Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Rob Ford crack cocaine scandal: Will Ford Nation desert him?

By: Matt Elliott Metro, Metro Published on Fri May 17 2013

I was all set to go into the long weekend with a quick blog post about Mayor Rob Ford and magnets. It would have been light, and maybe kind of funny. That the mayor of Canada's largest city stepped out of an important meeting on Tuesday to wander around a parking lot and attach a bunch of promotional magnets to cars is, after all, inherently funny. That his magnet spree was investigated by the city's licensing and standards division as a potential bylaw violation is even funnier. It's an absurd joke without a punchline.

But the story about Rob Ford and magnets is gone now.

There are a lot of things about this story that we don't know for certain. What we do know is that a group of people are attempting to sell a video they say shows the mayor smoking crack. We also know that at least three journalists, from Gawker and the Toronto Star, have seen said video — though all declined to pay for exclusive rights to it — and have provided written descriptions of its content. But we don't know where the video is right now. And its contents have not been fully verified.

The mayor hasn't publicly responded to any of this, aside from calling the whole thing “ridiculous” and casting blame at the Star. That's not good enough. Ford needs to issue a more complete statement, and quickly. And he needs to do much better than blaming the Star — they didn't even break the story. And the photo attached to the story, which purportedly shows the mayor posing with a man who was killed in a shooting, badly needs an explanation.

What Ford does in his free time is his business. If he has an addiction or substance abuse problem, we should offer sympathy and support, and wish him and his family well. This kind of thing only becomes the public's business when it starts to affect the job the mayor was elected to do.

If anything, the other reported elements of the video should prove more damaging than the suggested drug use. It'd be hard to forgive the mayor for things like tossing homophobic slurs at politicians and making what seem like disparaging comments regarding the young football players he coaches at Don Bosco Secondary School. If substantiated, those kind of comments go beyond crossing the line — they set the whole damn line on fire.

But where this story goes from here is beyond Ford’s control. It's down to Ford Nation. If the video never comes out, then this could very well be stick-handled like most of the other scandals that have marked Ford’s tenure in office — chalked up to political vendettas and media outlets that just don’t like the mayor’s agenda. Ford Nation will roll on.

If, on the other hand, the video does surface — and shows anything like what it’s been said to show — then Ford’s political career is in trouble. He'll maintain some of his most adherent supporters no matter what, of course, but those die-hards won't number enough to keep him afloat at the polls.

What makes this different from all the other scandals and missteps that have marked Ford's time in office is two things: first, the nature of the transgression, and, second, the possibility of unassailable proof.

The nature of the transgression at the centre of these allegations is likely to play badly with Ford's base. As much as I don’t want to judge anyone’s drug use, crack cocaine isn’t going to square with the just-a-regular-guy image that has so defined Ford's electoral success. People will accept a guy who has one too many beers, but hard drugs are another thing all together. And the stuff he’s alleged to say on video goes beyond the pale — voters aren't likely to defend blatant homophobia, and they're even less likely to accept remarks disparaging the high school football team that has become such a critical piece of the mayor's image.

Then there's the supposed existence of real, hard evidence. That's the lynchpin. Every other headline-making Ford scandal has been defined by conflicting accounts. When Star reporter Daniel Dale encountered an angry mayor on public land near the Ford house, for example, it turned into a story of the mayor versus the Star. The same goes for the sexual assault allegations involving Ford and Sarah Thomson, where the narrative from the Ford side quickly became more about character assassination.

But Ford can't attack the integrity of video footage. And that's why the reported contents of the video would, if verified, hurt him so badly. We’d finally see my peak scandal theory tested. If anything can shake the mayor's solid-as-a-rock 42% approval rating, it's this.

In other words, unlike that silly magnet thing, this could stick.

This post was originally published at on 2013-05-17T00:00:00.000Z

About the author

Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
Website / Twitter / Email Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott


Follow Me on Twitter

Recent Posts

Recent Comments