09/07/2011 08:13 EDT | Updated 11/07/2011 05:12 EST

Why Rob Ford's Weight Is a Political Issue

The fact that Toronto's mayor is fat is relevant to the debate about his competency to do his duties. Not only does his risk for heart disease and stroke call into question his ability to remain physically healthy for an entire term, I think it also speaks to a level of personal irresponsibility and short-sightedness.


Unless you have been part of a sequestered jury or subject to some other court-mandated media ban, you are probably aware that Toronto recently elected a mayor who has been a bit controversial.

Career politician Rob Ford was never one to shy away from controversy before he was mayor and he generated a laundry list of jaw-dropping gaffes during his time as a city councillor. His election, sweeping victory, and subsequent first 11 months as mayor, however, have served to work Toronto's left wing -- from social activists to cyclists -- into a fine, frothing rage as he continues to do precisely what virtually everyone should have predicted he would do when he was elected (namely, continue acting like Rob Ford).

Since being elected, Rob Ford's city hall has spent over $400,000 to remove bike lanes that cost $59,000 to install, he has shunned Toronto's Pride festivities and he has ordered budget consultations that are considering, among other things, library closures, fire and police department layoffs, the elimination of 2,000 daycare subsidies, scrapping a program that funds 685 student nutrition programs, scrapping 42 AIDS prevention projects, cutting funding for 38 community drug prevention programs, closing the Toronto Environment Office, and even cutting Christmas Bureau, a program that distributes gifts and donations to needy children.

In short, Rob Ford has done plenty to draw valid criticism from the left and from people claiming that he doesn't have the city's long-term interests at heart (and this is to say nothing of his brother's recent public feud about the usefulness of libraries).

However, despite this plethora of rage-worthy mayoral activity, debates about Rob Ford are often undercut by some of his lazier critics with name-calling that tends to ignore the issues and generally lowers the level of discourse to that of mere personal attacks. I'm talking about the tendency of some of Rob Ford's critics to point out that Rob Ford is fat.

It's a common thing to find in the midst of any heated debate about Toronto municipal politics: Rob Ford fat jokes. They're virtually everywhere you might find an angry Toronto lefty, from graffiti to the comments sections of Toronto blogs to Facebook. These jokes are generally unfunny and rarely are they even remotely related to the actual matter being debated.

These types of attacks on Mr. Ford's appearance have just as often been denounced by Ford supporters for being out-of-line and irrelevant as they have been denounced by Ford detractors for being off-topic and counter-productive. A more thoughtful political commentary, the refrain often goes, needn't attack a man's weight, but instead should focus on his politics and performance.

Except here's the thing: Rob Ford is fat. And it matters.

I mean he's really big. By his own admission, Rob Ford weighs at least 300 pounds.

In my opinion, that is excessively, can't-blame-it-on-big-bones, dangerously fat. Rob Ford is of such bulk that I believe genetics alone are not to blame. You cannot brush Rob Ford's weight off by noting simply that he's "a big guy." Rob Ford's mass is such that I think it would be impossible not to assign him at least some of the blame for getting that big. Indeed, a story profiling Ford in MacLeans leading into the mayoral election opened with Ford digesting "a lot" of "roast beef and mashed potatoes" and similarly noted his weakness for root beer.

What I am trying to say is that I don't think Rob Ford is fat because he can't help it; I think Rob Ford is fat because he doesn't care about his health.

And as citizens in the city which he governs, this should be cause for alarm.

According to Health Canada,

[i]f you are overweight or obese, you may be at risk for a wide range of serious diseases and conditions including:

  • hypertension or high blood pressure;
  • coronary heart disease;
  • Type 2 diabetes;
  • stroke;
  • gallbladder disease;
  • osteoarthritis;
  • sleep apnea and other breathing problems;
  • some cancers such as breast, colon and endometrial cancer; and
  • mental health problems, such as low self-esteem and depression.
Obesity is one of the leading factors in heart disease and stroke, as well as in Type 2 diabetes, which affects an estimated 1.8 million Canadians.

I believe that the fact that our mayor is fat is actually relevant to the debate about his competency to do his duties. Not only does his risk for heart disease and stroke call into question his ability to actually remain physically healthy enough to act as mayor for an entire term, I think it also speaks to a level of personal irresponsibility and short-sightedness.

A person who would choose to ignore these health risks and instead continue to eat unhealthily and chug caffeine-filled energy drinks is showing little regard for his future. It stands to reason, therefore, that we might question this person's decision making when it comes to making sensible, long-term decisions regarding our city. I would argue that every time Rob Ford has a high-sugar beverage he is ignoring a plethora of facts which are readily available to him (the nutrition label on the can, statistics about diabetes and obesity, etc.) and, instead, he is making a choice to satisfy his more basic urges immediately with no regard for the consequences.

And so, when the debate turns to Rob Ford, his budget cuts, his disregard for cycling infrastructure, his funding cuts for social programs and his commitment to lasting, long-term solutions to the city's problems, it may seem inappropriate for someone to bring up the fact that he is a fat person, but I would argue, it is not irrelevant.