It's hard to identify many beneficiaries of Rob Ford going off the rails in as public a fashion as he has. There's the media -- Ford's embarrassing words and deeds are an embarrassment of riches for news and entertainment outlets, this one included. And at least one parent I know is finding that the debacle provides him the example he's needed to get through to his kids about addiction. But is there anyone else who can be realistically considered better off because of the Toronto mayor's floundering?
The one person who keeps coming to my mind is Nigel Wright. Not that the former chief of staff to Stephen Harper is directly profiting from the Ford fiasco. This is not meant to imply any connections between the federal Senate scandal and the Toronto mayor's belly flop from grace (though wouldn't that be a holiday gift for the nation's media). Wright's problems -- which we now know include RCMP allegations that he has committed bribery, fraud and breaches of trust -- are entirely separate from Ford's issues.
It's just that with every unnecessary television appearance Rob Ford makes -- with every fight he picks and every aspersion he casts on others to deflect blame from himself -- the Toronto mayor highlights just how much more dignity Nigel Wright has shown in the face of serious allegations of wrongdoing. The two are a study in opposites.
Here's what I wish Rob Ford had learned from Nigel Wright:
1. You do not have to attack your accusers. No less prominent a figure than the Prime Minister of Canada has publicly accused Nigel Wright of deception. As a human being, Wright was probably tempted to lash out at Harper in response. But instead of taking to the airwaves and throwing about accusations of his own, Wright remained quiet. The result was that Harper looked like the heavy, while Wright looked composed.
2. When you're not wanted, leave and find someone who really needs you. When Nigel Wright was "dismissed" from the PMO (Harper initially described Wright's exit as a resignation, then switched to the term "dismissed" in October), Wright reportedly went to work in an Ottawa soup kitchen. Whatever Wright is or isn't guilty of, he deserves credit for spending his post-scandal time doing something useful for others rather than raging against real or perceived injustices done to him.
3. You should co-operate with police. No one is above the law. Not the mayor of a large city and not a high-powered Bay Street businessman who was once the prime minister's right-hand man. Nigel Wright has tacitly acknowledged this crucial feature of our justice and political systems by publicly confirming, through his lawyer, that he is co-operating with police. The message that sends is that he understands the gravity of the allegations against him and will do what he can to see that investigators arrive at the truth, rather than trying to obstruct their path. Rob Ford's insistence that he won't talk to police on advice of his lawyer sends the opposite message. It suggests that the mayor views the police as adversaries to be held at bay, which is particularly problematic given that he's the head of a city whose residents are expected to view the police as a trustworthy presence focused on the protection of Torontonians. Law enforcement is far from flawless and everyone, even political leaders, has a right to point out those flaws and defend himself. But if you are at all concerned with maintaining the public's respect, the moment you are being accused of serious criminal misdeeds is not the best one during which to get adamant about not helping out with a police investigation.
4. There are good times and bad times for doing a press tour. The height of a scandal that implicates you is a bad time. Who knows: Maybe Nigel Wright has been raging and fuming behind closed doors. But he has been blissfully absent from our television screens, which allows us to give him the benefit of the doubt about how he's comporting himself. At the very least, he has avoided giving the impression that he's desperate for our attention, shoving himself in our collective face at every opportunity. This choice lends him a certain air of modesty and decency.
It's a fine line. Leaders won't gain our respect by being evasive or dishonest when asked direct questions, but they also lose our honour when they seem to be jumping at every celeb interview opportunity that comes their way. (Excuse me Matt Lauer, but Anderson Cooper's on the other line....) Rob Ford has somehow managed to commit both these sins the same time. This lends him an air of arrogance and impropriety.
It's too soon to know what, if any, crimes Nigel Wright has committed, though the accusations against him are serious enough. We know some of Rob Ford's sordid history, but there may or may not be more of a story to follow. However, regardless of what we will eventually learn about these men's actions, there's no question about who has cut the more respectable figure when it comes to responding to a scandal.
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