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What if Rob Ford Gets Tossed But Comes Back Stronger?
"If we strike him down, will he become more powerful than we can imagine?"

Not entirely hypothetical, very potential scenario: Rob Ford is removed from office after a judge determines he broke the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, but due to the “insignificant” amount of funds involved — $3,150 — he is spared the harshest sentence and is allowed to run for office again.

Then he wins.

Mayor Rob Ford is facing removal from office after he allegedly failed to recuse himself from a city council vote over whether he should be forced to return funds donated to his football charity that he improperly solicited with official City of Toronto letterhead. Ford’s opponents, led by notable lawyer Clayton Ruby and citizen complaintant Paul Magder, smell blood and want the mayor removed from office. It’s now up to a judge to decide whether Ford was at fault and how he should be punished.

But would ousting Rob Ford amount to a measly time out? We send him to his room for bad behavior only to have him return to the playground the very next day, ready to pound the nerds who tattled on him.

If we strike him down, will he become more powerful than we can imagine?

Let’s run with my scenario from above. He’s kicked out and follows through on his promise to run again. Chances are that if Rob Ford truly believes that he hasn’t done anything wrong, then there are some voters who agree with him.

Which begs the question: do enough Toronto voters still like Rob Ford? I don’t know and that’s what scares me. Despite two years of gaffes and blunders, embarrassing political losses, a circus like “personal” life, and an overall ineffective performance as mayor, I have no idea how voters will treat him on election day.

Will the people of Toronto pull the most “Toronto” move of all time and re-elect the guy because they feel sorry for him? “Sorry, I voted for Rob because I felt bad about how everything went down, eh. Just didn’t seem fair. Sorry.”

The plausibility of this terrifies me.

In message boards across our corners of the Internet, Ford opponents are insisting that this isn’t a left-right political issue, but instead an issue of justice (if he is found to have broken the law then he should be punished under the law). While this is a noble argument, it misses an unfortunate reality: the perception exists that the Mayor’s persecution is politically motivated. No matter how legitimate the conflict-of-interest charges may be, it feels like his opponents are trying to remove the mayor through a sneaky loophole. Expect Ford and his backers to shout this all the way through an election campaign. (Remember Harper and the “reckless” coalition?) Plus, breaking the law doesn’t seem to bother Ford fans. Ford’s mug shot plastered on the front page of the Toronto Star didn’t stop voters from electing him the first time. So the solid base of Ford Nation will remain unbudged. But what about his fair-weather fans?

Despite the technical details being debated by pundits and political junkies in the City Hall bubble, I’m not convinced that inside baseball stuff has any effect on the broader electorate. Those of us who choose to live inside the bubble tend to forget that there is a huge contingent of voters who chose their leaders based on gut-instinct. The Sun and The Star can scream all they want, but my feeling is the undecideds will vote for the personality they like the most.

Consider this: according to polls, Olivia Chow would slaughter Ford in an election. But she has categorically ruled out a run for mayor. Replacing her with “someone like Olivia Chow” is a non-starter because there is nobody else who shares her unique history and relationship with Torontonians. I don’t think it’s Chow’s policies that would win her the election, it’s the fact that we like her.

Remember that one poll that showed a huge number of Ford supporters saw him as being a similar figure to Jack Layton? To me, that suggests that enough voters aren’t interested in “politics” enough to see or care that Ford and Layton (not to mention Chow) occupied probably the farthest opposing ends of the “mainstream” (ie electable) political spectrum in Canada. To my mind, the only similarity Ford and the late NDP Leader shared  was their common touch, which — apparently — is all a big enough chunk of TO voters care about when it comes to their politicians. To a lot of people Ford, Layton and Chow all seem like good folks who are “looking out for the little guy.” Doesn’t really matter how they go about it, they’re on side with the people.

Based on that, I don’t know that a conflict-of-interest breach is going to convince folks that Rob Ford, he of football charities and returning phone calls, is a bad guy.

Whether it’s now or 2014, if you’re looking for a Ford-free city hall, a number of tricky questions remain:

  • Who will run against Ford?
  • Will multiple candidates split the vote?
  • What happens if the anointed candidate pulls a Giamboner and flames out during the campaign?
  • Most puzzling of all, do people still like Rob Ford?

I need to see a new poll or I’m going to stress vomit all over my laptop.

I suppose it’s really impossible to speculate. Usually when people try to make these kinds of predictions they end up being spectacularly wrong. But if Ford, now a known commodity in the mayor’s seat, is removed from office only to return a short time later, he will be able to legitimately claim city-wide support for his mandate and have more clout than ever with which to follow through on his vision. Don’t expect him to pull any punches.


Michael Kolberg is The Sprawl Editor at Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter for jokes @mikeykolberg

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