Right-wing populist Toronto mayor tries to ride out burgeoning scandal

Toronto’s right-wing populist, “tough on crime” mayor admitted Tuesday that he had recently smoked crack cocaine, adding that he had probably done so “in one of my drunken stupors.”

Rob Ford’s admission came four days after the city’s police chief confirmed that police now have in their possession a video reportedly showing the mayor smoking crack cocaine with members of a criminal gang, including a young man subsequently shot in a gangland murder.

Police Chief Bill Blair made mention of the video at a press conference called to report on the police’s arrest of Ford associate Sandro Lisi on extortion charges. Lisi, who also faces conspiracy and drug trafficking charges, is accused of threatening two alleged members of the Dixon Road Blood street gang to induce them to hand over the video of Ford.

Heavily redacted court documents released last Thursday after the media petitioned for them indicate that Ford was in repeated discussions with Lisi after reports about the crack video first surfaced last May. The court documents also strongly suggest, based on months of police surveillance of Lisi, that he has regularly supplied the mayor with drugs.

To the consternation of the business and political elite in Canada’s most populous city and financial center, Ford is trying to cling to his job. After insisting for months that he doesn’t smoke crack and that no video with him consorting with gang members exists, Ford offered an “apology” to the citizens of Toronto at a Tuesday afternoon press conference, then announced it is time to “move forward.”

“I was elected to do a job,” said Ford, “and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue doing.”

Ford—a right-wing bully and know-nothing who repeatedly slurred immigrants and gays—was embraced by the same ruling elite that is now eager to dispense with him, as a useful political instrument in pushing forward their socially destructive agenda of public service cuts, privatization and the gutting of municipal workers’ contracts.

Moreover, they did so knowing full well that Ford was a loose-cannon, whom even fellow right-wingers found difficult to deal with because of his abrasive personality. The National Post and the Toronto Sun in particular helped Ford—the son of a multimillionaire businessman and Tory member of the provincial legislature—fashion an image as a plain-speaking advocate for the “hardworking” and hard-pressed taxpayer.

The Globe and Mail, the traditional voice of the Bay Street bank and investment houses, was at first reticent to back this self-styled “outsider” and unrepentant anti-intellectual. But once Ford won the mayoralty in October 2010, the Globe rallied round Ford and enthusiastically backed his service cuts and war on city workers.

So too did Canada’s Conservative government, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, and Ontario Tory leader Tim Hudak all demonstratively associating themselves with Ford.

Now Canada’s elite are united in pushing for his early exit. The Sun, hitherto the staunchest promoter and apologist for Ford, suggested in an editorial Wednesday that if he continues to refuse to step down, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne should invoke the province’s constitutional authority over Ontario municipalities to force him out.

Big business and its political representatives now want Ford removed because they deem that he has become an impediment to the implementation of their (and his) anti-working class agenda.

In an October 31 editorial arguing for Ford to step aside or be forced from office, the National Post declared, “Like many others, we were eager to look past [Ford’s] personal quirks because we were interested in the so-called ‘Ford Agenda’—a slate of policies that included the contracting out of non-essential public services, minimizing tax increases or freezing taxes entirely, and halting the constant rise in city spending. That was an agenda worth supporting, and still is. But the agenda must be bigger than one man.”

Significantly, the Globe, which has been campaigning for Ford’s ouster since last May, has gone on record saying that after forcing through sweeping budget cuts and imposing major concessions on city workers, Ford failed to press home the advantage, ceding to too many spending requests.

That Ford’s brother, City Councilor Doug Ford, lashed out at Police Chief Blair Tuesday morning, claiming he is part of a political conspiracy against his brother, has only served to further alienate the Fords from their big business patrons. As Toronto’s police chief, Blair has directly presided over or defended numerous police abuses of power, most notoriously the police provocation and savage crackdown at the 2010 G20 summit—which is why he is highly regarded by the Toronto establishment.

Ford’s reputed political strength was always a fiction or, to put it more accurately, a direct reflection of the cowardice and two-faced character of his liberal-left political opponents. If Ford was able to exploit a strain of popular anger, it was because the administration of his predecessor, the NDP-aligned David Miller, presided over a huge growth in social inequality.

Miller’s administration lavished tax concessions on big business, while rationing services and increasing rates and other municipal charges, and in 2009 it spearheaded an attack on city workers’ supposedly “overly generous” benefits.

The unions suppressed the opposition to Ford’s budget cuts, deliberately separating the defence of public services from the struggle against Ford’s concession demands. As the Ford administration threatened to hire strikebreakers, the Canadian Union of Public Employees imposed concessionary contracts on tens of thousands of city workers that gutted job security provisions, thereby paving the way for the wholesale privatization of municipal services.

The unions’ greatest fear was that a strike would lead to a direct confrontation with the police and government, precipitate a wider movement of the working class, and threaten the stability and competitive position of Canadian capital.

The truth is the differences between Ford and his liberal and social-democratic opponents are at most differences of degree. All are agreed that the working class must pay for the capitalist crisis, through job, wage and service cuts. With the unions’ full support, the Ontario NDP is sustaining in power a minority Liberal government that is carrying out social cuts dwarfing those of Mike Harris’ hated Ontario Tory regime. It has also imposed concessionary contracts on teachers through legislative fiat.

The scandal that has engulfed Rob Ford’s administration is one of three major political scandals currently rocking the Canadian establishment. Quebec’s municipal and provincial parties have been shown to preside over a massive web of corruption in which construction and engineering companies collude to fix and inflate contracts while illegally funneling money to the politicians.

Through lies and potentially a criminal conspiracy, the federal Conservative government tried to cover up a spending expense account scandal involving three Harper appointees to the Senate. Two of the three—media personalities Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin—were expressly appointed to the upper chamber of Canada’s parliament to front Tory fundraising efforts.

While these scandals are of different origins and import, they are all fundamentally a product of a crisis and breakdown of bourgeois democratic methods of rule under conditions where the ruling elite relentlessly pursues class war policies inimical to the interests of the vast majority. With the popular base for bourgeois electoral politics growing ever narrower, the elite turns to a troubled demagogue like Ford to muster support for its agenda and its parties use criminal means to raise funds and suppress scandals.