What a turbulent year 2013 was in this country’s political arena thanks to two events: one was a blockbusting news story centred on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford that spread around the globe like a tsunami; and the other, a scandal that shook the Canadian Senate to the core.
Earlier in the year, the US online media company and blog network, Gawker and the Toronto Star newspaper claimed they had a video of the Toronto mayor smoking crack cocaine with others, something Ford vehemently initially denied. And in the second story, the Senate of Canada might well be singing, in unison, the Bee Gees disco hit from the late 70’s, “Stayin Alive.” And as if that wasn’t bizarre enough, the embattled mayor was named as this country’s ‘Newsmaker Of The Year’ by the Canadian Press
getting 63 per cent of the ‘honour.’ Countless radio talk show hosts around Canada, including those in Vancouver questioned the choice. The Ford debacle has, for the first time in 100-years, received more press in the US media than any other Canadian story, eclipsing that of heroic Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor who hid away 6 Americans in Tehran and got them back home in 1980. Fifty-three other US citizens were seized and held hostage for 444 days after Iranians over-ran the US embassy in that country a year earlier.
The Canadian Press, in its Influence Communications analysis, says it would have cost the Toronto mayor $1.1 billion dollars to buy advertising for press he received. Only Super Bowl revenues could top that. He was mentioned in 14,385 stories on US radio, TV, websites and in newspapers between November 4th and the day before he admitted to the infamous crack-smoking tape on December 1, 2013. Journalists in 75 other countries around the globe also commented on it. Jean-Francois Dumas is the head of a Montreal media monitoring firm, and he says, “No story in the 21st century has given Canada this much exposure. It’s not just the tabloids. It’s not just People Magazine. It’s the New York Times, the New York Post. All sorts of media covered this. It became a social phenomenon. It’s truly exceptional in terms of coverage.” And most of the foreign coverage occurred in the United States and TV hosts there had a field day. Like piranha at feeding time, they were vicious in their condemnation of Ford.
The Tonight Show’s Jay Leno joked, “They’re calling this guy the most embarrassing Ford since the Pinto. And he’s also going to explode.” He added, “Friends are telling him to join the Canadian version of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is AA, eh.”
Steven Colbert of The Colbert Report said “Rob Ford cannot change the past, he cannot even remember the past. I mean, what part of ‘drunken stupor’ does the media not understand?”
Late Show’s David Letterman says, “Rob Ford doesn’t look to me like a guy who’s using crack. It looks like the only substance he is abusing is bacon.” And lastly, Jon Stewart also had a field day with Ford. The Daily Show host said “The mayor smoked crack and appeared to make racist and homophobic remarks. I believe in Canada that’s referred to as a hat trick.”
So, does all this furor further alienate Canadians to politicians and ratchet up the cynic meter? Will it prevent good people from stepping forward to run for political office on the local, regional, provincial or federal stage?
Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi, Canada’s first Muslim mayor, is concerned and says, “I always worry when I see anything that can increase people’s level of cynicism in government and politics because I know that every single person, who goes into politics does it because they love their place.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says this situation goes beyond whether or not people become cynics. She says it comes down to governance. “We want municipalities to be able to function and there is a huge amount of turmoil at (Toronto) city hall right now.”
Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay called it a “sad day” for Toronto, adding that he thinks Ford needs to get help. “I’m the Attorney General of Canada, I’m the Justice Minister. You know where I stand on the use of illegal drugs,” he said.
Closer to home, Adrienne Tanner, deputy editor of the Vancouver Sun, says, “We loved that Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize but really, no one tops Rob Ford’s antics of the past year, which went from outrageous to ludicrous to pitiful. He’s the hands- down winner for bad newsmaker of the year. No one else comes close.”
When asked ‘With the current Senate scandal and Rob Ford saga, is Canadian politics becoming a laughingstock on the international level?’ BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix said, “I think most places in the world would like to have our politics and debate and they would say that the situation in Canada, in relative terms, is better than most places in the world. So I think we have to put that into context... but it also means for everybody involved in politics that there is an increase in cynicism and that’s not a good thing.”
And it doesn’t look like the Senate Scandal will go away any time soon. As of 2011, the upper chamber costs you and me well over $100 million – not including pension plan contributions. Roger Gibbins is the past president of the Canada West Foundation, who lobby for an elected senate. He says, “There will be no changes. The outcome for reform is impossible, abolition is impossible, change is impossible. You can’t move in any direction.”
Jordan Bateman with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says they’ve been campaigning country-wide to abolish the Senate. In Vancouver he stated, “We are very excited Saskatchewan and Manitoba have both passed motions in the House asking for the Senate to be abolished, and BC will hopefully vote on this [issue] this year. Our job is to encourage Premier Christy Clark to hold a free vote and allow MLA’s to vote their conscience.”
The current government leader in the Red Chamber is Marjory LeBreton. She says, “We have got to fix this, once and for all. Otherwise the Senate as an institution cannot survive.” She adds the matter could end up in the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on the possible abolition. She says, “Canadians have every reason to react in a very negative way – as you would expect them to do.” She also believes that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright, the man at the centre of the firestorm, acted on his own when he gave Senator Mike Duffy that infamous cheque for $90,000 to cover his living expenses.
And what about young Canadians who seem not to care about politics? The CBC recently asked those under 30 some specific questions including: Are you too busy establishing your career? Is your time spent with your young family? And do you care who is elected? The young adults say they aren’t interested when they hear of all the dissent, mudslinging, lying and cheating done by politicians.
In the 1990’s, I taught radio fundamentals to first-year broadcasting students at the Lethbridge Community College. I tried to instill into the young people in my classes that when you’re in the public eye, your private life can, and will, impact your professional career. Entertainment and sports celebrities are placed under a microscope by the media and all their actions and words are broadcast. Some will claim they should not be emulated or worshipped and that they have a right to live out their private lives as they wish. In today’s world where every cell phone and device now is a video camera, there’s no such thing as being private in public.
One of the real tragedies of this whole mess is that one of Canada’s true hero’s last year only received 16 per cent of the vote to be the ‘News- maker of the Year.’ Commander Chris Hadfield, the only Canadian to ever command the International Space Station, has sparked a firestorm of enthusiasm for all activities space-related, especially for students, and came in second place. There’s something really wrong with this picture and it doesn’t take a Hubble Telescope to discern that.
To add the final topping on this political cake of incredulity, Rob Ford has submitted his name to run again for Mayor of Toronto in the 2014 civic election later this year. Ford Nation, his legion of supporters, claim there are enough of them to re-elect him. The Internet is full of articles and bloggers, who post opinions on this topic and one writer pleads with Ford Nation: “If you voted in 2010; please, please stay home and do not vote in the next election.”
Just suppose Rob Ford was re-elected. Toronto would indeed be ‘The Center of The Universe,’ comedy writers would have a century’s worth of material and nothing, absolutely nothing would be impossible. Pigs could fly and the Toronto Maple Leafs might well again win the Stanley Cup.