In rapid succession, several tweeters made the same joke -- did Rob Ford just trick Toronto City Council into giving him his dream job?
Think about it: in voting by massive margins to strip their embattled mayor of nearly all his powers (his budget has been slashed, his committee positions and speaking privileges rescinded, his appointment powers neutered) Ford has transformed overnight from rampaging Moby Dick to paltry MINO -- mayor in name only. Or perhaps a MIPO -- a mayor in pay only.
Among the flurry of motions that were passed Monday, after all, not one affected Ford's $167,000-a-year compensation, which, like the pay of all other councillors, is set by an independent formula no one appears keen to tamper with. Taken together, the outcomes herald the dawn of what Josh Visser at the National Post dubbed Ford's new career as "celebrity mayor," in which, as the Toronto Star's Cathal Kelly put it, he'll have "no responsibilities, but a full salary."
All signs presently point to this being Toronto's new normal until October of 2014, at which point elections will be held and the city will either vote in a new mayor, or Lord help us, grand Ford a second term. Despite the noisy demands of some councillors, particularly Denzil Minnan-Wong, that the province "get involved," Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has voiced extreme skepticism about intervening in the city's affairs. Which seems precisely the right position to take given a) the Premier herself has not been elected to her present job and b) it would be playing with a dangerous sort of fire to establish a precedent that Mother Ontario has a right to depose a municipal mayor who is merely "embarrassing" to the city -- because remember, Ford formally faces no other charge.
The fact that Toronto would be a much better governed city in the long term if it had the means to impeach or recall troublesome mayors is without question, but for the province to grant such powers to the city now, for the explicit purposes of removing Ford and Ford alone, would, in fact, be a reactionary ad-hoc coup, not to mention a violation of the traditional common law protection against retroactive punishments for crimes -- ie: "embarrassing the city" -- that didn't exist when you committed them.
So Ford has much to be pleased with, notwithstanding his Gulf War analogies. He'll now have a lot fewer boring meetings to attend and lot fewer contentious decisions to make, and can instead devote his full-time attention to the one part of his job that always interested him most to begin with -- the symbolic. Cutting ribbons, kicking footballs, posing for butter sculptures, arm wrestling Hulk Hogan, telling the randos who call his listed number where they can score some cheap street OxyContin... you know, that sort of thing.
Is 167 grand too much to pay to employ a figurehead? Perhaps, but it would hardly be anything new. The Canadian political system already employs an awful lot of full-time figureheads -- 14 to be exact. Along with the $270,000-a-year nonentity that is the governor-general, each of our ten provinces and three territories is headed by either a "lieutenant governor" or "commissioner" charged with "representing the Queen" and occupying, to crib the famed words of John Adams, "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived." These royal stand-ins don't really do much of anything beyond tossle the hair of sickly orphans and judge the occasional pie-eating contest, though the provincial governments that appoint them put great effort into their selection just the same.
Our royal figureheads must represent the "face of Canada" in all its splendid diversity, we are often told, and so they do. The lieutenant governor of New Brunswick is an aboriginal, for instance, while the current viceroy of Manitoba is Chinese. Our last two governor generals were non-white, immigrant women, while the guy charged with representing Ontario, and the woman who previously did the job in Quebec, are both wheelchair-bound. They also tend to be plucked from a vast assortment of professional backgrounds; BC has a rancher, Alberta a soldier, PEI a journalist. They're all very stoic and respectable. And as accurate embodiments of the Canadian public go, utterly inaccurate.
On Monday, I expressed fatigue at the cloying habit of some Canadian journalists -- at home and especiallyabroad -- to insist on pushing this brazenly false, though endlessly vain and self-flattering stereotype that Canadians are somehow a universally polite and gentle people, with vile and uncouth Mayor Ford our most hideous outlier.
Anyone who's been to, say, a Walmart parking lot in this country knows nothing could be further from the truth -- we're a people as disgusting, profane, violent, cruel, ugly, gluttonous, ignorant, and dishonest as any other, and people who behave like Ford are hardly unfamiliar --but the myth persists because so many people in powerful positions desperately want it to be true, and have done a pretty good job building up phony realities in which they can pretend it is.
If humility and honesty are virtues we as a country actually admire, however than it might be healthy, at least for a little while, to have a figurehead presiding over our largest city reminding the world of the ugliness that Canadians all-too-frequently are, rather than the heroic goody-goodies we merely wish to be.