Canada: Ford brothers scandal exposes conservatives

December 1, 2013
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has powerful political friends among Canada's conservatives.

A special meeting of Toronto City Council was convened on November 18 to deal with the city’s “Ford problem”. It was the most bizarre chapter yet in the scandal surrounding Mayor Rob Ford.

The meeting was convened by city councillors to adopt measures to reduce the power and financing of the mayor’s office. The council majority had supported Ford in office, but the politically well-connected conservative mayor had become a liability for business interests in the city.

Toronto City Council does not have the power to remove Ford, but it can ask the province to do so. However, concern over a pro-Ford, right-wing political backlash, as well as the fact that many city councillors support Ford’s austerity and anti-working class policies, stopped the council from doing so.

In a November 19 editorial, the liberal editors of the Toronto Star also resigned themselves to Ford continuing to occupy the mayor’s chair.

Embarrassing spectacle

After the council vote, for all intents and purposes, a deputy mayor now heads the city. But it was accomplished at the price of enduring another embarrassing, bruising confrontation with Ford, his brother Doug — also a city councillor — and their supporters in the visitors’ gallery.

Toronto Star columnist Royson James also described some of the proceedings: “With his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, playing Terminator to the mayor’s Rambo, the fearsome twosome give every evidence that local politics could deteriorate from weeks of comedy to months of tragedy.

“Over the past few rancorous days, the Brothers Ford teamed up to try to intimidate councillors as they voted on sanctions against the mayor.

“They have threatened to disrupt council, filibuster on issues to shut down city business, and given every indication that the mayor won’t shrink away and seek help for suspected drug and alcohol addiction.

“On Monday, while councillors debated the motion stripping Ford of his powers, the mayor walked over to the crammed public gallery and taunted citizens. The act created a ruckus and Speaker Frances Nunziata recessed the meeting.

“This, in turn, aggravated the exchange. Citizens started chanting, 'Shame, shame, shame.' The mayor’s brother joined the fray and it deteriorated into an ugly confrontation.

“'You are a disgrace,' one citizen shouted. 'How do you know Anthony Smith, you lying scumbag,' another shouted, referring to the man captured in a posed photo with the mayor in front of a residence police describe as a crack house. Smith was later slain in a downtown gun attack.

“'You are the scumbag, you little punk,' Doug Ford shot back. And on and on it went…”

The mayor told the meeting that its measures to restrict his powers were akin to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991. “This means war” in next year’s mayoral election, he declared.

The multi-millionaire Ford clan is unfazed by events since revelations began pouring out this year of the mayor’s substance abuse, associations with criminals, and personal conduct that would likely have other people facing criminal charges.

Mainstream media commentators and many capitalist politicians are appalled by the ongoing spectacle and the besmirching of Toronto's image. The Fords’ conduct is starting to worry business interests in tourism, information technology, professional sport and elsewhere that their profits may start to suffer.

The federal government is unmoved by the spectacle and is staying out of the fray. Conservative Party Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet colleagues in Ontario were strong backers of Ford in the 2010 municipal election that placed him in office.

The mayor returned the favour by campaigning for them in the 2011 federal election that delivered a Conservative majority.

Populist appeal

As the debacle worsens, there is an apparent paradox in which much of the discredited mayor’s electoral support appears to be holding up.

The right-wing Ford says he stands for the “common man” against the rich. He recently told Fox News: “There’s more poor people in this country than there are rich, and I stick up for the poor people.”

He couples that with repetition of the austerity mantra of successive Liberal and Conservative governments in Ottawa that have hurt the interests of the poor.

Ford told SUN News television: “Am I perfect? I’m not perfect. But I’ll tell you what I am perfect at ― watching taxpayers’ money, creating jobs, stimulating the economy.”

Like the Tea Party south of the border, the Ford clan in Toronto is an instrument of the decades-long capitalist offensive against the working class and society as a whole. A key policy of that offensive has been government austerity.

Austerity wins support from some sections of the working class out of ignorance and the erosion of social solidarity. This is fuelled by growing economic precariousness, a perceived material stake in the system through such mechanisms as home ownership and stock market-based pension plans, and by the failure of unions and political parties to seriously challenge such policies or their ideological underpinnings.

Ipsos Public Affairs recently conducted a poll that found Ford is most popular in the boroughs of York and East York, where 30% of voters say they would support him. Next comes Scarborough, with 27%, and North York, with 22%. These are among the poorest districts in Toronto.

The poll revealed that city-wide, depending on the lineup of candidates, Ford would win 20-25% of the vote in a mayoral election. A poll by the Toronto Sun put his vote at more than 30%.

Ford Nation

The Star reported: “[Ipsos seniour vice-president John] Wright says the hard core supporters of Ford are predominantly people with lower income and lower education levels. Some 44 per cent of respondents who don’t have a high school diploma support Ford, while only 17 per cent of those with university degrees do.

“People who make less than $40,000 per year are twice as likely to be part of Ford Nation than those who make $100,000 or more, according to his tables.

“Ford Nation is also slightly more concentrated in the young and the old. Some 22 percent of respondents aged 18-34 still support Ford, as do 24 per cent of those over 55. Only 20 per cent of voters in the 35-44 age bracket support Ford …

“Wright says Ford won election by combining his Ford Nation voters with higher-income and better educated people, a group he’s now 'lost completely'.”

Postmedia’s Michael Den Tandt says “Ford Nation” is an evolving “chimera” that may still have political legs. He said: “Over the past three decades, people living in the populous, fast-growing hinterland of the Greater Toronto Area have gotten poorer.

“J David Hulchanski, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Urban and Community Studies, quantifies this in a report called ‘The Three Cities Within Toronto’, which he based on federal census data to 2006.

“Hulchanski found that between 1970 and 2005, the proportion of Toronto’s middle-income neighbourhoods (which he defines as having incomes less than 20 per cent above or below the metropolitan average) shrank from 66 per cent to 29 per cent in 2005.

“The proportion of high-income areas ― 20 per cent or more above average ― grew marginally, to 19 per cent from 15 per cent. The number of low-income neighbourhoods, with incomes more than 20 per cent below average, grew to 53 per cent, from 19 per cent.

“The growth in the third category is astonishing. These areas are overwhelmingly in the GTA’s vast northeastern and northwestern corners, where Rob Ford enjoys his strongest support.”


Nonetheless, austerity gains its strongest support from the well-to-do classes. In Toronto, they have no shortage of mayoral candidates to whom they can now switch their political allegiances.

The Globe’s Jeffrey Simpson described what he estimates as a 30% hard-core Conservative Party support in Canada. He said: “For them, public policy is almost exclusively about paying lower and lower taxes, while, of course, demanding the same level of services.

“As long as their leaders deliver on that promise, or keep talking about delivering even if they don’t, this is the prism through which all is judged.”

An aspect of the Ford story that has received little comment is the science-and-facts-be-gone political context in which the Conservatives and the Fords operate.

By any social or environmental measure, austerity policies have completely failed to meet human needs. But brute force and ideological and political obfuscation keep them alive and well. Rational observation and measure of outcomes do not figure in.

This political context is further polluted by the prevailing, anti-scientific and anti-social climate policies of big business and governments. Canadians are now bombarded with advertising and government messages saying the country’s climate-destroying fossil fuel industry is a big success story, including in “protecting” the environment.

The image of a poor, boorish, uneducated and socially-uncaring base of support for the Ford clan will gain traction as the Fords persist. It is inaccurate and politically dangerous. It should be challenged.

The best way to do that is to challenge the policies that underlie the Ford phenomenon and that tie it closely to the austerity-promoting and climate-wrecking federal government.

[Reprinted from Roger Annis is a Vancouver-based writer and socialist activist.]

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