Ford Scandal's Biggest Casualty: Toronto

05/27/2013 05:34 EDT | Updated 07/27/2013 05:12 EDT

This post originally appeared on Shireen Jeejeebhoy's political blog at talk talk talk.

I don't know many alcoholics or drug addicts, but I've seen their effect on their kids. And it's not pretty. This is what's happening to Toronto, or akin to it.

The story about Mayor Rob Ford's alleged alcohol problem has been building slowly since the last municipal election when then-Councillor Rob Ford put his hat into the ring for mayor.

On Friday, Mayor Ford was essentially outed as an alcoholic by an anonymous source who said that Mayor Ford's Chief of Staff was fired because he'd told the Mayor "to deal with his "personal problems."" (Don Peat, The Toronto Sun, 24 May 2013). But it's not like this is shocking to anyone.

We've seen Mayor Ford behave more and more erratically for awhile now and fail us on the public transit issue through rigid thinking, and his acolytes enable him by buying into the story that it's all "the Toronto Star's fault." Yet it seemed that things had settled down after he'd won his court cases. What more could happen?

He groped Sarah Thomson, according to her account on Facebook and then in the media. The picture she posted looked like other pictures of Mayor Ford when he's been alleged to have been drinking. People were polarized, and as was predictable, people sided with the man, Mayor Ford.

But if he is an alcoholic, his behaviour is characteristic. No, it's not their fault. It's not them to blame for the egregious actions, the accusations, the bad behaviour. It's somebody else's fault. Or somebody is out to get them. Or it's all in the other person's head. The conspiracy theories and blame games abound. His supporters are crying out a man is innocent until proven guilty in Canada; his enemies want his head. But this is not about guilt or innocence. If it's alcoholism we're dealing with, alcoholism is not a crime; it's a disease.

Instead of causing chaos in a family like alcoholics are wont to do, Mayor Ford is causing chaos in the city. We are the fall-out of dysfunctional behaviour. The irony is that if he did say, "I am an alcoholic, and I am going into rehab," the citizens of Toronto would fall all over themselves in their sympathy. I bet he'd even win the next election.

Similarly if Doug Ford had responded to Saturday's Globe and Mail story about him dealing hashish decades ago with either a lawsuit or with, yeah, I did it, I'm sorry, and I've learnt from that bad time, instead of the rambling interviews he gave, then most of us would nod at Doug, as if to say, we've all done things we regret, then frown at the Globe. But that's a side show.

The central problem is not a matter of ethics or of guilt or incompetence, it's a matter of a brain doing its best to avoid hard truths. Even when Mayor Ford finally, at the urging of his Executive Council, stepped up to the microphone, he used lawyer-speak. He never addressed the alcoholism allegations that were brought up in the past and remain part of the issue. He's right: this week has taken a toll on the city. But it hasn't been just this week. It's been building for over a year.

Rob Ford said in the presser (see video): "this administration is turning the corner."

Heard this sort of thing before from people in denial. The video in question is no longer germane, for Mayor Ford with his off-handed denials, his avoidance of the issue, of blaming others (notably the Toronto Star, avoiding the fact it was the American Gawker that broke the story), of abdicating his leadership role, has lost the ability to govern and has plunged Toronto into a crisis, notwithstanding Councillors at every turn claiming that city business continues.

It may be continuing, but the public is not engaged because we're busy watching the Mayor implode.

The public needs to be engaged in order to resolve the humungous problems facing the city, such as crappy public transit, insane traffic congestion, aging and inadequate infrastructure, and so on. Just as an alcoholic derails a family so that no member can function adequately even at work, so has Mayor Ford derailed us.

Unfortunately, by the very nature of who he is and the nature of alcoholism in general, unless something drastic happens -- which I thought would've been losing his coaching gig of the Don Bosco Eagles -- I cannot foresee Mayor Ford stepping up to the microphone and saying, "I am an alcoholic, and I am going to get help," thus allowing the city to settle down and function properly again. Ford is going to keep lurching us Torontonians down the kind of destructive path alcoholics lead their loved ones down. In the usual way of things, some family members sever ties completely with their family alcoholic, while others continue to enable him or her. It's time for Mayor Ford's close ones to hold an intervention and for the rest of us to sever ties.

There is no remedy in law to make a mayor leave. Mayor Ford will remain mayor unless he himself chooses to take a leave of absence. I would say that he needs at least six months off to go into rehab, get clean, and become strong enough to withstand the pressures of the office without falling back into old maladaptive ways. Barring that, while Ford scandals rage and distract, Council will strain to lead the city as it has been doing so for about the past year or so until 2014. Not good.

See Shireen Jeejeebhoy's books on Amazon Canada, including her latest Concussion Is Brain Injury.

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