In the past 24 hours, the mainstream international media outlets -- BBC, NPR, CNN, to name a few -- have been running the story of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's confession of crack-cocaine use. But for those who do not follow Canadian (let alone Torontonian) politics, allow me to offer a primer.
After having spent a decade serving as a city councillor, Mr. Ford was elected mayor of Toronto in 2010. His 13 years of political life have been punctuated by a number of controversies, including a trial involving conflict-of-interest that nearly catapulted Mr. Ford out of office.
As a councillor, Mr. Ford became famous, if not notorious, for his passionate speeches. When the city had suggested donating $1.5 million to an educational campaign about AIDS, Mr. Ford claimed, "If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn't get AIDS probably," and that women -- the largest growing demographic contracting AIDS -- carrying the virus had slept with "bisexual men."
He praised the work ethic of "Oriental people," while claiming "the Oriental people, they're slowly taking over." He later apologized for using the term "Oriental," but not for the remarks made. Predictably, a fellow councillor issued a complaint over a separate incident to the human rights office, claiming that Mr. Ford had used a racist slur against him. While three fellow councillors reported hearing the slur, Mr. Ford denied using it and dismissed their admission on the basis of their being "left-wing."
In 2012, Mr. Ford was elected mayor with 47 per cent of the vote. Since then, he has garnered attention for a string of driving incidences with him at the helm of the wheel, and for conflict-of-interest cases, which included asking city council to approve repairs outside his family's business headquarters. These concerns and others were forwarded to the city's ombudsperson, who ruled that the mayor's office had compromised several civic appointment processes. This then prompted Mr. Ford to call for the elimination of the ombudsperson's office.
In the past few years, Mr. Ford's relationship with the media has deteriorated. Indeed, the Toronto Star, Canada's largest daily newspaper, filed a complaint with the city's integrity commissioner for the mayor's refusal to meet with journalists. But what propelled Mr. Ford into the national area as an object of scorn and ridicule was his 24 October 2011 surprise appearance on the popular satirical news program, This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Comedian Mary Walsh, a.k.a. Marg Delahunty, emboldened in a Xena princess outfit and famous for catching politicians unaware, surprised Mr. Ford in his driveway and tried to interview him. The mayor responded by repeatedly calling 911, and swearing at the dispatcher. Characteristically, he denied swearing at the dispatcher, but confessed to swearing.
Since 1999, Mr. Ford has been linked to numerous incidents involving public intoxication, belligerence and sexual harassment, in Canada and the United States. But only recently, in May 2013, did his substance use become the object of international attention when the American website Gawker claimed that it had been approached with a video of Mr. Ford allegedly smoking crack cocaine. The absence of an original video allowed the scandal to die down.
Nevertheless, following months of denial, and subsequent inquiries by the Toronto Police Service, Mr. Ford has admitted that he used crack cocaine "in one of [his] drunken stupors." (But only one. Of the drunken stupors he can recall, that is.) He apologized for "making mistakes," but said this would not prevent him from seeking re-election.
With such a volatile history why, then, was Mr. Ford even elected? For the usual host of reasons: conservative business interests in the financial heart of the country, gap in leadership, desire for change, etc. Not to mention Mr. Ford's reputation for inviting voters to call him at home and voice their concerns. That said, with a critical mass of enemies acquired in city hall and the media, Mr. Ford is certain to find winning the next election a challenging feat. While many of us understand that a president who has relations outside of marriage can still be a competent president, very few of us believe that a political leader plagued by excessive drinking and perhaps substance abuse can function optimally as mayor.