Dear Kids: how to avoid ending up like Rob Ford
Try as I might to shield you from it, you’ve caught wind of the media reporting that Rob Ford, our Mayor, admitted to using “crack cocaine” during “one of his drunken stupors”. Since you know that “drugs are bad”, you’ve asked Mommy and I to explain to you what is going on: Why the police want to talk to the Mayor, why our Mayor gets so drunk that he uses hard core drugs, how he got elected in the first place, and who is running the City of your birth?
As much as I’d like to give you a neat and tidy answer, there really isn’t one. There is no flip response. And, although I’d like to sweep this under the rug as far as you’re concerned, and pretend that I didn’t hear the question, I realize that the media coverage and playground talk has made that impossible.
Although Daddy started volunteering in politics when he was not much older than you are now, majored in Political Science at Western University, spent five years working in Ottawa before meeting Mommy, and has accumulated six plus years of bruises dealing with the occasional mayhem at City Hall via his Chairmanship at the Toronto Port Authority, I must admit that I can’t explain to you what has gone on with Mr. Ford.
I’ve never seen anything like it, and doubt any of us ever will again. That said, I want you to understand something. This behaviour isn’t acceptable. It is not a guide to how Mommy and I want you to live your lives. It is the opposite, in fact, in every possible way. If this were a company, a charity, Federal political party or a Church, the “Mayor” in that instance would have been dismissed long ago. It will seem strange, but this is a roller coaster that we can’t get off in the absence of a criminal conviction. Kind of like the California Screamer last summer.
Fortunately, there are some lessons in all of this for you both.
“The Red Coat Syndrome”
When I was a bit older than you, Poppa told me a story about the time he got in big trouble when he was in grade school in Guelph. A group of boys were throwing snowballs at a passing car. It sounds as though there were at least ten kids involved, but only one was wearing a red coat. That was Poppa.
The driver was so mad at the boys that he went to the school and complained to the Vice-Principal about what had happened. Although the driver couldn’t identify any of the kids, he said that one was wearing a “red coat.” That was Poppa, and the Vice-Principal knew immediately who the driver was talking about; I guess there weren’t too many red coats in Guelph that year. Poppa was the only one who got in trouble, even though he was just one of a number of kids doing the same thing.
The lesson, Poppa said, was to assume that whatever bad things you do in life will come out: you will get caught. Our Mayor assumed that he’d never be caught, which is why, in part, I believe that he continued doing very bad things long after the people around him told him to knock it off. He says he doesn’t remember any of it, but his former Office Staff claim they kept trying to help him steer clear of trouble.
My simple advice is this: assume you will get caught if you are going to pull the fire alarm or cheat on a test at school, for example, and imagine how awful things are going to be for you when you do. ‘Cause they’ll be bad.
“How will it look on the front page of The Globe and Mail?”
Whether you are in business, arts, charitable work or politics, this is a good test to keep in the back of your mind at all times. Whatever choice you are going to make, ask yourself this “Globe” question (or substitute the Globe for The Toronto Star or Sun, if you prefer). I don’t mean choices such as chicken fingers versus pasta for dinner, but decisions or actions that might intersect with your career and/or personal life a few years from now.
Topics such as sexual harassment, expense account abuse, or using a position of authority to get preferential treatment will always draw negative attention, and deservedly so. There is never a good excuse for these transgressions, among many others.
The further you go in life, the more likely it is that someone will have a reason to want to bring you down. That is particularly the case with some in the media, who take pleasure in “bringing comfort to the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable.” But the same goes for your business or political opponents; sometimes in life, things are “zero sum”, which means if you are doing well, someone else will think they are worse off as a result of your success. Usually, you have to give them ammunition, which is all the more reason why you should ask yourself the “Globe” question once you start making adult decisions; it works in student politics just as well as in Ottawa, over at Toronto City Hall or on Bay Street.
It successfully got Daddy through five years as a staffer in Ottawa, in fact. Had Prime Minister Harper’s Chief of Staff Nigel Wright asked himself this question, he would never have given Mike Duffy that cheque for $90,000. It might have been a lilly-white and purely generous thing to have done in the moment, but the Prime Minister’s enemies wouldn’t have cared about that. That must have been clear to everyone involved, all along. Money rarely solves problems, and shady money in politics will always be overblown – however good the intentions are.
In 1872, the government of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald was brought down for this very reason. 100 years later, the political career of 1976 Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Claude Wagner was halted due to a $300,000 trust fund that had been established in Mr. Wanger’s name to ease his entry into political life. Liberal Solicitor General Francis Fox found himself in a similar situation that same decade; although the dollars were smaller – the circumstances were far more unseemly.
And it’s not just politicians. Dr. Tom Stewart, once the “top doctor” at Mt. Sinai Hospital, was forced to resign when it became public that he had directed $256,000 in payments to Chris Mazza, the former head of Ornge, while Dr. Stewart himself received $436,000 to advise Ornge “on medical issues”.
These were all clearly bad choices at the time. But it isn’t always crystal clear.
Sometimes in life, you might think you are doing the right thing, or at least something that’s not unacceptable, only to find out that in the eyes of others it really, really isn’t. Some people want to believe the worst in others, particularly if they are in the political ring or have had success in their careers. The best way to test this isn’t to rationalize what you are about to do, but to imagine it as a front page headline.
And then ask yourself that “Globe” question. Imagine the worst possible depiction of what you are about to do, and then picture it as a newspaper headline. Imagine having to call your spouse, parents, business colleagues or friends and explain it all to them. Think of the people who don’t know you, and how’ll they’ll see the story without knowing you like Mommy and I do.
And then think about how relieved you’d be if none of that ever had to happen. The choice before you will be clear, and I know you’ll make the right one.
Rob Ford never applied this test to probably twenty very bad decisions over the past few years. He, his brother and Mr. Ford’s family are paying the price for it now.
Mr. Ford says he’s a victim of gang justice at City Hall, but of course that all was so easily predicted. As for his poor children, who are likely not any older than you, they probably suffer every single day in the school playground school for his self-described “human” failings. If Mr. Ford’s father were alive today, as someone who once taught Bible School, I suspect he’d be mortified to see his son break so many of The Ten Commandments, not to mention other Christian teachings, time and time and time again. Both sober and drunk.
“Politics is a team sport”
No one gets elected alone. Politicians carry a banner on behalf of the people who volunteered their time, donated money, who lent their names and credibility to the political agenda and moral fibre of the candidate in question. In the case of Party politics, this is very clear, since you are part of a Provincial or National team of fellow candidates who can only succeed if you all pull on the oars together.
With Party Politics comes discipline, as you are part of a tradition, even beyond the current team you find yourself with. If you stumble, it reflects badly on everyone on the team. It’s no different than a hockey game or swim meet. Take a bad penalty or miss your spin turn, and your entire team might lose as a result. You don’t want to let them down, and you know that by joining the Party system, many people are relying on you to make good choices every step of the way.
Our City Hall doesn’t have such a system, at least not formally.
With 44 Councillors and one Mayor each having a vote, there are essentially 45 people who are the President of their own Political Party (H/T JHT). Sure, the New Democratic Party is well-represented at Council, which has for decades acted as a bit of a farm team for the NDP Party at Queen’s Park and Ottawa. But, by and large, since name recognition is the primary driver of victory at the municipal polls, and that it sometimes takes less than 8,000 votes to win a chair at City Hall (see prior post “Does 7,850 trump 1,600,000?” Feb 4-10), even the NDP can’t always control their like-minded members on Toronto Council.
The thing about Rob Ford is that, although he says he’s always “voted” Conservative, he never spent any meaningful time working within the Party system. His father may have been a P.C. member at Queen’s Park for a spell, but Mr. Ford isn’t known to have ever worked as a volunteer or member of the Party in any particular fashion. As such, he doesn’t really appreciate the team element and mutual responsibility of being a member of any particular Political Party. Unlike Stella Ambler, John Baird, Tony Clement, and Peter Van Loan, among countless others, all of whom cut their political teeth in this manner. They get it, and you see it in their self-discipline and collective loyalty.
When Mr. Ford won in 2010, the media thought this spoke to a surge in Conservative voting within Toronto. I’ve never believed that, if only because his opponents (Smitherman and Pantalone) together polled 351,400 versus Mr. Ford’s 346,200. That said, Ford’s seen to be a Conservative. Having Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty endorse his candidacy during the 2010 Mayoral race was incredibly helpful, and since Mr. Ford took office, the Prime Minister has given him many opportunities to bask in the reflected warmth of Canada’s highest office in the land. Including the time when you saw Daddy with him.
At the Provincial level, Mr. Ford’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, announced in April of this year that he was planning to run for a Queen’s Park seat at the earliest opportunity: “We’re gonna go down there and we’re gonna stop the gravy train in Ontario.” I’m not sure who the “we” is in that situation, since Councillor Ford’s brother wasn’t part of the plan. Perhaps he meant Ford Nation, although they probably were already Hudak supporters. A month later, Councillor Ford’s brother appeared on the front page of The Toronto Star in a story that said he’d been videotaped smoking what appeared to be very bad and self-destructive drugs. The bloom was quickly off the Provincial Rose. That’s team discipline at work.
The thematic always had the appearance of being a real life version of The Trailer Park Boys take City Hall, and that was before the details of Rob Ford’s association with drugs and gangs became public.
Unfortunately, because he never cut his teeth within the Party system, Mr. Ford has no appreciation for the embarrassment he has now brought upon the very people he claims to support. When it was convenient, Mr. Ford would pretend to be an ally and call folks in Ottawa and demand action on an issue affecting Toronto. And yet, based upon his ongoing actions, he appears to have ignored the reality that when you put on a team jersey, everything you do reflects upon the other members of your so-called Team. Just like a family. Or a football squad.
Minister Flaherty and the Prime Minister were unusually generous in sharing the limelight, even when they didn’t have to do so for protocol reasons. And Mayor Ford repaid them six or twelve months later by acting as though he was John Belushi in Animal House – a movie you’ll have to wait a few years to see.
Even last night, by speaking about their “close” friendship with Jim Flaherty during an interview on the CBC, they must have known that trumpeting the association on national television wouldn’t reflect well on Canada’s hard working and respected Minister of Finance. And yet, like someone drowning at sea, they reached out and grabbed whomever was closest and sturdiest, without any awareness that they could be pulling him down with them.
That’s not what friends do, whether or not you’re part of an organized Party system.
“Sometimes, it’s not about you.”
You may not remember your days as a “bucket baby.”
When you were three weeks old, the world revolved around you. On the street, everyone peered into the Bugaboo for a peek at your smile. When we were home, every breath was monitored, every cough was researched, every wake-up brought out my worry of SIDS. As you’ve grown older, you’ve come to learn that it’s not always about you. This is something we all go through, but I fear that Rob Ford never learned that lesson. Or if he did, it has been since overwhelmed by political narcissism.
It all started with his October 2010 election victory, but you need to go back as far as early 2010 to appreciate the backstory. I know Mommy sometimes thinks my stories are too long, but since this is just between the three of us….
When he first threw his hat into the ring of the Mayoral election, no one took Mr. Ford very seriously. Candidates such as Karen Stintz and John Tory had been rumoured to be the right-of-centre favourites and were expected to benefit from the public’s distaste for then-Mayor David Miller’s handling of the garbage strike and his generally wasteful ways.
Voters were so cross that they wanted to send a missile at City Hall, to serve as a wake-up call to everyone on City Council. And Mr. Ford was that missile, in the absence of either Stintz or Tory. Kind of like the famous line from Network (sorry – a movie you’ve not yet seen): “I’m mad as [heck], and I’m not going to take this anymore.” Daddy wrote about this more than three years ago in his blog (see prior post “A million Howard Beales” Oct. 22-10) – before Rob Ford was elected Mayor of our fine city:
Torontonians aren’t channeling the “Tea Party”. There is no “shift to the right”, in a City that hasn’t elected very many Conservatives (Red or Blue) to any level of office since 1984 — 26 years ago. Most voters know we can’t afford a tax cut. They merely want their $10B/year spent responsibly, and not on French lessons for departing Councillors or spiteful legal battles.
Unfortunately, the Ford Brothers misunderstood the 2010 vote to be about them. About support grounded by something called “Ford Nation.” That Liberals and Conservatives voted for Rob Ford instead of a brokerage politician like George Smitherman had all to do with David Miller’s time in office, and the fear that Mr. Smitherman would follow in Miller’s spender footsteps. The e-Health scandal didn’t help Mr. Smitherman, but Conservatives don’t get 50% of the vote in Toronto — ever. Even with the low voter turnout you see at the municipal level.
Daddy knew something was afoot in the early part of the summer of 2010 when our politically unaligned friend said she was going to vote for Ford. I asked her why.
She said she was mad about the waste at City Hall and some of the crazy priorities of the then Mayor and his NDP supporters on Council. A few weeks later, when the newspapers reported on Mr. Ford’s impaired driving charge in Florida (which he initially denied) and the fact that police had been called to his house in 2008 due to a domestic dispute, I checked in again with this voter to see if any of the news had an impact on her voting intentions.
To my surprise, they had no bearing at all. Her view of the Florida DUI: “who hasn’t had a few drinks and made the mistake of getting behind the wheel?” As for the domestic disturbance: “I already knew about that.” Hmmm, I thought.
A few days later, I drove from Poppa and Pippa’s back to our house. The trip took me through different parts of Toronto: Etobicoke, Bloor West Village, Church Wellesley Village, Rosedale and Midtown. Although Rob Ford was leading the race at that point, with more than 43% of the polled vote, there were very few Ford lawn signs. Mr. Smitherman had at least five or seven times as many across these disparate parts of the city, and yet he was on the verge of losing the election.
In all my years of watching politics in Canada, at every level, I’d never seen that before. It seemed to me that most voters didn’t want to talk about what they were going to do with their Mayoral vote. Not with their neighbours. Not with their spouses. They didn’t want to explain why they had a Ford lawn sign and were going to vote for someone cut from this particular cloth. How else could one explain the polling data vs. the sign war?
That’s why I never believed there was much of a “Ford Nation.” A few thousand people going to a weekend BBQ for free food and pop might make for good media story, but it doesn’t speak to some mass movement. The Scarborough Rotary Club’s annual RibFest draws well over 100,000 people, and attendees have to pay for their food.
The lion’s share of the Federal Liberals and Conservatives who just happened to vote for Rob Ford are not owned by anyone, and they certainly aren’t part of some “Nation”; they were keen to send a message about waste and “respecting taxpayers.” That was it.
But the vote wasn’t about Mr. Ford, per se. Which is why the recent mayhem around he and his brother have pushed him so far down in the polls.
“Don’t do as I do, do as I say.”
Whether it be parenting or politics, all you have is your credibility and moral authority. If I smoked cigarettes, for example, it would be hard for Mommy to preach about the dangers of you ever picking up the habit.
Mr. Ford’s “Respect for Taxpayers” mandate could have perhaps survived his personal troubles had he actually lived up to the original promise of “respect” and “watching the pennies.” At the local hockey rink, which is a decent place for straw polls, that went a long way these past few weeks. Until, that is, the Court released hundreds of pages of documents that included transcripts of interviews with former members of Mr. Ford’s own office staff.
Buried in these police interviews are stories that will make taxpayers sick.
And the tales aren’t about buying drugs, since everyone has had months to get their heads around the fact that two Toronto Star journalists were quite certain they saw a video where Mr. Ford was doing the very bad drugs that you’ve heard so much about. For the longest time, there were many voters who thought that Rob Ford on crack was better than David Miller on the public teat.
But all that will likely change now that the public has heard (via these police interviews) that Mr. Ford is alleged to have asked his taxpayer-funded staff to do all sorts of things that appear to be not at all related to his official government role, including:
– Buying him alcohol between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. on workdays
– Buying two cases of Diet Coke for Mrs. Ford
– Picking up and dropping off dry cleaning
– Changing light bulbs on Mr. Ford’s front lawn
– Changing batteries in Mr. Ford’s kids’ toys
– Buying cartons of cigarettes
– Fixing Mrs. Ford’s home computer
– Buying household items such as bleach and laundry detergent for Mrs. Ford
Having run for office under the “Respect for Taxpayers” banner, Mr. Ford has relinquished all moral high ground against those who he claims were merely involved in politics for big office budgets and whatever small luxuries come with the role, like free street parking. He can’t claim to be watching pennies, despite buying his own business cards for ceremonial PR reasons, if he’s having City-paid staff act like they are personal assistants to a Russian Oligarch, doing his household or Fatherly chores. That’ll be the killer at the local hockey rink, not the drinking.
“Stay away from the ‘Smoking Door’”
When Daddy started in Grade 9, he had to switch schools. Very few of the people I knew at Swansea Public School wound up at Humberside Collegiate, and I had to start over in the friend department. On more than a few occasions, I found myself hanging around the kids at the “smoking door”, even though I didn’t smoke. These kids were older, tough and liked leather. They were nice, too. One time, very early in the school year, one of them asked me what I thought of Led Zeppelin. I replied that “he was good.” A grade 12 or 13 student, who could have easily passed for a member of the Hell’s Angels, kindly said: “it’s a Group, and I don’t like them much either.”
These kids skipped class several times a week, and seemed to be headed in the wrong direction in some cases. I’m not sure when exactly, but before too long I realized this wasn’t a great group to hang around with. The school’s Vice-Principal would come out regularly and scold the bunch for smoking on TDSB property, and I’m sure he wondered what I was doing there. So did I.
Daddy was also involved in the school’s massive choir, the yearbook and a variety of other pursuits that exposed me to a broad cross-section of different kids. Not all of them went to University, and a few probably smoked drugs (a subset of those smoked-up in a school stairwell during our 25th reunion), but most have found success and happiness. All in all, they were a great bunch of people.
Rob Ford never learned the lesson about the “Smoking Door.”
According to photographs and police reports, he continued to hang around the wrong kind of people long after he became a grown man; let alone as Mayor of Canada’s largest city. It should come as no surprise that if you chum with folks who are themselves breaking the law on any given day, you’ll eventually get either roped into it yourself, or blamed for something that you didn’t do. Even on Bay Street.
Either way, criminal affiliation destroys your job prospects, embarrasses your family and friends, harms your loved ones (such as a spouse or child), and is usually life-changing. Even something so basic as your NEXUS card evaporates the moment you cross that line.
Mr. Ford says he has his photo taken with anyone who asks, and that’s probably true. As a rule, you want to stay away from people who are involved in things that get them shot, for fear that you might get nicked in the process. But that’s probably clear to you both already.
When Mr. Ford’s friend/part-time driver was about to be charged with drug offences, and the police see the two of them meeting in gas station bathrooms and exchanging brown envelopes and backpacks in various out-of-the way places, people leap to a certain conclusion. Whether or not that’s fair, by hanging around the proverbial “Smoking Door” in his 40s, particularly as Mayor, Mr. Ford exposed himself to all sorts of risk.
In this case, someone gave him a crack pipe when Mr. Ford says he was in a “drunken stupor”. Had he never allowed himself to hang around with people who might carry those kinds of drugs in the first place, or put himself in their dubious care when he was three sheets to the wind (as Pippa might have said), it’s possible that none of the forces that have led to his current predicament would have ever been unleashed.
It was these so-called “friends” who videotaped Mr. Ford with the crack pipe, which started the chain of events that led to him being stripped of most of his powers yesterday at City Hall. Whether he’s innocent or guilty, this Mr. Ford has become the global poster boy of why you have to be careful who you hang around with, at any age.
If you follow these simple rules for the rest of your life, I promise that you will have the tools to make the right choices, each and every time. I’m sure Mr. Ford wishes he had.
(disclosure – this blog, as always, reflects a personal opinion and in no way represents the views of the TPA, its Board/Staff or the federal government)
Great rules to live by for everyone, not just politicians.
So true! Only thing missing from the high school analogy is Mr. Ford’s weak grasp of math – He was likely skipping that class frequently. True he has saved some money but his $ 1 Billion claim defies any form of accounting I have seen
Wow these are the amazing rules mentioned over here, Thanks for posting.