The buck stops way before here

Last month, Toronto City Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti circulated a fuzzy photograph he claimed was taken by a member of his staff, appearing to show a city employee at a North York recreation centre with his head down on his desk, as though taking a nap.

Last month, Toronto City Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti circulated a fuzzy photograph he claimed was taken by a member of his staff, appearing to show a city employee at a North York recreation centre with his head down on his desk, as though taking a nap. Mammoliti and Mayor Rob Ford are close allies in the fight to privatize city services, and the councillor quickly put the picture to work for the cause, sending out a press release tagged, “Wake up and get to work ‘Or Parks and Rec staff to be laid off next’.”

Ford was swift to jump on the bandwagon. Without waiting for further evidence he declared the incident “an embarrassment and a black eye” for Toronto, and proclaimed, “If this is the case, I’m going to ask for the manager and the employee to be dismissed. We cannot tolerate this. I want people to show up to work and do their job.”

Here is the basis of Ford’s popularity, the thing that makes him click with the voters: when it comes to slacker employees and civic waste, he is vigilant, unwavering, and unforgiving. He has a mandate and a duty to protect the people of Toronto from black eyes and embarrassment, and to make sure that every penny of the city’s payroll is well spent.

Having built his political career on the rock of other people’s accountability, the mayor now faces the disturbing fact that, once in a while, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. When confronted with the existence of a video apparently showing him breaking the law by smoking crack, Ford bravely stepped up and lied. “I do not use crack cocaine,” said the crack-smoking mayor, “nor am I an addict of crack cocaine. As for a video, I cannot comment on a video that I have never seen, or does not exist.”

That’s the kind of leadership Ford has demonstrated throughout his term in office, leading by example, putting his mendacity where his mouth is. After he cleaned out the overpaid slackers in the garbage department, the mayor went on to demonstrate his personal commitment to his job by showing up for work most days, often before noon, and sometimes visibly sober.

When the existence of the crack-smoking video could no longer be denied, Mayor Ford forthrightly changed his position to reflect the new facts. He could not defend himself because “it’s before the courts,” but despite the “allegations” against him he planned to “go back and return my phone calls and be out doing what the people elected me to do and that’s save taxpayers money and run the great government that we’ve been running the last three years.”

Now that it’s impossible for the mayor to deny that he smoked crack, hung out with gangsters, and made some very indiscreet remarks on video, he has taken the high road once again, coming clean with the facts as a responsible politician should. Yes, he has smoked crack, but only when “extremely, extremely inebriated.” No he’s not a drug addict, nor an alcoholic.

Like the mayor, his friends and supporters are committed to accountability in office. Just as a recreation centre employee who was seen in an unclear photograph with his head apparently down on his desk should be summarily fired along with his supervisor, so a mayor who gets extremely, extremely drunk, poses for pictures with known criminals, and lies about his illegal drug use should take a little time off, and maybe get some help.

Canada’s tough-on-crime justice minister, Peter MacKay, didn’t mince words: the mayor who admits to breaking the law while in office “needs to get help” (although the people who sold him the crack need to get mandatory minimum sentences). Finance Minister Jim Flaherty took a similarly strong stand against crime in office when he said, “at the end of the day, (Ford) has to make his own decision about what he ought to do.”

In the strict mathematics of accountability to which Ford, MacKay and Flaherty subscribe, an eye equals an eye, and a tooth a tooth, though some eyes and teeth are more equal than others. Crime must be punished, and those who abuse their jobs must be held accountable. Low level employees who appear to put their heads down on desks should be fired, and their jobs privatized. Conservative mayors who commit crimes and then lie about them also need to be punished, with time off and “help.”

Even the mayor’s mother believes her Robbie should face the consequences of his crimes, going so far as to suggest he should “smarten up,” get a driver, and lose weight. This is a sterling idea. Surely all of Rob Ford’s sins will be forgiven if he only sheds the avoirdupois.

But don’t discriminate against one overweight man – the entire city of Toronto could stand to lose a bit of weight. Currently experts predict the city will see instant benefits from an initial weight loss target of about 250 pounds.

Al Pope won the Canadian Community Newspaper Award for best columnist in 2013. He also won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in B.C./Yukon in 2010 and 2002.

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