, while the rest of Toronto breathes a sigh of relief; our four year municipal nightmare is over.
Rob Ford’s cancer diagnosis may taint any discussion of his legacy as overly morbid, however, with his political (and corporeal) longevity uncertain – there is the lingering question of how we think about Rob Ford’s term as mayor and what, if any, will be its impact on the Canadian political scene?
Beyond whatever tangible achievements Rob Ford was able to bring to Toronto’s municipal government, either real (an agreement to build a particularly pointless Scarborough subway, contracting out of garbage services, canceling the vehicle registration fee – thereby reducing city revenues), or imagined (saving tax payers $1B dollars, being the best mayor in the history of Canada, being the most honest and transparent mayor in Canadian history) his one true legacy is his ability to package the angst of a hereto voiceless population into a palatable series of catchphrases and half truths that managed to define two election cycles and thousands of press conferences in between.
While is easy to dismiss Rob as a village idiot with an impressive ability to connect with the average “folk” as a temporary distraction, he divorced reality from policy creating a twilight zone around real policy discussions in Toronto. Ford’s promise of politics “for the people” and a politics of the minutiae, “We take a hands-on approach to the smallest problems” found a kindred spirit in a sizable swath of Toronto’s population who, by the grace of Ford, managed to ignore the fact that it would be singlehandedly impossible to fulfill the mantra of respect for taxpayers while satisfying the many wants, desires and needs of its postulants.
There was a nasty sideshow element to Rob Ford’s mayoral term that won’t be easily forgotten. Peppered with misogyny, homophobia, drugs, gang allegiances, DUI’s, Ford’s mayoral term featured a cast of characters (ranging from Sandro Lisi to LeeAnne McRobb) who behaved as if they were characters from Toronto Horror Story: Fordshow, and yet for his followers, none of this managed to cloud his simple, and ironic philosophy: the taxpayer deserves respect. Every claim that Rob Ford had no such respect was met by a blank stare, a clarification that every other politician was a liar or (even worse) going to raise taxes. No matter Rob Ford’s record on the matter; he became the only politician, that when it came to taxes, could lay claim to sucking and blowing at the same time.
While I would like to think that Ford’s constituency is not uniformly racist, nor homophobic nor as misogynistic as their prophet proved himself to be, Ford did give tacit approval to his followers and the need to be heard by a segment of society that has been left out, forgotten, ignored by mainstream politicians.
Fordnation is not simply a group of blind Rob Ford supporters (though he is their prophet) – but they are the voices of people who have felt (and probably are) left behind by Toronto’s multi-year long boom. These outliers may have coalesced around a clothes-less emperor but at he gave them a voice. The fact that Doug Ford, a city councilor whose website was last updated during December’s ice storm and who once said that he was moving to Chicago once the election was over was been able to capture 30% of the popular vote in 6 weeks of campaigning simply for carrying the torch of his brothers work feels mind-boggling. But it isn’t. For every 2 people who clucked their tongue at the crack smoking and snickered at the Ford Family folksy charm there is one person who desperately wanted to believe that the Fords could lower taxes while miraculously building subways under every major street from the Rouge Valley to the Etobicoke Creek.
And who are these people? These beliebers of the gospel of Saint Rob? Much I presume will be written about that. We will look at numbers and riding associations and create maps that show splits across municipal wards. People will blame amalgamation and argue that in “their” Toronto Fordnation has no place. But who the believers are is probably less important than how Rob Ford gave voice by ignoring segments of certain groups (women, LGBT Canadians and others), cultivating credibility amongst minority groups through a bizarre twenty first century version of white mans burden and some sort of pseudo patriarchal subjugation of said people (the Fords proved that they can easily be bought with $20 bills, fixed potholes and threats of police brutality) and by demonizing an other, “the downtown elites”, who have, in Ford view used the downtrodden for their own ill-begotten games.
Rob Ford reminded us that it is easy to sell fear when there is no hope. The irony of course is that RoFo ran against Olivia Chow who’s late husband left his own epitaph suggesting that ” Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
But this is new territory in Canadian politics: we now have an electorate who believes that Ford math is real, that without Rob Ford (or a disciple of his) that the city will literally destruct, or that “ISIS will come to Toronto.” This is a new reality in the Canadian electorate where we have a democracy solely of fear. The legacy of Rob Ford is the understanding that Ford Nation is a real part of Canada and any politician would be remiss to ignore or to pretend like that segment of the electorate doesn’t exist.
Perhaps the I Hate the War on Rob Ford Facebook group says it best: “There will never be a grave for Ford Nation. The sleeping giant has awoken, and it will never rest again.The normal people of Toronto, and indeed all across the GTA, Ontario, and Canada, have been educated by what has happened in the past four years. A Man of the People won a rare political victory, and for that, he was burned at the stake. But oh how they are wrong. WE OUTNUMBER THEM. If Doug doesn’t pull it out, we will figure out how to out-organize them. It may take a while. It won’t be easy. But it can be done. As the days and months go by, you will see: this movement will be stronger than ever. Our numbers will increase. Our intensity will grow. And our effectiveness will improve. We’re not going anywhere.”