Imagine a pitch-black room. Out of the darkness, a spotlight shines down from the ceiling. Down drops a microphone, suspended by a wire, which a man confidently grabs out of the air. He smirks, knowing that with a flick of his tongue he can turn the captivated crowd into a riotous mob. He can wait no longer. His voice booms: “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get ready to rumble!” His voice echoes through the room as smoke pours out of a tunnel, and music begins to blast from loudspeakers. A large, hooded figure emerges from the smoke and heads to center stage. He arrives at and occupies the spotlight. He drops the cloak and raises his arms so that his body forms the shape of a cross. The microphone man’s voice screams from the speakers, “This is Rob Ford! This is the second coming!”
Wouldn’t it be cool if a debate started like that? One could make a compelling argument that it would be a more appropriate beginning than the one the audience usually receives at political debates, which are generally all spectacle and no substance. Last night Rob Ford returned to the Toronto mayoral debate scene. Did he buck that trend?
In this, his first debate since his 40 days in the desert (~Bracebridge), Ford had an excellent opportunity to show the voters of Toronto who he really is. He had a chance to let us all meet the cultured gourmand: he who hangs out with commoners, and wears his heart on his sleeve. He had a chance to show us that his past really is alcohol under the bridge. So what happened?
Ford decided to take the high road by sticking to mostly positive messaging. He declared himself the “King of helping people at Toronto Community Housing,” and also slapped himself with the moniker “Subway Mayor.” He said that he built the Scarborough subway (which does not exist). He bragged about Toronto’s construction boom (real estate bubble) and claimed that he saved taxpayers trajillions of dollars. He mentioned how close he is with the people of his city: “I have created jobs [in the drug trade?], I have worked with youth [in the drug trade?]…folks, my [criminal?] record speaks for itself.” Forget what’s in the brackets! Taken at face value, Ford is clearly an accomplished, hard-working man. But don’t tell that to his opponents.
Ford’s enemies came out swinging. Olivia Chow, the Iron Sheik’s best friend, asked the crowd to join her in firing Rob Ford. John Tory called Ford a “complacent non-leader”. Chow continued the attacks on the Mayor, claiming that “Even when [he is] clean and sober [he] can’t stick to the truth.” But this was only half the story.
While the main event raged on stage, a sideshow debate continued outside the theatre. There, the Shirtless Horde of anti-Ford protesters greeted Ford fans with menace. Several vitriolic encounters produced no clear winner, because, let’s face it, everyone is a loser when Ford supporters meet shirtless protesters.
In summary, this debate provided pure entertainment value. Most reviews suggest that the audience arrived with and voiced entrenched opinions. Candidates stuck to talking points, some of which were complete lies. Any genuinely innocent voters, should such people exist, would have been very confused by the proceedings. As far as the election and stereotypes about political debates are concerned, nothing changed.
So, conclusively, Torontonians still have clear choices for Mayor. Do we want a pathological liar/drug addict, a power-hungry legacy-hound, a perennial loser who once worked for a phone and cable company, or one of the two other guys? If you ask me, I plan on exploring all the other names on the ballot in search of a shred of decency. But don’t take my advice: I’m from Toronto.