01/23/2014 08:50 EST | Updated 03/29/2014 05:59 EDT

Ford's Drunken Stupors Are His Greatest Strength


It's hard to imagine a more spectacularly disingenuous headline than the one that ran in the National Post the other day: "Rob Ford faces new calls to step aside as new video could damage re-election bid." Thankfully, some principled soul at NatPo HQ has since edited it into the more matter-of-fact "Rob Ford video shows 'drunk' mayor rambling and swearing in Toronto restaurant," though you can still find the original by Googling.

I assume the change was necessary because the paper would be in danger of losing its journalism license if such a brazen falsehood was permitted to stand. After all, everyone knows that there is no such thing as a "new" call for Mayor Ford to step aside, nor does anything exist in this world that could conceivably "damage" his re-election chances more than everything that already has.

Ford was caught making an inebriated monologue at some Toronto fast-food joint the other day. He spoke in an affected Jamaican accent, which I guess might seem racist or whatever (though experts seem to consider his patoisfairly spot-on), but probably only if you already hate the guy.

The possibly-ethnic fellow who appears at the end of the video, hugging Ford and declaring him "the best mayor in the world" and prime minister material, doesn't seem bothered, in any case. And we all know the Mayor has plenty of black friends.

Others have made much fuss over the fact that this latest bout of public drunkenness seems to expose the emptiness of Ford's tearful, post-crack video vows to stop getting "hammered," and indeed, stop drinking altogether. But again, who really took such promises seriously, aside from the Mayor's gaggle of partisan foes who eagerly anticipated feigning outrage when he invariably broke them?

Hopefully by now we all grasp the concept that Rob Ford maintains his 47% approval rating (as I noted last week, among the highest of any political figure in this country) as much because of his personal flaws as in spite of them.

If you're part of the Ford Nation rainbow coalition of indigent immigrants and lower-class suburban whites, chances are you see an awful lot of yourself in the man simply because his vices are the ones that increasingly define  -- and in many cases, directly cause -- the various social pathologies that shape the culture of the modern Canadian underclass: drug and alcohol abuse, dysfunctional families, organized crime, a general lack of respect for honesty, propriety, the rule of law, etc. And familiarity breeds loyalty, especially in a realm as dull and irrelevant as municipal politics, where it can be tough to view a mayor as anything but a cipher for the power of your segment of the social strata.

Uncomplicated class appeal is not the only reason for Ford's popularity, of course. But it's certainly reason enough to remain bullish on the man's chances for re-election. Particularly when the other side is such a mess.

Olivia Chow very much wants to be seen as the unity candidate of ethical, educated, upright, upper-crust, urban Toronto -- the Canadian equivalent of one of those 17-party coalition leaders you sometimes see running for president in third world failed states after the dictator dies. But Toronto, alas, is no Nicaragua, and Canadian party tribalism is not so easily overcome. As the widow of the former leader of an enormously divisive and unpopular political party (yes, winning a mere 25% of the Ontario vote in the last federal election qualifies as unpopular), Chow has really no bipartisan bona fides to speak of, and certainly no obvious appeal to anyone on the right side of the political spectrum she and her party have spent a lifetime opposing.

Ditto for other would-be fantasy candidate John Tory, ex-boss of the provincial Conservatives. Not only does he carry the same alienating partisan baggage as Chow, his pitch to the right isn't great either. While it's true trying to best Rob Ford on right-wing, populist rhetoric is a bit like, in the words of the Daily Beast's Ivor Tossell, "trying to outflank Attila the Hun," Tory could barely outflank Dalton McGuinty.

Following two humiliating election losses, the 2009 instillation of his successor, the more comfortably ideological Tim Hudak, was widely viewed as an "end to seven years of flirtation with the political centre."

In short, the presumed mayoral viability of either Chow or Tory is based on the very wobbly premise that Toronto's conservative voters hate Ford enough to compromise on core principles and elect a Tory-in-name-only or New Democrat out of pure disgusted opportunism. Or that NDPers will back a Tory-in-name, period, for the same reason. And that Chow and Tory will be cooperative and humble enough to not run against each other, and that no other viable candidate (a Liberal, for instance) will emerge to otherwise split the anti-Ford vote.

Then there's the unattractive, elitist overtones of the whole "unity-candidate" scheme in the first place, which Anthony Furey of the Sun accurately described as basically an open conspiracy by "unelected consultants, lobbyists and backroom boys... to decide Toronto's future far away from the unwashed masses." Presumably, any viable non-Ford candidate will have to make at least some inroads into the 47% of voters who elected him last time; which is to say, Torontonians with a visceral dislike of the entrenched political elite and government-as-usual. It hardly goes without saying that running one of the province's most well-connected, establishment-friendly faces -- be they from the left, right, or centre -- is a logical path to that goal.

After he managed to survive his drug scandal, crueler wags were fond of quipping that Rob Ford would only leave city hall in handcuffs or a body bag. There's certainly little reason to suspect it will be through the ballot box.

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