Archives for posts with tag: Rob Ford

Brian Johnston confronts the inevitable media scrum as he leaves his job (Image: Toronto Star)

Normally, the departures of political staff are of little interest to most people; only hard-core political junkies, insiders and observers can take any real meaning from staffing changes.

But these are hardly normal times. As the exodus of staffers from Rob Ford’s office continues, the amount of media attention given to the issue will only increase. Since Rob and Doug Ford are still in blanket denial mode, and since their credibility is in free fall, the media must look elsewhere for clues to what is going on in the mayor’s office. Hence today’s media focus on the exit of advisor Brian Johnston and EA Kia Nejatian. Expect continued media focus on the mayor’s staff and expect those remaining staff members to be asking themselves some critical questions about how to balance their job responsibilities and obligations with other considerations.

I’ve been a political staffer on several occasions, as well as having covered politics as journalist, and I can say that the decision to leave that type of work is often more complex and emotional than a more conventional job, even more so when the heat is on your boss and the media are camped outside your office every day.

Choosing the political life means you need to have certain characteristics. Political staffers must be loyal. That is particularly the case for those with bosses who may try the patience of their staffers. Staffers also must be appropriately deferential. They must be discreet, especially when your boss is accused of drug abuse. Ideally, the staffer should be able to speak truth to power and be able to do it on a regular basis without appearing obstinate and disloyal.

The benefits of working in politics – the network and connections, the understanding of the political process, the knowledge of how to get things done – are partly meant to position staffers for interesting and lucrative work later on. But it’s a trade-off; the hours are long, the tempo is unrelenting, the crises are frequent, the compromises can be uncomfortable.

But there may come a point when you are asked to do something you think is wrong or harmful to the larger political interests of your boss. Or maybe you’re expected to sit by silently as disastrous decisions are being made (decisions that you must help clean up).  Are you more loyal than self-interested? Can you be discreet about the choice you are facing? What if other staff departures might create opportunity for you to advance? You might consider running away in order to limit the damage to your career, but what if potential employers perceive you as being disloyal?

And then, even if you decide to leave, there are questions about how to do it. Not many staffers could imagine doing a media scrum in the City Hall parking garage on their way out, moving box in hand, saying that your former boss is batshit crazy, or has substance abuse problems, or is putting the city and its reputation at risk. But what if that’s the reason you decided to leave? What if you felt that your concern about the city (or your career) outweighs your loyalty to the mayor? What if you felt the only reasonable strategy is to put more pressure on the mayor to step down?

In the case of Rob Ford’s office, I suspect that once Mark Towhey was fired, most of the staffers started asking themselves some of these questions and calculating the costs of hanging around – despite the sudden opportunities for promotion. Part of this calculation would involve a wondering how effective one can be when the office is in 24/7 damage control mode, when the mayor and his family are circling the wagons and denying everything and when the Chief of Staff is seemingly tossed overboard without a second thought?

And once your colleagues start running out the door, everyone accelerates the cost/benefit analysis of staying. The trickle then inevitably becomes a stampede and the reasons for remaining become few in number and harder to defend. Then comes the decision about what to say to the media as security escorts me out. Do I speak diplomatically, or do I – out of concern for the mayor and the city – offer some real insight into what’s going on?

Expect more parking garage scrums to come, and expect more cautious media statements covering up the frantic “Should I stay or should I go?” questions being asked inside the mayor’s office.

Image: Cannabisculture.net

I grew up in the 80s and – full disclosure here – didn’t deal hash.

But there were always drugs around, as it to be expected when you have the necessary ingredients of bored young people with spare cash and free time. I’m not suggesting that every Canadian in their teens and early 20s consumes drugs, but there are compelling statistics to show that it’s not unusual.

Unless, of course, you are Rob or Doug Ford. Everything we have learned about the Fords (even before Saturday’s Globe and Mail story on Doug’s hash-dealing days) suggests that they are familiar with drugs and alcohol. So it wasn’t such a surprise to learn about Rob’s alleged crack use and Doug’s history as a hash dealer.

Yet, the Fords continue their damaging and inexplicable denials of any and all allegations. I won’t even bother to list the names they have used to label any reporter or media outlet that dares to report on their encounters with drugs and alcohol.

I suspect the Fords, coming from a wealthy and conservative family, do not allow themselves the freedom to actually acknowledge that they had a childhood that – like many other of the same generation – includes using drugs and alcohol. Barack Obama, on the other hand, openly admitted his use of grass and cocaine before he was president. It is this enormous and obvious hypocrisy on the part of the Fords that is helping Toronto voters decide who to believe. It also shows that the Fords are so blinkered in their approach to these issues that they refuse to accept any reasonable advice from their own staffers on how to communicate to the people who elected them.

It’s a shame that the Fords can’t see that every blanket denial on drug or alcohol use only makes them look more and foolish, stubborn and self-defeating. This is a perfect case of how to prolong the story, destroy your credibility and ensure that the media dig more cases out of the shadows.

Yesterday… What a news day! What a day for journalism!

I had the interesting task of summarizing the big stories of the day on a four-minute phone call with my wife (who’s out of the country). I was spoiled for choice.

Duffy’s quit the Conservative caucus, I say. About time, comes the reply. No doubt, I add, the PMO got tired of waiting for Duffy to do it himself.

Then comes the second story: Paul Godfrey gets summarily axed as Chair of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation – and the rest of the board resigns in protest. The order came from Premier Wynne. The plan to expand gambling, including the downtown Toronto casino proposal, is now pretty much dead.

But it gets better, I say, much better. The Star is running a huge page one story saying there’s video of Rob Ford smoking crack. And they’ve seen it. Our mayor could be a crackhead!

After the call, I felt sort of vindicated after thinking about how people are now going to view Ford, as one of my first posts was about why I would believe anything I heard about Ford. Many people will believe this story, and the Star has no doubt nailed down and lawyered the story several times over. Even Ford Nation will have second thoughts about going to the barricades for their man.

This was a great day for public interest journalism and for those who care about public debate. A buffet of fantastic, important stories that lay bare the trenches of political fighting over public policy issues, political personalities and media coverage of said fights. Each story exploded on Twitter and led to gigantic conversations about transparency, credibility and the pervasive cynicism of politics. Despite the sadness of the stories, I sensed a great degree of positivity in the online conversation because the details of the stories were coming from a wonderful combination of quality journalism, public interest and social media engagement.

I hope tomorrow is as fascinating and engaging as yesterday was. It was heaven from my perspective; stories that push public policy issues out into the light, allowing us to learn about them, debate them and make up our own minds. Even if yesterday’s news made you feel tired and powerless, just imagine how much worse you’d feel if you didn’t learn about the credibility of a senator, the institution and a prime minister; Ontario’s approach to gambling, the money it generates for the government and the emerging character of a new premier who is throwing her weight around; and the reality-tv story of Rob Ford that just gets better and better.

It’s addictive, this stuff.

Radio Ford Nation (Image: National Post)

One of the first rules elected officials learn – if they don’t already know – is to not comment on any case before a court. But Rob Ford didn’t get that memo. Or he didn’t listen to the briefing. Or maybe he was driving and reading at the time. Because he called into a CFRB talk show yesterday and offered his unsolicited opinion on what should happen to Richard Kachkar, who is awaiting sentencing for killing a Toronto Police officer with a stolen snowplow. The jury is weighing whether Kachkar is criminally responsible for his actions.

Ford’s on-air comments – which are not worth repeating or even summarizing – were typical of his lack of understanding of complex issues. By the way, Ford was the only person sufficiently motivated to call in to the programme.

Is our mayor so clueless that he thinks it’s OK to make public comments on an ongoing criminal trial? Does he think that his connection with Toronto’s citizens is so strong and all-consuming that he can ignore one of the most fundamental rules of behaviour for public office-holders? Does he have any impulse control? Is there anyone who can control Ford’s outbursts?

These are questions shouted into wind. Clearly, there’s not much that can be done about our mayor. However, CFRB should think about what they can do to stop providing an open platform for Ford whenever he wants to open his mouth. I’m sure the station loves that it’s become the official voice of Ford Nation, but they should remind themselves that they have journalistic responsibilities.

If the journalists at CFRB want an example of a more robust interview with the mayor of a large city, then they should check this out.

Meanwhile – speaking of excellence in journalism – I’m going back to watching the continuing coverage of the Pandas.

I’m not particularly surprised that Rob Ford is being accused of groping Sarah Thomson. He is not exactly the living embodiment of a modern, tolerant man.

Sadly, I’m also not surprised that Ford responded in the way he did: by attacking Thomson’s credibility and suggesting she’s crazy. Specifically, he said, “I’ve always said, I don’t know if she’s playing with a full deck from the first time I met her, and I told her that that night.” Things then got a lot weirder when Thomson mused on a radio show that she thought Ford was on cocaine when said alleged groping occurred. That’s when I decided to tune out of this story – except to make the observations below.

I have no idea whether Ford pawed Sarah Thomson or not – both of them, in an odd way, deserve each other. But what I do know is that a great many people will believe anything bad they hear about Rob Ford because it fits perfectly within the range of behaviour we expect from him. And that should inform how he responds to these types of accusations.

Is anyone giving Rob Ford decent communications advice? Is anyone telling him to stop giving just about everyone – outside of Ford Nation – the impression that he’s a boorish, unthinking man-child who can’t resist insulting those who don’t agree with him?

It’s quite possible that there is someone like that on his staff – but that Ford refuses to listen to the advice. Or perhaps his responses are highly strategic, designed as a call to action for his supporters? In either case, I despair.

Meanwhile, like a lot of other Torontonians, I await the emergence of a self-aware and tactful candidate for mayor.

I see that Toronto City Council is being asked to remove a little-known by-law that obliges cyclists in the city to ride in single file LINK. The by-law is a holdover from Etobicoke, and was extended to the rest of city during amalgamation. No side-by-side riding, you lane hogs!

I’m sure I wasn’t the only cyclist in the city to be caught by surprise. Are you kidding? We are legally required to ride in single file? And some cops actually pulled cyclists over for this?

toronto cyclists

“The Commute Home” by happy d/blogTO Flickr pool.

Legally, bikes are treated like cars under the Highway Traffic Act, so cyclists have every right – if they think it’s safer – to ride two abreast or take up a lane of traffic (a cop quoted in the Toronto Star article agrees, making me wonder why some of his colleagues continue to pull over offending cyclist). Two things non-cyclists might want to know here: no cyclist wants to get any closer to cars than absolutely necessary; and riding a bike in traffic requires very careful attention to what you are doing (where you are riding, what is around you and how you fit into the flow of traffic). Most cyclists don’t need to be told how to ride their bikes around cars. In fact, I would say motorists have a stronger need to be better informed and educated about how to drive around cyclists (hint: do a better job of this in Drivers’ Ed) The Ministry of Transportation agrees with me; it’s draft cycling policy makes lots of smart suggestions, many of which were taken from a 2012 Ontario Chief Coroners’ Office review of cycling deaths.

This by-law, for me, perfectly encapsulates the Rob Ford/Don Cherry “bike-riding pinko” school of thought. I’ve spent most of my time on the other side of the debate, biking to work year-round and wincing at the many, many drivers in this city who have no idea how to safely operate a large fast-moving piece of metal around bikes driven by other human beings. How to get around Toronto safely is a more complex topic than this by-law suggests, and laws for cycling should reflect that.

If, as it appears, Torontonians can start to have a mature debate over pubic transit (which is really a larger debate about how liveable we want the city to be), then surely we can include the roles of cars and bikes in that debate. And surely we can start by getting rid of the type of by-law that is as unnecessary as it is paternalistic, and recognize that a city that makes room for lots of people to get around by bike is a city with healthier air, healthier citizens and a higher quality of life.