The Ford Paradox: The Personality Deficit, the Ethical Barometer, and a Divided Society

West Annex News via Flickr
West Annex News via Flickr

Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, has been accused of throwing sand in the eyes of Canadian citizenry, particularly those of the Greater Toronto Area. But what does the Ford kerfuffle really tell us about the political climate we are now living in, particularly as it pertains to the issue of the use of illicit substances? Perhaps, there is more to this issue, possibly stretching beyond the current political landscape. Canada is yearning for a great leader, a personality. A very serious case of nostalgia, some might say.

Perhaps we can look at the issue in the following ways. First, the use of drugs and how that is treated by society. For example, there is an emerging public movement to reduce penalties for the use of substances and potentially legalize some of them. That is particularly the case on the issue of marijuana; 66% of Canadians support its legalization or decriminalization. Of course one could argue that government slightly concedes by merely strengthening their hold on the control of this industry. However, the general environment is such that even the potential future resident of 24 Sussex Drive could come out and declare past illicit substance handling, with little consequence.

Indeed, another strong argument could be advanced; that when it comes to Mayor Ford, the case is still quite complex. In short, his is an ongoing case with many questions. Thus, it is not easy for him to survive (initial polling numbers notwithstanding) in the court of public opinion. However, his struggles are now revealed in the latest and more solid and worrisome polls, which are not simply signs of a media brouhaha and “breaking news” phase of the case.

Secondly, we can seethe through this case by way of the “kind” and “caring” Canadian lens, a reputation we are known for. Are we really whom the world know us to be? That is, if someone is struggling, an assumption is made, on the global level, that Canadians would be compassionate and quick to help. Has that been the case with Rob Ford, a man clearly struggling with problems of substance abuse and addiction?  While arguments such as the fact that he appears unwilling to accept help or admit he faces major struggles in his life are true, the fact remains that the broad response to Ford’s struggles has not been compassion, but disgust.

Additionally, it is also posited that many Canadians have been unfairly attacking or mocking Mayor Ford, and thus challenging the view of a kind and caring Canada. However, a strong case is advanced, that a mayor of a major Canadian city, like Toronto, will receive enormous attention and scrutiny. [But] Does the latter views override Canadian kindness or love of a beloved, but now despised son?

Yet again, the issue of ethical hierarchy comes to the fore. As has been argued, and it is debatable as to whether this makes political (equation) sense or not, a political body with bigger problems can manage to, with careful political navigation, avoid the ethical bluster, while those with fewer breaches but a worse public relations team might receive a lot more attention. That has been the public debate, which pit Queen’s Park scandals against those of the Mayor of Toronto’s office. However, it could be that a leader’s moral standing is what matter most. Thus, it might not only be a political horserace that matters here or is to blame. For example, when the deputy mayor of Toronto says that Mayor Ford has lost the moral authority to lead, who is to blame? Queen’s Park?

Thirdly, does Canada have a popular political personality deficit? This is merely to pose that popular politics have been out of the Canadian political landscape for quite some time now (Jack Layton being the exception, the one closest reviving popular politics, in his last election run). Indeed, an Obama comparison could be, and rightly so, a stretch. However, popular politicking can operate as if issues of the day did not matter, and unless one does, of course, have a “Ford Nation” to fall back on. By this it is meant that a political persona could destruct so much that some of the key policy issues of the day are missed, if not overshadowed by some dominant political play of the day.

Finally, are social crisis facing our country. That is, poverty issues, class struggles, and a general view within some sects of society, which is that we must do away with business as usual or perceived elite domination of Canadian politics. As a result, many voters look to political players such Rob Ford,  who do not come across as demeaning, elitist or condescending but can relate to them on a personal level and deliver on policies and political values that they feel are important. In terms of the class struggle, again, we see major divisions, political and otherwise, which reveal rising division within society. The ongoing and oft overlooked protest springs across the country point to these issues in greater detail. This debate about elitism is not new. However, this too, is proving to be an ongoing major division within society, often pitting one group against the other.

Thus, be it a leader at the national level of government admitting to smoking pot, or a leader at the municipal level admitting to smoking crack “in one of [their] drunken stupors”, a dilemma does emerge for Canadians. The idea of a caring, compassionate Canadian society, while remaining intact, could be easily swayed in a particular direction; depending on issues of trust, or the populist personalities and politics of the day.  While Canada may be able to help those that help themselves, as noted earlier, can we really help ourselves? That ethical lapse runs rampant within our society. Perhaps addressing that lapse will be a good starting point, in addressing the crisis of our society. We must know to emphasize great ethical standing of our political players. We must know not to fall for the hype of the new cycle, which could get in the way of us truly making sense of issues before us. If forceful enough, as voters, we might just be able to instill the ethics in a political leader that we want to see in ourselves and our society.