Well, all good things must come to an end. But don’t worry: God never closes a popular alternative newsweekly without opening a void in everybody’s heart. At least we’ll always have the VOCM Friday Night Sex Show.
Towards the end of The Republic, Plato’s timeless work of political philosophy/homoerotic fanfiction, the philosopher warns us about the coming of Democratic Man. Democratic Man, he says, values his personal freedom and enjoyment so highly that he will shun even the slightest restriction on his behaviour—not only the laws of his society, but even the basic discipline of common sense. Here, the greatest degree of freedom —the unfettered pursuit of any and all desires, no matter how crude or self-destructive—slips into the greatest degree of slavery. Democratic Man is a slave to his own stupid self, and he contains the embryo of absolute Tyranny. It should go without saying, Plato adds, that putting him in charge would be a pretty good way to ruin a city.
Fast forward 2500 years, and this is a pretty accurate picture of the surreal spectacle that is His Worshipful Robert B. Ford, “Mayor” of Toronto.
Where to begin? Rob Ford is a crack-smoking, drunk-driving, racist, sexist, homophobic piece of crap. He’s also a liar. There are hundreds of pages of police surveillance documenting him exchanging mysterious packages with criminals, urinating in public spaces, and chugging vodka in the woods behind a high school—all during working hours. Most of the people in the ‘crack photo’ with him are either dead or in prison, and the Toronto Star has a video of him stomping around his living room, blitzed out of his mind, yelling about either murdering someone or wrestling them in his underwear (which is, arguably, a fate worse than death). In one of the eight million awkward press conferences he’s held to defend himself, he deflected accusations of sexually harassing an associate with a terrible one-liner about eating out his wife. In the middle of the council meeting to strip him of his mayoral powers, he compared himself to Kuwait and the Toronto City Council to Saddam; he then got into a screaming match with the public gallery and pushed a woman to the floor. There will probably be more by the time you read this sentence. It’s like they set a season of the Trailer Park Boys inside Toronto’s city hall.
Best of all, there is nothing anyone can do about any of this. Rob Ford refuses to resign and, because no one ever anticipated that a bumbling idiot without a functioning sense of shame would ever become the mayor of the largest city in Canada, there is no impeachment process. In fact, Rob Ford’s popularity has actually gone up since he first copped to smoking crack. Improbably, the over-privileged son of a provincial politician who seems to live to flout the law has become a beloved symbol of “tough on crime” suburban conservatives—you know, the exact people who, if given the chance, would institute the death penalty for anyone caught smoking a joint within 50 miles of a school zone. The same day Rob Ford threw his wife under the public-relations bus, SUN News gave him a prime time television slot where Ezra Levant, in total sincerity, compared him to Princess Diana. The show was cancelled immediately, but for a very large subset of people (maybe enough to get him re-elected), Rob Ford is a folk hero standing up for the little guy against a vast left-wing conspiracy.
How did it come to this? Throughout this whole ordeal Ford has kept thumping his chest that, in lieu of God, only the voters can judge him. He is the culmination of a thirty year counter-revolution in Canadian democracy, initiated by the Reform party, to make an angry mob the final arbiter of political truth. He is a monster of Conservatism’s own making, a Nickelback album translated into political power. He even told FOX News that he wants to be Prime Minister, and given that the locus of power in Canada has shifted from the Centre to the West and from the city to the suburbs, “Ford Nation” might be the future of this country. And who knows? Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. It’s not like crooks and liars don’t already hold all the levers of power in Canada lately. Putting someone like Rob Ford in the Prime Minister’s Office might actually be the most honest thing to do.
But maybe the wildest outcome of the Rob Ford saga is that politics in Newfoundland and Labrador looks positively sane by comparison. The Liberals wrapped up a surprisingly civil leadership contest in November, and long-time interim leader Dwight Ball came out on top. Supporters gave a resounding thumbs-down to both St. John’s oligarchs vying for the top spot, proving in Cathy Bennett’s case that you can’t just crash the Liberal party after working on the government’s agenda and expect to buy the leadership—especially if the core of your platform is ‘I love the thing your party hates.’ In fact, the leadership went so well (and their partisan opponents are doing so badly) that the Liberals actually look like a viable political party for the first time in over a decade. If they can finally clean up their financial mess, we might end up with a pretty ballsy premier come 2015.
We got a taste of this provincial sea change the other night in the Carbonear-Harbour Grace by-election. Liberal Sam Slade trounced PC Jack Harrington in the contest over Jerome Kennedy’s empty seat, taking it with a margin of victory higher than the NDP candidate’s total vote count. This is great for the Liberals, but it’s not exactly earth-shattering, considering that they carried momentum out of a leadership and were able to shift those campaign machines directly into the ground war. The real story here is the Tories—this district was one of their biggest blowouts in the 2011 election, so this loss cements the steady death spiral they’ve been in for the last eighteen months. The writing is on the wall: what they’re doing isn’t working. But can they turn the ship around? Given Kathy Dunderdale’s rather incredulous response to the results—suggesting a genuine inability to see how they’d done anything wrong—I’m not holding my breath. And as for the NDP, the party’s embarrassing showing that day may have proved Dale Kirby and Chris Mitchelmore right when they diagnosed the problems with Lorraine Michael’s leadership, but it also underscored that their cure might have been worse than the disease.
So, there you go. I guess the last piece of news I have for you is that this is where we part ways. It’s been a slice, St. John’s. If at any point along the way I made you smile or think, then this has all been worth it. Our country might be f***ed, but if there was ever a time to mobilize that sublime and abiding sense of humour Newfoundlanders and Labradorians carry in their bones, this is it. These are the days that we will talk about. So keep your eyes peeled and your heart open, because a better world is calling. Catch you on the flip side.