Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Despite non-stop cavalcade of scandal, opponents still need to beat Rob Ford on the issues

Published on Wed Oct 23 2013

So the past few days have delivered new twists and turns in the Mayor Rob Ford saga. It’s kind of playing out like an unofficial Canadian knock-off of HBO’s The Wire, except the characters are less likeable and there aren’t nearly enough wisecracking detectives.

This week’s episode: should the mayor Canada’s largest city pen reference letters on City Hall stationery for people who have been accused and/or convicted of serious crimes? The answer, of course, is probably not. I’d advise against it.

But I’ve got to admit, it sure is hard to feel much outrage over this story. Call it general Ford fatigue, but more than anything, there's just nowhere for these kinds of stories to go. They all end the same way, with confirmation that Rob Ford is, in fact, Rob Ford. He’s a guy whose judgement can generally be called into question. He’s a guy with a past that's fair to describe as “checkered.” He’s a guy whose personal life frequently interferes with the job he was elected to do.

But we’ve known all this for a long time.

So while the regular hurricanes of Ford news are fun to follow and report on, the important thing for Ford’s opponents to understand remains the same as it ever was. The hard truth is that there is no single scandal that will derail his political career or his popularity. There’s no one section of the Code of Conduct that the mayor will catch fatal heat for violating. Barring a public rollout of incontrovertible video proof of the mayor doing incontrovertibly bad things or Ford walking out of city hall in handcuffs, this mayor will not be beaten by provocative headlines alone.

He needs to be beaten on the issues.

There are many reasons people supported Ford in 2010, and there are many reasons why some of those same people support him now. Speaking in broad terms, there are the hardcore Ford Nation types that other candidates are never going to reach. You’re never going to connect with someone who believes there is a vast shadowy conspiracy against the Ford family. All you’ll do is confirm to them that you must be part of it.

But there’s also another group of voters who still feel some sense of affection and support for Ford without buying into Ford Nation conspiracy theories. They’re a larger and more important group. These are the people who cast the stories of Ford scandal off to the side as overblown fluff, and even start to feel a little bit of sympathy for a mayor who seems to get a disproportionate amount of negative coverage. They look at the city — which has problems, sure — and acknowledge that four years of Ford has not resulted in total societal collapse. Then they start to wonder if maybe there’s another side of the Rob Ford story — surely he can’t be all bad. Can he?

You’re never going to reach these people by rattling on about the Ford circus and his perceived ethical and moral failures. They’re not just going to vote for an anti-Ford candidate just because they’re the anti-Ford candidate. Instead, you need to tell them why Ford’s been bad on the budget, and explain how things could be better. You need to tell them why Ford’s been bad on transit, and explain how things could be so much better. You need to get to the heart of Ford’s failures to address issues in key areas he put a lot of focus on during the campaign: accountability, transparency and customer service.

All this is very doable — provided the whole city doesn’t get too distracted by the scandalous stuff.

This post was originally published at on 2013-10-23T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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