The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - Rick Anderson, Anne McGrath and Richard Mahoney - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.

Rick Anderson:

Where to start with the Rob Ford controversy? This is a tragedy on so many levels.

Firstly, apparently some kind of personal problem, denied and perhaps unrecognized.

Second, the complete lack of goodwill which has long been the case around Toronto city hall, a sense that since day one of the Mayor's reign his political opponents and a substantial chunk of the media have never really accepted the results of the last election, fuelling a sense that people are "out to get" the Mayor, with no-holds-barred. This has been pretty much a constant for the last couple of years.

And lastly, now, the circus of drug dealers and Gawker and a video few have seen and none have analyzed but which is clearly in the process of ending this mayoralty. Some will say "not soon enough," but for those who believe in due process there is quite a bit in all of this to be concerned about.

Richard Mahoney: 

That said, the Mayor is the author of his own misfortune. He has a serial tendency to ignore all rules - rules of personal conduct, rules of office, rules of engagement with staff, media etc. I agree his mayoralty is ending, and it is probably now past the point of no return. It seems unlikely he would ever regain the personal authority and credibility required to work with Council, other levels of government and key stakeholders in the city to confront the massive challenges facing Toronto.

One of the process problems is what to do with someone whose behaviour is so offside the standards expected by Torontonians. There is no process to remove him; there is only political pressure.

Finally, what has happened here is that the two leading Conservative voices in Toronto - Rob and Doug Ford - have had their credibility destroyed. What does that mean for the conservative movement in Ontario and Canada generally? Not good news, to say the least.

Anne McGrath:

I find the entire saga incredibly sad and disheartening.

I sincerely hope that the allegations are untrue. There is obviously much to oppose in Rob Ford's mayoralty but the sideshow spectacle of his term, greatly exacerbated in recent days, is terrible for Toronto. There can be no joy in watching a personal and professional meltdown.

I agree that it seems irretrievable now and that there is no space left to salvage it. I love Toronto and feel badly for the city that this seems all so sordid. I hope that there are some council members who can pull together and try to move forward with a program and I hope that the Mayor and his allies allow that to happen.  

Rick Anderson:

Good thoughts, but I think we (or at least I) should add also that part of this is a function of a political malaise in Toronto, and elsewhere in Canada, which both manufactures and exploits distrust and bitterness. We see it every day in our political lives; it didn't used to be this bad. It goes to how someone with Ford's divisive qualities gets elected Mayor in the first place, and also to the shabby treatment he has received from some on council and some in the media.

Policy-wise, particularly fiscal policy-wise, Ford has done some good things for Toronto, but he gets no credit at all.

It reminds me of how harshly his predecessor David Miller was vilified over the garbage strike. We seem not to be able to argue things respectfully these days. Ford is both perpetrator and victim of this, but so are many others, and then we all lose by poisoning the well we drink from.


Richard Mahoney:

What has happened to the Fords is not just an example of how not to do things: how not to behave, how rules should not be flagrantly ignored, and how not to manage a communications crisis, but it is a terrible example of what has happened to our political culture. Our leaders are personally discredited, and sometimes publicly detested, the political dialogue has deteriorated to the hyperbole of talking points and that all just makes people tune out.

People elected Rob Ford because he was not from the "ruling class" of politicians in Toronto. He was one of them. And now he is just a sad example of excess and misconduct, and another reason why people lose faith in politics and politicians.  

Anne McGrath:

I couldn't agree more. Despite the fact that personal responsibility is part of this story the toxic nature of political life right now is very damaging. I am very partisan but I see no reason to vilify and denigrate opponents. We all fall prey to hyper-partisanship from time to time but it would be a great contribution to democracy if there were a way to change the channel from the attack/counter-attack personal style of combat.  


Rick Anderson:

Robocalls. What can be said? Experienced political campaigners know that once in a while you run into folks around the fringes of politics trying to game or even defraud the system. And, Elections Canada tends to be overly optimistic, not to say naive, about leaving doors open to such things, for instance with too easy show-up-to-register-and-vote procedures. But, for the most part these are individual, fringe kinds of things, worrisome but not necessarily systemic threats.

The thing that has everyone paying attention to the robocalls issue is the possibility/allegation that this could have been arranged on a wider basis. The court has shied away from concluding that, but the whole episode is clearly a warning sign.


Richard Mahoney:

Here is what we now know as a result of the ruling by Mr. Justice Zinn of the Federal Court: that there was a coordinated effort to suppress votes in multiple ridings, and that the Conservative lists were used towards that end. Here is what we don't know: who did that?


Anne McGrath:

This is actually a pretty big deal and it has unfortunately been overshadowed by the unfolding events in Ottawa and Toronto concerning the Senate scandal and the Ford fiasco. There is much to be learned from the court decision and it probably deserves a thorough debate. Of course the problem is not with robocalls it is with electoral fraud and vote suppression.  


Rick Anderson:

Yes, good point. The technology - robocalls - is not the problem; it's the potential for misusing them. One way of addressing this - as has been booted around already - involves treating robocall-delivered messages like other forms of campaign "advertising," requiring source disclosure and cost reporting etc.

But the larger message, to me, is that we should stop being so blasé about the potential for electoral irregularities, of whatever sort. Elections Canada is very weak when it comes to investigative and enforcement resources and authority. They are also a little too optimistic about human nature. Relying on the police and the courts, months or years after the fact, is not really an acceptable deterrent or remedy.


Richard Mahoney:

Rick is right on when he says we need to be much more watchful about the potential for electoral irregularities. We discussed above the terrible impact the politics of personal failure and personal degradation has on public faith in politics and politicians. Well, examples of cheating and electoral fraud will corrode what is left of public confidence in our institutions unless they are dealt with swiftly and severely.

Anne McGrath:

I agree that Elections Canada needs more teeth and that the proverbial "ounce of prevention" should apply. There are so many worrying signs about the health of our democratic systems right now and I hope that once the circus atmosphere of the current scandals has receded that there will be some serious reflection and action on the issue of electoral manipulation and fraud.  


Richard Mahoney: 

If I was Mr. Harper, I would be very worried about an emerging reputation for breaking the rules. A conviction against the Conservative party for breaking the rules in the "in and out" spending scandal. Various allegations of misuse of public funds for partisan purposes. Breaking election laws in the last election in Labrador, and now a growing body of evidence, and a judicial finding, that somebody broke the rules in the last election by using Conservative lists of supporters and opponents.

Again, it is not good for the reputation of our politicians, but particularly bad for the reputation of the Conservatives and Mr. Harper who, after all, were elected on platform that promised to get tough on those who break the rules. It is hard to do that when you are seen to be the ones responsible for rules being broken. 

You can follow The Salon's strategists on Twitter:

Rick Anderson: @RickAnderson

Anne McGrath: @OttawaAnne

Richard Mahoney: @RicMahoney

About The Salon (Anderson, Mcgrath, Mahoney)

Rick Anderson is former senior advisor to Reform Party Opposition leader Preston Manning; Anne McGrath was Chief of Staff to the late NDP leader Jack Layton; and Richard Mahoney, former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin.
Posted date : May 29, 2013

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