When visiting Britain and Australia last November, I discovered that the mayor of Toronto, Robert Ford, is now the world’s best-known Canadian. He has acknowledged the occasional use of cocaine and, overall, the response to his foibles has been welcome. The world has been astounded to learn that not all English-speaking Canadians are whey-faced, monosyllabic Americans-on-Prozac. They might also learn that the contiguous metropolitan area of Toronto — now home to about seven million — has a very high standard of living and a low crime rate and is one of the world’s more impressive modern cities. The mayor is an ample and florid man who describes himself as ‘350 pounds of fun’, but he departed from Canadian tradition with his candour. Not so unprecedented, he has been clearly intoxicated and incoherent on several public occasions.
Canadians are less philosophical about such lapses than some nationalities, and elements of the local press hyped the story then attempted to shame Mayor Ford into resigning in mid-term because of his perceived unsuitability as a role model for children (as if municipal officials were ever role models for anything; dare we remember Ken Livingstone?). The chief of Toronto’s (quite good) police force told a press conference that he was ‘personally disappointed’ in the mayor (his boss). The mayor has allowed that the chief’s lack of enthusiasm for him is fully requited.
Under considerable pressure from his local opponents, the mayor announced his renunciation of drugs and alcohol and his self-launch into a fitness campaign. The media outlet leading the frenzied assault on the mayor’s rather trivial shortcomings was the Toronto Star, which whipped up a tornado of fatuous outrage. It gave me the opportunity to assist the mayor in frustrating its attempted putsch; several people sent me copies of letters the Star had sent to 70 civic leaders asking why they weren’t demanding the mayor’s immediate resignation and threatening to expose them as moral outcasts if they did not join the lynch mob. I revealed this absurd effort at blackmail in my column in another newspaper and my television programme. I pointed out that the mayor had trimmed city expenses by $638 million over his term, that there were apparently no grounds to lay a charge against him. And, most importantly, that electors would determine the identity of the mayor — not a newspaper. The controversy has subsided in Toronto, though ripples of it seem still to be lapping distant shores. The mayoral election is in October, and Ford may well be re-elected.