There was a point during a mayoral debate in the 2010 election when all the candidates were asked to talk about what we enjoyed most in our lives. Rob Ford spoke about how he loved performing in his school play. I remembered this when I watched him last week strut around council chambers trying to intimidate residents, taking their pictures as they sat watching him. His confession about his love for performing has helped me understand why he hasn’t taken a leave of absence and why he continues to press on – why he continues to perform for an audience who is laughing at him, and not with him.
Act 1 “The Restoration of the Crack-smoking Mayor”
I have no doubt that the lies Rob Ford told over the election campaign, and into his first year of office, have worked to undermine his self-confidence. He promised voters that he would lower their taxes, get rid of the land transfer tax, and cut the fat at city hall, but the truth is that these were promises he could never keep. Mr. Fords only business experience was doing the books at his fathers label company, and if we are truly going to find efficiencies at city hall it will take someone who can truly unite the effort and steer each and every department through a line by line analysis. This is a huge undertaking and Mr. Ford has proved unable to keep his own small executive team together let alone build the consensus required to accomplish the restructuring needed at city hall.
When Mr. Ford could have reached out and united council around restructuring city hall, he shrank into himself, shirking his responsibilities and telling lies to cover up his inability to build consensus. By the end of 2011 he had turned to alcohol and drugs, they took the edge off, and allowed him to live with the lies he told every day. The problem was that the more he drank the worse things seemed to get and the more lies he had to tell. The more lies he told the more his confidence shrunk away from him and his addiction increased.
Add to this the pressure of knowing that the city operating budget was growing under his watch with the fact that there was no way to get rid of the land transfer tax and his supporters might look at the bottom line and realize that the $1-2Billion he and brother Doug Ford were claiming to have saved was a complete lie. No matter how much he tried his budget chief had explained that there was no extra money to pay for the scarborough subway and a 2.5% tax increase was the best he could hope for. A huge tax increase would risk losing voters and make him look like a liar in the coming election.
Act 2: Establishing Rob Ford as both a victim and hero
The best solution for Mr. Ford given the position he was in last week was to have city council take away his powers in a public spectacle. The more voters aware of this the easier it will be to claim he had nothing to do with the tax increases. He will blame council, play the victim and call for voters to restore him to power so that he, and he alone, can protect them from tax increases. So not only must Mr. Ford play the victim but also has to come across as a hero fighting for the tax payer – and brother Doug could benefit from a little of that as well.
They will push out their message of “fighting the establishment” – they’ll yell and storm about council chambers as much as they can. They will play the underdog fighting for their supporters. The bigger the public display the easier it will be to distance themselves from the tax increases required to pay for Mr. Ford’s subway policy.
There is a risk that the rest of Toronto will realize that Mr. Ford has placed the cost of the Scarborough subway onto property tax payers but he’ll hope they don’t notice.
And all the while Rob Ford’s self-confidence continues to erode with the lies that he continues to tell. The more his confidence diminishes the more likely he is to turn to crack or alcohol. Mr. Ford has very little left but the empty bravado of a man clinging to a belief that he is great, but knowing inside that he isn’t. It is sad, but it is also the consequence that comes from lying.
The last act for Rob Ford is still up in the air. He will continue to try to get headlines, he will continue his performance as long as there is somebody pushing him on. Will this performance end in a tragedy? If the Ford family continues to enable him, if they continue to force him onto the political stage… the future doesn’t look very good for Rob.