In the midst of a campaign by his fellow city councillors to strip him of the bulk of his mayoral powers, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford took to radio and television to drive home his message this week, speaking to several U.S. networks and with CBC's Peter Mansbridge.
While much of what he told CBC's chief correspondent was in one way or another a reiteration of what he said in the past, there were several points that seemed to raise more questions than answers.
1. Municipal record: Ford began the interview by reacting to city council's stripping of most of his powers, pointing to his popularity with voters and warning that the recent hobbling of his office budget and reduction of his staff will prevent him from doing what he does best: saving taxpayers money.
"The people elected me — the largest mandate in Canada's history," he said.
As in past statements to the media, he put "the taxpayer" at the centre of his defence of his municipal record.
"Not one person has brought up how much money I've saved the taxpayers, getting rid of the $60 car tax, privatizing garbage, having the lowest tax increase of any major city in North America, watching every dime, getting union deals done, building subways."
Viewers and other media organizations quickly jumped on these statements, pointing out that Ford was elected with fewer votes than former Toronto mayor Mel Lastman was in the 2000 municipal election, so he could hardly hold the title of "largest mandate in Canada's history."
The claim of having instituted the "lowest tax increase of any major city in North America" was also questioned, with several media, as well as the organization Canadians for Tax Fairness, citing Windsor, Ont., and San Antonio, Texas, as two cities that, owing to several years of property tax freezes, have seen smaller tax increases than Toronto under Ford's watch.
Ford's assertion that "building subways" is one of the accomplishments of his mayoralty may also ring false with many Torontonians who have watched the painful, protracted debate about what type of public transit to build drag on as the city's traffic congestion — and their daily commutes — grew worse. Although Ford ultimately succeeded in getting his Scarborough subway extension plan approved, many see this less as a victory than as a failure of the already funded light-rail transit plan that would have served more riders for less cost but was cancelled by Ford in favour of the subway project. The cancellation of that plan will cost the city millions of dollars in penalties.
Construction of the Scarborough extension is years away, and some estimate the project will take 10 years to complete and will require tax increases and 30 years of debt financing to fund.
(The reaction to the Mansbridge interview was not the first time that media have deconstructed Ford's contradictory statements about his record as mayor and the city's finances. The Toronto Star undertook just such an assessment earlier this month in this report.)
2. Drugs: Ford repeated his mantra that he is not a drug addict and said the last time he did drugs was "a year ago some time." When asked whether the last time he did drugs was on the occasion that was captured in the notorious video that reportedly shows him smoking crack cocaine, the mayor said "Yes. I don't know exactly when it was but probably about a year ago."
When asked if he has used cocaine while mayor, Ford initially answered, "Yes. I admitted that," but then seemed to imply that his use of that particular drug took place when he was younger and experimenting with drugs. When asked by Mansbridge again, "Never cocaine while you've been mayor?" He answered, "No."
3. Alcohol: The mayor surprised many when he said in the interview that he is "finished" with drinking. He told Mansbridge he hasn't "touched a drop of alcohol in three weeks." When asked whether he is done with alcohol and will never drink again, he answered, "Finished. I've had a come to Jesus moment if you want to call it that."
This may seem like a stunning statement coming as it does after several weeks of media coverage detailing numerous incidents of excessive drinking involving the mayor and quoting police documents in which Fords former staffers describe regularly buying alcohol for the mayor and seeing him drink to excess.
Ford's declaration to Mansbridge was also a shift from what he had said earlier this month on his now defunct radio talk show on Newstalk 1010. At that time, Ford said it was "not realistic" for him to say that he would never drink again.
4. Drinking and driving: Ford denied driving while drunk and implied his behaviour was no different than that of any person who has a drink or two while socializing.
"All of us have done this — whoever has a [driver's] licence — you go out to a dinner party, you go out to a restaurant with your wife, you have a glass of wine. Do you drive? Absolutely, you drive."
This seems to clash with some of the details of his past behaviour as described by former members of his staff, who according to court documents released last week told police they had concerns about his tendency to drink and drive and described one occasion in which the mayor guzzled a bottle of vodka while behind the wheel of his car. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
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It also contradicts statements Ford made last week, in which he told reporters he might have had "some drinks" and driven in the past, and added "which is absolutely wrong."
His comments to Mansbridge might be controversial among some members of the public who consider any consumption of alcohol before driving off limits and definitely among advocates against drunk driving such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which had already expressed dismay at some of Ford's comments with regards to alcohol and driving.
5. Drugs and alcohol on the job: While admitting that he has used crack and marijuana while mayor, Ford seemed to imply that the drug and alcohol use he has admitted to took place while he was off duty.
"I've shown up to work every day for the last 13 years straight as an arrow," he told Mansbridge. "Have I had some fun time on the weekends? Yes, I have, and I think everyone has and I'm human. I made a mistake. I'm getting punished for my Friday or Saturday night that I decided to have a few drinks."
This would seem to contradict some of the statements that Ford's former staffers gave to police, including one by ex-chief of staff Mark Towhey, who, according to court documents, said the mayor was an alcoholic who drank at city hall. Other staffers told police they had seen full and empty bottles of vodka in Ford's office and that he asked some staff and interns to purchase alcohol for him several times a month.
When Mansbridge asked if Ford had ever been on drugs while "in this office," Ford answered unequivocally, "Never."
6. Turning point: According to the mayor's brother, Doug, who was present for the Mansbridge interview, the turning point that ultimately convinced Rob Ford to change his behaviour was not the police's revelation on Oct. 31 that they had found the crack video that matched the one media had reported on months earlier, or the revelation that the mayor was the subject of a police investigation, or the release of court documents detailing staffers' accounts of the mayor's behaviour, or the exhortations of his fellow city councillors who urged him to resign, or the barrage of critical media coverage urging the same. Rather, it was the emotional reaction on Nov. 7 to Ford's plight from federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, a friend of the Ford family.
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"He called me after he saw Jim and said, 'I'm changing my life.' This is a man who went out there for us, supported us," Doug Ford said.
Rob Ford himself spoke more broadly about what drove him to vow to change some aspects of his behaviour.
"Just the humiliation and the belittling and the people I've let down and it's all because of alcohol, excessive, stupid, immature behaviour, and that’s it," he told Mansbridge.
7. Professional help: Ford has been asked repeatedly whether he is seeking professional help for his drug and alcohol problems and has been evasive when it comes to specifying what kind of help he has sought.
On Monday, he told Mansbridge he is "dealing with professionals."
"I'm dealing with my health issues," he said, specifying that those issues include his "excessive drinking at times," his health and his weight but not drugs.
"I don't do drugs," he said by way of explanation.
He said he is doing fitness training every day and vowed to lose 30 pounds in five months. His past weight loss campaign saw the mayor shed 17 pounds in five months after vowing to lose 50 pounds in what was dubbed the "Cut the Waist" challenge.