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Cashing in on Disaster Tourism: Rob Ford's a boon to bloggers, if no one else

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David Climenhaga

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TORONTO -- If you ask me, it's a sign of just how badly things have slipped for Rob Ford, not to mention the sorry state of journalism in this country, that an unscheduled lunch hour visit by a couple of Alberta bloggers to the Toronto mayor's office yesterday almost caused a media stampede.

Now, let me be perfectly clear, when I say we visited the mayor's office during a break in the convention we were attending, I don’t mean we were actually visiting the mayor. Whatever Ford was doing, it didn't involve me, which is probably just as well for both of us.

No, this was just Disaster Tourism, plain and simple, the disaster-struck jurisdiction in question being Ford Nation. The big disaster, of course, is Ford himself, the one-man catastrophe afflicting Canada's biggest city at this moment.

And I don't suppose I made things any better when one of the crowd of bored city hall reporters milling around Hizzoner's office waiting for news to break out asked who I was and what I was doing there, and I responded by barking back, "We're crack dealers from Edmonton." (Nobody laughed.)

That crack was untrue, it was also uncalled for, the now world-famous crack-smoking allegations against Mayor Ford are unproven, and, what's more, they originate with the Toronto Star, so let me say right off the top that I unreservedly apologize.

Well, you've heard it said here that reporters act like herd animals and the next thing you know, we were the subject of several interviews with the Toronto City Hall press corps that, what the hey, had nothing better to do at that hour, seeing as there was no sign of Ford

Although, I've got to say, these were no "swarming, grunting masses of jackals," as Conrad Black once said of the media in the same town -- that must have been the business press when they still asked tough questions back in the day before his Lordship's American martyrdom and subsequent Canadian elevation to sainthood.

No, things settled down quite nicely, thanks very much, and everyone was polite and respectful as soon as the initial media frenzy had subsided. And I must say, I didn't feel for a moment as if I was being swarmed by maggots, as Mayor Ford's brother Doug characterized these very same people in another imaginative animal metaphor not so long ago.

My colleague compared Mayor Ford unfavourably to some of the farsighted and exceedingly well-behaved mayors we have back in Alberta, like Naheed Nenshi in Calgary, and I gave Mayor Ford's recent performance -- There’s no video, and I'm not in it! -- two thumbs down compared with the late Ralph Klein's contrition after his bad moment in the men's shelter.

The point being that Klein's 2001 admission he had a problem and his pledge to do something positive about it won everyone's heart, even cold, hard ones like mine, which at the time nurtured the suspicion he might not really mean it and wasn't actually going to quit drinking.

Plus, I got in the great disaster tourism crack above … oh, I admit it, credit should really go to a reporter named Don Peat, chief of the Toronto Sun's City Hall Bureau, who asked, "Would you call this disaster tourism?"

"Yes, I would call this disaster tourism," I responded, adding: "Let me rephrase that … We're here for the disaster tourism!"

This is perfectly respectable journalistic technique called "feeding your subject a line" -- I used it myself when I was chief of the Calgary Herald's one-man city hall bureau. But just so we all understand, now it's my line, and I won't give it back!

Unfortunately, later in the day, Ford decided to take a stroll through some City of Toronto-owned housing -- unsurprisingly, he didn't much like it -- and Peat and his colleagues had something better to write about than the ruminations of a couple of out-of-province bloggers.

You just have to be philosophical about losing a chance to publicize your blog for free like this -- stuff happens, and it wasn't nearly as bad as the time I was edited out of a newsroom scene in Rockabye, a truly dreadful movie filmed at the Globe and Mail's offices at 444 Front Street West in 1986, and became just another pretty face on the cutting room floor.

So I'm not bitter. But getting back to maggots, they have their place in nature, cleaning up things that drop dead in the forest -- you know, like Ford's political career.

OK, I recognize it's a risky proposition to make predictions about politics in cities where you don't live -- Dave Rutherford in a sweep? -- but it's said here that Ford's political career is done like dinner because of the continuing crack allegations and his risible response to them.

This is not, as my former colleague Naomi Lakritz suggested in a preposterous Calgary Herald column yesterday, because a bunch of "self-appointed elitists" with lefty tendencies and no respect for the presumption of innocence just won't admit they lost the election, but because Ford now poses an existential threat to any politician who appeared in a photo at one of his barbecues. (Stephen Harper, c'mon down!)

Among her imagined left-leaning elitists, take note, Lakritz included the media, adding a weird new animal metaphor, accusing them of continuing "to pursue him like a pack of hounds baying at full throttle." Motorized hounds?

Ford Nation and Lakritz may still love Rob Ford, for the moment anyway, but the prissy Upper Canada College graduates who approved his campaign, helped bankroll it and privately look down their noses as his déclassé barbecues do not. These folks -- the real elitists in this story -- want a conservative Toronto mayor who won't embarrass them every time he eases his ample bulk out the door.

Ford may have seemed like a good idea to them at that moment he looked like a potential winner with the right ideological credentials, even if he wasn't quite their kind of person. But now that there's some danger his hard-to-mistake visage might show up alongside the prime minister in a federal opposition attack ad, you can assume he's not nearly as appealing.

My guess is Toronto's Tory elite would now quite happily put up with an NDP mayor who knows how to behave herself with dignity and wait a term or two to get the chief magistrate they really want.

And as for due process, as has been said here before, and as unfair as this may be, there is no presumption of innocence in politics, never was and never will be.

Ford is finished, even if we haven't quite reached the end of the story.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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