Here’s what I find unforgivable about the Fords; it took till now to figure it out. It’s not their right-wing politics. There’s lots of that around. It’s not the bullying, bullies can be dealt with. Nor their huge ambition and sense of political entitlement. It’s not Rob’s moral foibles or unsavoury social life or his crassness.

What’s unforgivable is their implacable need and ability to suck up attention in the public arena so there never seems room for anything or anyone else in the city. The stuff I just listed serves primarily to keep them at the centre of attention and stifle other matters. It’s all, always about them. That’s what the cancer episode revealed. It too becomes part of the Ford family circus. It’s not just a private experience; it takes over the public agenda.

I’m not making the insane claim that Rob got cancer to hang onto all that focus. It’d be heartless not to react sympathetically to someone suddenly struck with it, as 524 Canadians are daily. What’s revealing is how he acts once he has it. The illness seamlessly becomes the next pretext to throw the city into another trauma of uncertainty and aggravation, centring on the Fords. Others might withdraw to deal with it, surrounded by family. The Fords seize on it to advance yet again into the public arena and throw it into new chaos, all about them.

Rob withdraws and returns as council candidate. Doug applies for mayor. He calls press conferences and asks to be left alone. He’ll campaign tomorrow. No, day after tomorrow. He wants to devote himself to supporting Rob — so he’s running for mayor. Nephew Mikey, who’s 21, gets shunted from council candidate to board of ed, as if even our school system exists only as a stage for Fords to cycle through their roles on. They can’t bear to be out of sight, ever.

The city and its public life again get put on hold to deal with their issues. Their desperate need for attention accompanies the endless chain of crises. They’re geniuses at manipulating it, driven divas, insatiable drama queens. For the rest of the world they’re an intermittent distraction but here they’re the sole act in a one-ring circus. A city deserves more variety, at least.

It isn’t about their public commitment. Others can carry on that fight. City council is overstocked with right-wing penny-pinchers alongside left-wing do-gooders. That’s the essential morphology of our municipal politics. The Fords are unnecessary for their own cause, which must scare the hell out of them.

And there may be more to come. What about Randy, the brother in the hat? Why wouldn’t he jump in? In fact, there’s lots that’s familial in this. Families are basically mythological, as opposed to historical. Grandiosity is at home in the family, its normal mode. When you leave the house, everything gets relativized and historicized, myth and grandiosity don’t fit. Except occasionally some family gets a chance to act out their mythic self-importance and narcissism in the public sphere, not just at the dinner table. So they grab it.

This isn’t about politics at all. It denies us the experience of politics. We’re involuntary spectators at Ford family hysterics. A decent right-wing candidate would make his or her point and leave room for others to make theirs. We haven’t had that since the start of the Ford era. Each time politics seems ready to break out, psychodrama does instead. Politics doesn’t stand a chance.

Is there a redeeming note, a hero here? I nominate Dr. Zane Cohen at Mount Sinai, the man who briefs on the cancer. Why? Because he doesn’t get sucked into the egomania, unlike many doctors who go on TV looking ready to pee themselves with delight at being there. He’s deadpan and in control. When asked if the tumour is the size of a golf ball or football he pauses and says calmly, “I don’t think I’m going to answer that.” Asked if tension and stress could have brought it on, he says with detachment, “I don’t believe in stress-caused masses.” In other words, it’s not about him. For some reason we can only be thankful for, he disdains the drama and doesn’t need the attention.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: AshtonPal/flickr


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.