11/05/2013 09:03 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Rob Ford Is The Ugly Truth About The Suburbs

Rob Ford isn't a mistake.

We like to think Canada is a tolerant nation, but the mayor's pride and prejudice is an accurate reflection of much of the city he leads.

Ford, the crack user, has been touched by the worst angels of our nature, but he's not alone.

When I was 11 years old, I moved from Ottawa to the Toronto suburb of Scarborough and from an alternative school to one where kids didn't much like the sound of anything different. I wouldn't escape (and escape is the right word) until I was 24.

My neighbourhood was largely white, but became more and more diverse as the years went by. Through it all, from 'old' and 'new' Canadians alike, I saw the sort of intolerance, bigotry and disdain for intelligence that Ford's critics have attacked him for throughout his career.

The mayor is not an aberration from the average citizen of suburban Toronto. He is not the only person I know who has called Asian people "orientals" or an Italian a "gino" or who thinks AIDS is a gay disease.

He's not the only person I know who doesn't want the homeless anywhere near him or who thinks transgender people don't exist or that dead cyclists have only themselves to blame.

He's not the only person I know who has tried to score OxyContin for a friend or who has been busted with a joint in his back pocket or who has an older brother who dealt drugs.

He's not the only person I know who doesn't want any more immigrants or who lied about his education or who thinks a casino would make the city a better place.

He's not the only one I know who shows disdain for Pride or for getting consent before (allegedly) copping a feel.

He's not the only person I know who has smoked crack while in a drunken stupor. He's not even the only person I know who may have smoked crack by accident in a drunken stupor.

None of the people I met over my many years in Scarborough are the mayor of the fourth largest city in North America, but they do explain why Ford won in 2010 and why he thinks he can do it again.

In 2010, downtown Toronto was shocked that Ford defeated George Smitherman. When I visited the suburbs during and after that campaign, all I heard about was Smitherman's sexuality. Often, I heard him called a "fag," the same word Ford allegedly uses to describe Justin Trudeau in the infamous video.

I wasn't surprised when Ford won. I had long since concluded that an openly gay man could never win much support in the sprawling subdivisions of the megacity. Sadly, I was right.

When the PQ recently came out in favour of a ban on religious symbols at work for public employees, many of my downtown Toronto friends reacted with disbelief.

I shook my head and thought of all the people back home in Scarborough I've heard say things like "She should dress like a normal person. She's in Canada now." A recent poll found 40 per cent of Canadians believe there are too many immigrants.

And the intolerance doesn't just come from the obese white males who like to enjoy "a few pops" in the basement after a long day on the job.

Suburban immigrants, many of whom are deeply religious, are among Toronto's most socially conservative inhabitants. The federal Conservatives have crafted policies to appeal to these beliefs and have reaped the electoral rewards.

We like to imagine we're nothing like our neighbours to the south, but Toronto has its red states and its blue states; it has its Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain wrapped up in one neat 330-pound package.

After Ford admitted to using crack, Industry Minister James Moore tweeted that "Schadenfreude can be so incredibly ugly."

Moore is right, but there is something much uglier: the reflection of Canada we should all see when we look at the Ford fiasco.


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