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Grumpy Old Man: O Canada
By LAWRENCE RIFKIN
02/01/2014
He’s a nut job who can’t keep his addictions in check, but with the proper perspective, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford can look pretty good.
 
When I was a kid of six or seven, my folks piled my sister and me into the family Rambler for a road trip to Niagara Falls. As kids, we generally traveled pretty well, and aside from the mandatory “are we there yet?” every half hour, we happily passed the miles with songs like One hundred bottles of beer and games like “I am thinking.”

Unlike what we heard from so many of our young friends after similar long-distance car expeditions, there was never a need for Dramamine.

Almost the minute we crossed into Canada, though, I was walloped by a wall of nausea that sent me straight to our motel room. Not wanting to waste a 10-hour drive, my parents started splitting shifts. One took my sister to get splashed on an observation deck next to the falls and even to buy a neat snow globe with a winter scene of the place.

The other plied me with cold compresses and warm ginger ale as I spent most of the next three days observing first-hand the wonders of gastrointestinal ballistics.

Canada had curling. I had hurling.

For the next couple of decades, that would be the extent of my experience with the country, so it should come as no surprise that for years, the general associations that came up when thinking of our neighbor to the north involved little more than reverse peristalsis and green bottles of room-temperature Canada Dry. I could not even watch the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens slash at a hockey puck without feeling a distinct sense of queasiness, it had been that bad.

Unfortunately, the psychosomatic vestiges apparently remain. Of late, Israel has been basking in the unseasonable Canadian warmth of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose unbounded love professed for our nation has many of us marveling like Sally Field at the Oscars: He likes us! He really likes us! But me? For some peculiar reason, possibly because the flag involves a maple leaf, all I can see is Toronto, that clean and tidy metropolis where just about everything works except the mayor’s sense of propriety.

LIKE MANY others, I’ve been watching Rob Ford. With his florid face, pendulum jowls and the belly of two Buddhas, he certainly has a presence. Sadly for the mayor, though, that presence appeared in a certain smartphone video.

The footage was mentioned last May by the US political gossip blog Gawker and the Toronto Star daily. In its coverage, the latter produced a still of the jovial Ford posing with several young men in hoodies, none of whom seemed to be the type you might find striding earnestly through the corridors of City Hall. There was also some mention about the use of crack cocaine.

The denials were swift and sure. “Not true,” was Ford’s vehement response to reporters the next day. “It’s ridiculous.”

For months the mayor maintained this stance with a fierce rigor, but on October 31, Toronto’s police chief admitted that the department had the video. Not only that, the cops supposedly had a recording of one of the young hoodied men talking about a crack deal he had made with Ford, the fruit of a wiretap that was part of a wider investigation into local gangs. The recording was said to have been made the day before two of the young men seen with Ford in the Star photo were shot, one fatally, outside a local nightspot called the Loki Lounge.

Still, Ford doubled down. But on November 5, at the height of a media storm and after being deserted by key members of his staff, he came clean, at least about his substance abuse.

“I have smoked crack cocaine,” he told reporters. “Am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors.”

YES, FORD is utterly a buffoon. But look at our own chambers of governance and authority and you’ll find quite a few people in power who exhibit levels of buffoonery that far surpass his.

True, the guy smoked crack and who knows what else, and he still blithely talks about binge drinking like a freshman pledging for Animal House. But if you leave him (and, presumably, his political career) out of the equation, his crimes have been of the victimless variety.

That’s far more than you can say about many of our own characters, who think nothing of abusing their power for purposes of fraud, deceit and personal gain, victimizing other people in the process, whether it’s a female employee or simply the taxpayer.

You also have to give Ford credit for at least owning up to his transgressions.

Here where we live, despite piles of surveillance tapes and wiretap recordings enshrining in living color and Dolby sound the endless litany of their misdeeds, many pols will go to their graves insisting they did nothing wrong. Statements like Ford’s better-late-than-never “Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors” can certainly be viewed as a good, albeit lumpy, start toward contrition, and perhaps even rehabilitation.

So while it might sound strange, I have to admit that I actually would consider taking the mayor in trade for a few of our own public servants and ward heelers. After all, there’s no shortage here of those who pad their fiefdoms with relatives who failed to finish eighth grade, who know where to go to ferret out funds to pay for lavish trips for themselves and a retinue of insufferable hangers-on, who spend more time in back rooms trolling for vote contractors than they do in the plenum casting their own votes, who get cozy with lobbyists at the first indication of plummeting popularity, or who don’t know how to keep roving hands and other appendages away from the first female who walks through the door and happens not to be wearing a burka – or any combination of the above and even all of the above.

Send them off, I say. Give them some fun money to enjoy a fine hotel and a lavish meal in Toronto, and even to do the dry cleaning they’ve saved up for such frolics at the public trough. Then cut them off.

And one more thing. From what I gather, Ford can keep his city’s roads open and clear despite the bitter weather of the season. As I look around Jerusalem at some of the remaining signs of the Great Winter Storm more than two weeks after the last snowflake fluttered to earth, I have to ask myself which is preferable – a fit and boyish-looking mayor who can run a marathon backward each day on his way to work, or an obese, florid-faced, loudmouthed crackhead who can at least keep his metropolis’s traffic moving and its trash bins clean? It’s not really a hard decision.

Mr. Ford, after they’ve run you out of town, drop me a line. You might not be able to keep your nose clean, but you just might be able to make our capital’s light rail run on time. Maybe you can even get the Red-Dead Canal up and running or install an authority to prevent government waste. And then there are the talks with the Pal...

On second thought, forget it. Anyone who praises hard-working Asians by saying “I’m telling you, the Oriental people, they’re slowly taking over” should probably be kept away from the diplomatic front. If you don’t believe me, just take a few moments to watch a certain foreign minister (who, by the way, has had a few brushes with the law himself).

Beyond that, all I ask is no fond recollections of the old country. They’re liable to make me feel almost as queasy as our local crooked pols do.
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