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                    Rob Ford: Sympathy For The Devil?



By Susanna Kelley

As municipal election campaigns move into their last few weeks across the province, the race to lead Ontario's largest city shifts into not only high gear, but has suddenly taken off onto a whole new route.

The news that Rob Ford has an "aggressive," "difficult" and "rare" form of cancer has catapulted his brother Doug - somewhat reluctantly it appears - into the race as the new "Ford Nation" candidate.

The wrenching news of Mayor Ford's condition - he remains mayor for a few more weeks - brought many heartfelt messages of sympathy.

His adversaries showed the polite gentility that Canadians are known for in times such as these.

"All of our thoughts and positive energy and sentiments are with the Ford family and with Rob Ford in particular," John Tory said upon hearing the news. 

"My hopes are with @TOMayorFord, Renata and family," tweeted Olivia Chow, who is a cancer survivor and whose husband, Jack Layton, died of the disease. "Cancer can be beaten and I know how important support is. He has mine."

Still, many of those advising Mr. Tory and Ms. Chow were, behind the scenes, somewhat flummoxed at how to react to Doug Ford's candidacy.

Do they attack him as vigorously as they would any other candidate? Or will he get the kid glove treatment because his brother is very ill, and it would look unseemly to be kicking a Ford when the family is down?

The very fact that the various campaign teams are struggling with that difficult equation shows the basic human decency of the other two main candidates.

Which is more than can be said for some of those commenting on social media in the hours after Rob Ford's diagnosis was made public.

While in the mainstream media all was properly sympathetic, social media was a different story.

Both on Twitter and Facebook, there were a significant number of comments to the effect that Mr. Ford did not deserve sympathy because he 1) was a thug; and 2) practiced an unhealthy lifestyle that could have contributed to contracting cancer (i.e. crack cocaine smoking, alcoholism, and eating junk food to the point of obesity.)

Some people said they would save their sympathy for those who really deserved it, and Mr. Ford was not in that catchment group.

It wasn't surprising to see the sentiment, and to some extent one can see why some people are bitter.

After all, despite his claims to represent the "common man," Mr. Ford has not shown any particular sympathy himself for the underprivileged in the city, indeed voting against measures that could help them such as community development grants.

Let's be clear about one thing: having cancer does not excuse any of Mr. Ford's earlier behaviour - the drugs, the constant lying, consorting with violent criminals, using his publicly paid staff to buy him alcohol, the accusations he lobbied to get special deals for those who were/are clients of his family's business, Deco Labels and Tags.

But given the prevalence of cancer diagnosis and deaths in our society, where nearly everyone has had a relative or friend suffer and, too often, die from the disease, seeing the social media commentary that Mr. Ford does not deserve any sympathy is somewhat disconcerting.  

It's hard to imagine anyone who has had a family member face a serious cancer scare like that, would not feel sympathy for Mr. Ford - and perhaps even more so for his wife Renata and their two young children.

Getting news like makes the bottom fall out of the pit of your stomach and strikes terror into the bravest of hearts. And for good reason.

But that's just the beginning. Then there are the long months and even years of chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries still to come.

There are the insomniac, middle-of-the-night, lonely bouts of worry and paralyzing fear. Not just Mr. Ford, but also his wife and members of his family will experience those times.

There is the dread of having to drag themselves, after each round of treatment, to one more doctors' appointment to hear whether the tumours have shrunk or grown.

Like most of us, it has happened more than once to my own family as we lost several members to cancer.  Most wouldn't wish the experience on their own worst enemy.

Knowing how widespread this terrible experience is, the lack of sympathy from some quarters on social media takes one aback.

And so for Ford himself, but also in great quantities for Renata, his kids and his mother Diane - who cried through Doug Ford's campaign launch announcement - our sympathy should stand.

 

 

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : September 22, 2014

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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