What the hell is going on in Toronto?

This must surely be the response of people around the world as the surreal scandal surrounding Toronto mayor Rob Ford filled newspapers from Britain to Germany to South Africa.  How is it possible that a crack-smoking drunk-driving man who likes to urinate in public parks and go on half-naked vodka-fuelled benders at City Hall still be the mayor of Canada’s largest city?  The fact that he remains in power speaks to the vacuum of leadership present in both the labour movement and within the ruling class.

The city, indeed the whole of Canada, has been caught in what appears to be a never-ending tabloid saga that grows increasingly bizarre with each passing day.  New revelations and allegations surrounding Ford, his family, and his friends continue to come to light, and Ford’s own behaviour only perpetuates the circus atmosphere that currently surrounds Toronto’s municipal government.  After denying the existence of a video, which shows him smoking a crack pipe and uttering homophobic remarks about federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, for months, Rob Ford finally admitted to smoking crack after coyly asking journalists to ask him the right question.  Later that same day, Ford and his brother, city councillor Doug, appeared before an enormous crowd of journalists to tearfully apologize for his behaviour, to emphasize that he was refusing to resign as mayor, and then launched into a sobbing re-election speech, ending with, “God bless Toronto,” which brought an explosion of laughter from the incredulous press corps.

Ford himself either seems oblivious to how ridiculous he appears, or is purposefully playing up the role of civic idiot in an effort to appear like every Torontonian’s favourite drinking buddy.   Social media is full of pictures and videos of ordinary Torontonians hugging and posing with an inebriated Rob Ford — whether it is at the popular Taste of the Danforth street festival or at a random bachelorette party.  The two Ford brothers recently used their weekly radio show as the world’s largest intervention for Rob, advising the mayor that from now on he should drink his “pops” down in the basement than out on the street.  In his bizarre press conference where he admitted to smoking crack, Ford asked that Toronto Police Services show him the crack video because he couldn’t remember the incident and that it “probably” happened during one of his “drunken stupors”.

Bay Street needs Ford kicked out

From the beginning, Ford has crafted himself as the anti-politician, supposedly only interested in standing up for ordinary Torontonians.  Of course, the real Rob Ford could not be further from this image.  Ford comes from one of the wealthiest and most well-connected families in Etobicoke.  His family owns a very profitable decal-making business with operations in both Ontario and Illinois.  Ford’s father was even a backbench MPP in Mike Harris’ Conservative government in the late 1990s.  But, Ford’s folksy image had traction with a population that was rightfully cynical of both the Bay Street and NDP politicians of Toronto’s municipal government.

Since being elected mayor, Ford has gone after working-class people with a sledgehammer.  He has waged war with the unions representing public-sector workers, has privatized garbage services to half of the city, cut programs and services to some of the most vulnerable sectors of society, and massively cut funding to almost every single city department.  He has gone out of his way to demonize unionized workers, blaming them for the city’s financial problems.  But, it would be incorrect to label him a darling of Bay Street and corporate Canada.  The bourgeoisie only reluctantly came around to support Ford in the last municipal election after their preferred candidates failed to gain any traction with an angry Toronto citizenry.  Ford’s right-wing populism, particularly his attacks on unionized workers and public services, served their austerity agenda — at least in the early going.

However, Ford’s populism has quickly become a danger to the Bay Street crowd.  Aside from pursuing policies that don’t advance the austerity agenda in the slightest (such as the cancellation of the vehicle registration tax or his obsession with, “Subways, subways, subways!”), Ford’s own buffoonish personality quickly united broad sectors of society into a movement with one common goal.  Protests of several thousand people in front of City Hall started to become a regular occurrence.  This mass of people, at certain points, were successfully able to put pressure on Toronto’s municipal politicians, with some of Ford’s cuts even being overturned.

Ford’s zeal in slashing jobs, wages, and services seemed to have also waned greatly, in the eyes of the bosses, since his first days in office.  The corporate-owned media championed his early privatization of garbage service and his across-the-board cuts to spending.  However, they have darkly noted that lately Ford is more focused in securing favours for his ex-con buddies, skipping out of council meetings to go coach high school football, or crushing vodka bottles in the mid-afternoon inside his office.

In Bay Street’s view, it is time for Rob Ford to go.

This turn has been most evidenced by the behaviour of the media towards Ford and his cohorts, which has gleefully covered every single transgression (real or otherwise) committed by Ford.  The Toronto Star has documented every single twist and turn of the crack video unearthed back in May.  The Globe and Mail published a ten-page “exposé” which apparently detailed the Ford family’s interests in the Etobicoke drug trade back in the 1980s.  The National Post even uncovered the existence of “Sloopy”, a man allegedly hired by drug dealers to impersonate Rob Ford.  One Toronto journalist compiled a widely-circulated comprehensive list of all of Ford’s “incidents” since he was first elected to city council, which now totals 113 as of the end of October 2013!

Right-wing city councillor, and former Ford ally, Denzil Minnan-Wong is now putting forward a motion before Toronto City Council that would call on the Ontario provincial government to remove Ford from office; under the law, the city council itself cannot fire the mayor.  Minnan-Wong said, “We have told him that he needs to find the exit. He doesn’t seem to be listening. So if he can’t find the exit, I think we have to show him the door.” (CBC News, 7 Nov. 2013)  Minnan-Wong has gone on record several times saying that Ford needs to leave office as the business of the city is suffering while Ford deals with his personal matters.

The fact that Ford remains in office, and that the capitalists don’t seem to have any other credible candidate to replace him, speaks to the extraordinary weakness of the ruling class at the moment.  How many times have we witnessed just the hint of scandal being enough to destroy a politician who had run afoul of the interests of the banks and corporations?  Yet here is a man who defies logic, who is more ridiculous than corrupt cartoon mayors, and he remains in control of Canada’s largest city — and there is little that Bay Street can do at the moment.

Even worse for the bosses is the fact that they cannot put forward a more credible candidate who could draw more votes than Rob Ford.  The working class as a whole cannot stomach the professional career politicians emblematic of bourgeois democracy.  This is partially reflected by the fact that Ford’s approval ratings actually increased following the revelation that the infamous crack video did, indeed, exist!  The feeling amongst people these days is that we would rather have an inebriated buffoon than some slick Bay Street hack in the mayor’s chair.

How can we remove Rob Ford?

What has yet to be mentioned in the whole saga around Toronto’s embattled mayor is the role of the labour movement.  And it is the labour movement which ultimately will decide Ford’s future.

Unfortunately, the labour movement has passed up one opportunity after another to force Rob Ford’s hand.  As mentioned earlier, Ford has proven to be his own worst enemy, helping unite broad sectors of the working class under one common goal.  Because of the ferociousness and breadth of the attacks, a majority of people in Toronto were on the side of organized workers in their struggles against the Ford regime — something which hasn’t always been true in previous labour struggles.

As we have written on numerous occasions, the labour movement could have begun the organizing towards a one-day general strike in the city of Toronto, with the goal of reversing Rob Ford’s austerity cuts.  During the last contract negotiations with municipal outside workers, there was no shortage of desire or commitment by workers to strike hard against the Ford agenda.  However, the labour leadership ended up backing down, and a wonderful opportunity to score a victory against capitalist austerity was lost.

This is not to say that the labour movement has given up in its fight against Rob Ford, but it failed to take the lead role in organizing the fight back.  Because of this, the attempts to remove Ford from office have resorted to gimmicky tricks and manoeuvres, such as highly questionable lawsuits and the current media campaign.  None of these tactics will convince the working class that Ford should be kicked out and instead, will only strengthen his base of support who believe that the “downtown elites” are out to get him.

Ford’s endurance is only based on the fact that most working-class people don’t see anyone out there who appears to be any better than the clown.

The labour movement needs to be able to put forward a credible program of action that will resonate with the demands and needs of Toronto’s workers and young people, and one that reverses the decades of cuts and attacks on Torontonians’ standard of living.  Labour needs to reflect the anger that is present within society rather than reflecting the demands and desires of Bay Street.

Ultimately, the decisions taken by the labour movement and its politicians will decide the future of Torontonians.  If they decide to be “pragmatic” and “responsible managers”, then workers will see them as no different than the average Bay Street politician who puts the needs of corporate Canada first.  And in this scenario, we could very well see four more years of Ford’s attacks and shenanigans (either via Rob Ford, his brother Doug, or another right-wing politician).

However, if the labour movement presents a real program that combats the austerity cuts demanded by the ruling class, and puts in the groundwork to organize every sector of the working class hurt by the austerity agenda, then we will mercifully be able to dump Ford and his circus as if they were just another empty bottle of vodka.