Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

The five stages of a Rob Ford scandal — we know how this will go

Published on Wed Jan 22 2014

Yeah, this again.

Rob Ford turned up in an embarrassing internet video yesterday, looking pretty drunk while swearing and attempting to speak with a Jamaican accent. Asked about the video, he admitted that, yep, he had been drinking on Monday night. He seemed real blasé about it too, as if his drinking didn’t fly in the face of all the promises he had made about curbing the booze.

Later a second video suggested that he had also been meeting with an old pal who is currently facing charges for extortion stemming from a police investigation that also involved Ford. None of this looks very good, but none of it is all that surprising either. After more than a decade in public life, we know how Rob Ford operates. And so we know how this story will go from here.

There’s a cyclical nature to these these Ford scandals. Ford falls and rises and then falls again. Covering his various swan dives from grace can be exciting, but mostly it’s just become exhausting. It’s the same every time, to the point where you can almost write a script for it.

Call it the Five Stages of a Rob Ford Scandal. Here's how it usually goes.

Stage one: revelation. This can come in any form, whether it be a YouTube video, a blog post, a legal decision or just Ford himself saying something bizarrely objectionable. These revelations have tended to get progressively more absurd over the course of this term.

Stage two: chaos. As Ford’s scandals have ramped up in intensity, this stage has come to involve a velvet rope outside the mayor's office, the now-famous City Hall elevator and a phalanx of reporters. The reporters try to get Ford to answer questions when he shows up for for work. He usually says little of value. Sometimes this stage reaches a crescendo with an amped-up press conference or council meeting, but often it just jumps through to stage three…

Stage three: dispersal. This is where we learn about the real power of the ticking clock. Time is a funny thing. One day Ford is facing a barrage of shouted questions about crack cocaine use. A month later, no one is asking about crack and he's able to take a few polite queries about parking regulations. The lesson: no matter how over-the-top and career-destroying a Ford scandal might seem, time alone will eventually be enough to get him through it. The cameras and reporters will eventually disperse. Things will always revert back to a kind of equilibrium, and we'll move to the next stage.

Stage four: recovery. For those who really would rather we have someone else in the mayor’s chair, this stage is sometimes terrifying. Because it usually involves some good news stories for the mayor and Ford scoring a decent-enough approval rating. Suddenly it looks like maybe — if he can just remain scandal-free — Ford will easily win reelection. But careful observers know that this stage never lasts.

Stage five: anticipation. This is where we wait for the other shoe to drop. Because the thing about Ford is that — as I’ve said before — there is always more and it is always worse. Anyone who thinks the mayor will somehow go more than a couple of months without making major headlines is kidding themselves. He can’t stop.

Before long, we’ll go right back to stage one.

Today marks the beginning of another Ford scandal. I suppose it’s possible that this one could go differently, but I wouldn’t bet on it. We should know better than to ask whether any individual scandal will be the thing to stop Ford’s political career. Instead, we should be wondering whether each scandal cycle is enough to knock a percentage of Ford supporters off the bandwagon.

Is that happening? I think it is, slowly but surely. But it’s hard to measure the impact now. For that we’ll have to wait until the election in October. Except a few more Ford scandals before we get there.

This post was originally published at on 2014-01-22T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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