Monday, November 18, 2013

On Bullying and Thuggish Behaviour In Canada's Politics

As a human being, I see Rob Ford as a tragic character.  The man is so obviously in over his head it's not even funny.  His closest advisors and family have enabled his proclivities for substance abuse, and I would go so far as to suggest that he may well be little more than the puppet on the throne rather than the master of his actions.

As a Canadian, I am appalled by the Fords and their behaviour in the last few weeks.  It is not that their behaviour is embarrassing to Canada - it is, but that is secondary to what I want to talk about here.  It is the way in which the Fords throw their weight around (literally and figuratively) in council.

One of the favourite "escape hatches" of the far right in this country when confronted with their own misdeeds is to try and accuse their critics of exactly the same failing.  We've seen it time and again with the CPC in the House of Commons.  How many times, when confronted with their own fiscal mismanagement have we heard the Harper government dredge up past scandals?  Countless.

In the case of the Fords, it's a more direct form of bullying.  When Rob Ford was confronted in council session about his drug use since being elected, Doug Ford turns around and accuses the councillor questioning his brother of using marijuana.

"Everyone in this chamber is coming across as holier than thou, lily white," Ford began before setting his sights on Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who earlier filed a motion demanding Ford take a leave and apologize for lying about smoking crack cocaine. 
"The question is: have you ever smoked marijuana?" Ford asked to surprise. 
Ford repeated the question several times, raising his voice. 
"It's a question. It's simple. A yes or a no, have you smoked marijuana?" he asked as fellow councillors called for a point of privilege and speaker Frances Nunziata attempted to calm things down. "The answer, I guess, is yes. The answer is yes, I guess." 
Ford then called on other councillors to stand up if they had tried smoking pot.
"The whole council will stand up. So don’t come across that you're holier than thou," he said.
There is a fundamental issue with this kind of "counter-attack" - it attempts to draw a false moral equivalence between actions.  Whether or not councillor Minnan-Wong had smoked pot is immaterial.  The question is no longer about whether Rob Ford has used crack cocaine, but rather the fact that he has lied to council and Toronto as a whole about it.

Then, in an interview on US network Fox News, Rob Ford continues the process of escalating threats against various members of council:
If that’s all they’ve got well you know what if you wanna get nasty we can get nasty, and I can start digging up dirt on every single one of those politicians down there but they don’t want to so you know what? And like we said if you wanna do drug testing I’ll do drug testing but when my brother asked the question to Council Member Wong(?) have you ever done marijuana or cocaine the whole council erupted and said you can’t say that you can’t say that? Why? They can say it to me. Why can’t the other Councillors answer those questions?
Notice the attempt to make the issue of Rob Ford's behaviour as mayor a "tit-for-tat" issue, as if there is no difference between individual councillors' roles and the position of Mayor.

Today, in a council meeting, we have the Fords throwing their literal weight around in council - knocking over one of their peers.

What is the problem here?  It is the insistence on the part of the Fords that nobody should ever dare question them or their politics.    Instead of confronting issues directly, these goons insist on trying to turn the issues around on their opponents and make their opponents "responsible" or somehow "equally bad".

This is ultimately very damaging to political discourse.  It is the approach of childish politicians who still haven't figured out that politics in a democracy is not about absolute power, or always getting "your way", but rather it is the art of compromise.  It is precisely this unwillingness to compromise that has doomed Harper's desire to reform the Senate to the wastebasket.

[Update 19/11/2013]
Article from CBC posted late yesterday:  Rob Ford Says He's Quit Drinking

Another aspect of this is the unwillingness to take responsibility for your actions, or to recognize the position that one is in as a public leader.

Consider the following from CBC's interview with Rob Ford:

Mansbridge asked Ford if he's been drunk while driving. Ford told Mansbridge he hasn't driven while drunk but may have driven after moderate drinking. 
"All of us have done this," said Ford. "Whoever has a licence. You've gone to a dinner party or a restaurant with your wife and had a glass of wine. Do you drive? Absolutely you drive. I've never been drunk and driven." 
Ford answered "no" when Mansbridge asked if the mayor did crack more than once during his time as mayor. Ford described his crack use as "an isolated incident" that happened more than a year ago. 
Ford said he was "probably pretty inebriated" when the video was shot of him doing crack cocaine."You know what happens when you get to a certain point, when you're very inebriated. You might remember this, you might not remember that. There's blackout period I think we've all gone through. Some people are perfect. I'm not."
This sounds like a teenager caught doing something particularly stupid and is being reprimanded by their parents.  "Oh, everybody else does it".  Sorry, Mr. Ford, but that doesn't cut it.  First of all, not everybody else does it, and just because "everybody else was doing it" doesn't mean you should do it.
"There's two types of people: poor people and rich people and I side with the poor people," said Ford. "I've been honest and I'm being punished for it." 
Ford has been "honest"???  You've got to be kidding me.  Apparently we're supposed to ignore the fact that when rumours of the first video turned up, he denied its existence entirely.  He and his brother went after the Chief of Police for mentioning that they had recovered that video, until a day or two later Rob Ford admitted to having smoked crack cocaine.  No, Mr. Ford, the issue is precisely that you have not been honest about this.

Further, Rob Ford is not being "punished" for this.  He has been the advocate for "tough on crime" - zero tolerance for drugs, alcohol and gangs, and yet that is precisely what he has been doing.  The "lock em and through away the key" justice that Ford has been advocating is not what he is being subjected to.

City Council has apparently decided that Rob Ford's antics of late are unacceptable in the man who is the public face of Toronto.  If that's the worst punishment that he's receiving, he should be thankful.

Lastly, Mr. Ford and his supporters should perhaps consider the "But everybody else does it" reasoning a bit - particularly in the context of what their respective parents would say.  Mine would rightly point out that "I had a choice not to follow the pack".
[/Update]

1 comment:

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