Oh Canada, how could you? An ex-expat on Toronto's disgraced mayor


We interrupt your regularly scheduled flow of Pennsylvania news on this blog to turn to political news from another Commonwealth - the one up north.

I'm talking about Canada and the scandal swirling around the mayor of its largest city.

My question: What happened to my Toronto?

I moved there in 1993 to take a job with Standard Broadcast News - a nationwide radio news service - which alas, went the way of the raptor when its owner bought Canada's first NBA franchise, the Raptors.

The city I knew then was at once a magical mix of diversity and ethnic energy, infused with a sense of colonial order that brought streets made spotless by cleaning crews scraping gum off sidewalks.

The Toronto mayor flew so far below the radar that, when I thought recently about who was leading the city in my day, not only could I not recall any stories I covered involving city politics, I couldn't even remember the mayor's name.

Ah, June Rowlands, thank you Google.

Her biggest controversy came after me and involved the band Barenaked Ladies. She reportedly was angered by the group's name, saying it objectified women. (Turns out it was a staffer who tossed out that comment, The band went on to great success, while Rowlands went down in defeat the next year in what amounted to a referendum on political correctness run amok.)

How did Torontonians with their genetic British reserve possibly elect a guy like Rob Ford?

When allegations of the 44-year-old boy mayor's crack smoking, alcohol-fueled binges and party nights with felons first surfaced earlier this year, I did a doubletake at his picture and a jawdrop when he opened his mouth.

Ford comes off as a boorish man, a bully who - literally and figuratively - threw his weight around, threatening and intimidating his critics and blaming the media.

Maybe he was the anti-Rowlands a generation later.

But was this really the mayor of the sophisticated urbane and civilized city to the north that I knew and loved?

(Not the city where I was raised, that would be the former crack-smoking mayor, Marion Barry)

Or a character on one American's cheesiest reality shows?

Some social media pundits on this side of the border contend the Canadian media was "too polite" and access to public records too limited to broadcast the full story and hold Ford's feet to the fire months ago.

True, Canada's vice-grip on speech has led to the absurd.

Twenty years ago newspaper delivery men at the border took scissors to copies of Detroit and Buffalo papers heading into Canada.

In that virtual dawn of the Internet age, employees dutifully observed a court-ordered publication blackout in Ontario by clipping out front page stories from a court proceeding involving a heinous pair of serial killers.

It pains me to think that Toronto is now the butt of jokes from south of the border, where scandal can, far from burying a candidate, actually generate enough buzz and conspiracy theories to send them back to office.

Even after they've been to jail.

Case in point, Marion Barry, round two, reelected to his old job after his prison release.

Now, finally, Ford defiantly says "Yes, I smoked crack." "Yes, I apologize," but "no, I won't step down" and "no, I won't get treatment."

The only thing missing from the Ford controversy is the on-air punditry of a certain D.C. city councilman who's been serving his community, when he's not serving time, since 1972.

- Amy Worden


















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