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Rob Ford Distracts From Canada's Other Political Disasters

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Peddling a book south of the border about the U.S. and Canada has become a whole lot easier since Toronto Mayor Rob Ford became a household word. He has more global name recognition than our prime minister or any others in the past and his shenanigans come up in every interview that I, or any other Canadian, does these days.

This is because his crack smoking, angry outbursts and comments about oral sex have kept him in the headlines and made him a punch line on comedy shows. I was even asked to write an essay for the venerable Washington Post about how I felt about his notoriety.

My take is that Ford is news because he's perceived to be an exception and "an American-style political train wreck." But even Canadians like the attention and this week Rob Ford and his brother Doug landed a Canadian weekly television show. It may be a political version of Bob and Doug Mckenzie, the fictitious and beer-swilling comedy act on SCTV's "Great White North" in the 1980s.

Clearly Rob Ford should leave for awhile to go into rehab, but he's put Canada on the map. Canadian actor Will Arnett joked on the Conan O'Brien show this week "I think Canadians have started to feel like we're not getting enough notice," Arnett went on, "so we just went with the U.S. No. 1 export: crack."

Ford's other contribution to the national image is that he upends the world's stereotype about Canadians and Canada's self image. The Gawker's Ken Layne, who broke the crack smoking video story months ago, described this disconnect most viciously: "Rob Ford looks like the kind of red-faced American trash who would knock down an old lady in the Walmart pharmacy line just to get his brother's oxycontin prescription five minutes faster."

Besides attention, Ford has provided another benefit to Canadians. He's a needed distraction from some serious political dysfunction in Canada that the world thus far has ignored.

Most unbelievable is Canada's own Tammany Hall scandal exposed by the Charbonneau Commission, enacted in 2011 to investigate the awarding and management of public contracts.

So far, the inquiry has led to the resignation in 2012 of Laval's mayor and his arrest by police in 2013 for "gangsterism"; the resignation in 2012 of Montreal's mayor; the resignation and arrest of his replacement as mayor and criminal charges against two more small-town mayors.

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The inquiry has provided evidence since 2012 for Quebec's anti-corruption squad. This group has arrested 49 people and laid criminal charges against 13 companies.

"Acts of collusion and corruption exist everywhere in Quebec -- in every region. Our investigations are proving this to us," said Robert Lafreniere, head of the squad. "We have discovered new stratagems that I will reveal at the appropriate moment." There are 20 more ongoing investigations outside the construction industry, he added, involving contracts for computer technology and work related to Plan Nord, an ambitious scheme to developing mining, tourism and infrastructure in the province's far north.

There's also the $2.3-billion McGill University Health Center situation that led the RCMP to charge its former director general Arthur Porter and two former executives of SNC-Lavalin.

In Ontario, there's the Senate scandal involving Mike Duffy, Mac Harb, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau who call laimed travel and housing expenses for which they were ineligible. Harb resigned then this month Duffy, Wallin, and Brazeau were suspended from the Senate without pay. Wallin is under investigation by the RCMP, as is former PMO official Nigel Wright and Duffy, and Brazeau has been charged, on an unrelated incident, with assault and sexual assault.

In London, Mayor Joe Fontana, who is a former Liberal MP, will go to trial on fraud charges and is accused by the RCMP of using taxpayer money to help pay for his son's wedding reception in June 2005.

Another major scandal brewing is the Ontario Provincial Police anti-rackets investigation of the destruction of emails on two canceled gas plants by officials in the office of former Premier Dalton McGuinty. Investigators scoured the Premier's offices this week, reported the Canadian Press.

This scandal involves a cancellation cost to taxpayers of $1 billion, and permanently higher hydro rates to consumers across the province, after McGuinty's government scrapped the gas plants.

"Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian said last June that top Liberals in McGuinty's office broke the law when they deleted emails on the cancelled gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga prior to the 2011 election," the Canadian Press said this week.

McGuinty said he never condoned or directed the deletion of emails or documents, but his refusal to release documents caused a furor and McGuinty shut down the legislature for four months then resigned. He's gone to the U.S. for a few months on a Harvard fellowship at a grad school, where I also had a fellowship, and where ex-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff hangs out part-time.

It's too bad that Toronto's mayor has attracted so much publicity but it's, on balance, a very good development for Canada. There will be the Rob and Doug Show and, more importantly, he's hogging the spotlight away from others whose behaviour has been worse.

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