October

Mental illness is like the worst pet ever. You can’t house train it. It will crap everywhere. You cannot make it love you. It will live off of you, but it will also attack you when you least expect it. It will destroy the things you love.

And unlike a pet, you can’t put this fucker down. You can’t snap it’s neck and bury it in the back yard. You have to try to sedate it with drugs or wear it out with exercise or fix it with a million half hearted cures, none of which accomplish what you really want, which is getting the damned animal out of your house.

Vincent knows what I'm talking about

Vincent knows what I’m talking about

Depression is a stone-cold bitch.

It’s October, which means my depression is doing its happy dance. Shorter days and colder weather feed it and it grows. If my efforts to control it don’t grow in proportion, then I can expect to come home and find the whole place trashed. I have a SAD lamp and a treadmill and some drugs and vitamins and I use all of these to try to lull depression, so I can make it thorough the Canadian winter.

Depression really is a stone-cold bitch.

That is all.

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The Rexdale Manifesto (Written January 24, 2005)

I was angry when Jane Creba was shot. So was everyone else, but I was more angry about how the reaction to her death compared to the usual reaction people had to young people who died, yet fitted a less valued demographic. This is what I wrote in 2005. Please forgive my youth when I trip over my feet to speak for everyone. Still, I think they were important ideas.

When I surveyed the amount of intense coverage that one of Toronto’s more recent gun related homicides garnered, I turned to my husband and said, “Watch. The victim’s got to be a white person. Probably a female. Probably young.” Later that week, when the victim was identified as fifteen year old Jane Glenn Creba (a girl from a middle class, two-parent family,) I was not surprised.

While recognition of the problem of extreme violence has been building at a protracted pace for over a decade, this story provided what, until now, had been lacking: the perfect victim. Interestingly, when I voiced the opinion that this shooting was treated as a tragedy that required action because the victim was a young white girl, the response was denial. One person said, “It’s not that she was white, it’s that she was innocent.” It’s telling that many people assume that the other fifty-two victims, many of them black men, were not innocents. We only have to look so far as a dictionary to see that white supposedly means innocent or pure and black means evil or wicked.

This perfect victim served to bring to the forefront (or should I say, bring to light) an issue that has long been present. We do need to counter this violence. Notice, I don’t say this gun violence. Guns make violence quick, easy and deadly, however, without a human being, a gun does no harm.

I understand Toronto’s violence, perhaps better than many, because of the areas I grew up in: Flemington Park, Malton and Rexdale. Of all of these, it was Rexdale that presented as the most violent, desolate and angry. When these neighbourhoods are reported on, it is usually with a focus on a common ethnicity or cultural background. These are not black neighbourhoods, middle eastern neighbourhoods or immigrant neighbourhoods. What residents of these places shared unilaterally was an economic classification. We were poor. When we question why so much of the violence is being committed by members of a visible minority, perhaps we should question why so many people of colour are relegated to our poorest communities, these lands of inopportunity. If it is not racism, then why aren’t prosperous areas, like Forest Hill or the Bridal Path, predominantly black? We do not want people to die, especially if violence spills over the edges of places like Rexdale and lands in places like those I have just mentioned.

What can we do? First, I will examine, from my layperson’s viewpoint, what creates violent behavior in people – and killers are people. We cannot forget that. From the thirteenth floor window of the Kipling and Steeles apartment I lived in, I could see most of Rexdale. Opportunity, however, was never in sight. We children of these places are sharp. We are not ignorant to the messages we are sent. We know we are unimportant. We know that little is expected of us. We know that if we fail, no one will be disappointed. We know we are suspect; based on location, skin tone, monetary standing and age. We know that you will not mourn if we die. We woke up in the morning with stomachs full of fear, even when it did not seem to be so. Some of us were afraid of hunger, afraid of violence at home, afraid of the police who stopped us on the way to school. We were afraid that we were nobody, for if we were somebody, surely help would come. It would rescue us from our teachers who hated, tolerated or ignored us. At my high school, North Albion Collegiate Institute, we joked that Rexdale was where they sent teachers to die. We were the pasture to which they sent old horses. Most of our teachers were not talented, coherent or well enough to work elsewhere, and we knew it. We understood that we were provided with resources, only when they could not be used elsewhere. I recall one teacher who sat at her desk crying, muttering about her divorce trial and her sick daughter. Even when she was lucid, she let us teach ourselves, the attendance book out so we could sign in and the assignment written on the board. More than once, I walked in at the end of the class, marked myself present and left. She didn’t seem to notice. I imagine that very few schools would have kept her on, but ours were just happy to have an adult body in each room. I had her two years in a row, for grade nine French and grade ten English.

Our schools, our stores, our apartment buildings, were all ugly and broken down. We had no pride in ownership, for few of us owned anything. Because we could not be proud of our homes, or cars, our schools or our jobs, some of us placed status on smaller things like phones or shoes or jewelry. A lot of us didn’t, but some of us did. Sometimes we would steal these things from each other because we could not afford even them, or because we wanted to feel like we were worth more. A lot of us didn’t, but some of us did. Sometimes we got high because escape was feasible when success was not. A lot of us didn’t, but some of us did. Sometimes we were so confused and angry and lost that we hurt each other. A lot of us didn’t, but some of us did. Some of us learned about death and fear while standing in front of a drawn gun. A lot of us didn’t, but I did.

Respect is like a language. Respect for each other, respect for ourselves, respect for a city, country or planet, must be learned the same way a language is. Imagine that you are learning a second language. (Respect is a second language because survival is always the first.) How do you learn it? If a person says to you “Speak it,” can you? Can you be commanded to know a language? Of course not. A language must be taught. So is the way of respect. To be fluent in a language, you must be surrounded by it. There must be someone who knows it to teach you. You must hear it used. You must concentrate and study. To learn a language, you must be submersed in it. The same is true of respect. If a child is surrounded by respect, both for themselves and for others, they will learn it.

We were besieged with disrespect, shown by action and inaction, speeches and silence, neglect and suspicion, how worthless we were. We could not ignore the disparities in the administration of our neighbourhoods. We could see our status in the context of our city, our province and our country. In my view, this is how we create violent offenders.

The question, then, is how do we counter this? To the young ones now, we must offer respect, security and care. We must let them know that they deserve an equal hand. At very least, we must teach them how to fight for one. As for my generation, and the one just beneath it, we may be lost. We may deserve prison or, even worse, poverty. I hope not. I just don’t know. I do know this: If you leave a person hungry, you create a thief. If you tell someone they do not matter, you create a person without respect for life. If you leave a person without help or hope, you create a void than can be filled with drugs or guns. If you leave us all together in one neighbourhood, you create gangs – and perhaps, eventually, armies.

Defending (Or At Least Explaining) Ford Nation

I recently took a month off of social media because I was finding the whole experience overwhelmingly negative. People, myself included, have a tendency to vent online. It’s fine. We all need a place to share our frustrations. Still, it can be exhausting and present a myopic view of what’s really going on in our day-to-day lives.

April done, I popped back on to Facebook. I probably should have picked any day besides the one after Rob Ford’s latest scandal/confession/excuse.

Seeing people crap on Rob Ford is not new and I’m not above criticizing him myself (as you can see here, here and here.) What I’ve noticed more and more, however, is a tendency to be harshly critical of the people who voted for or continue to support him, colloquially called Ford Nation. There is no pause before calling them f**king idiots, morons, and right-wing *ssholes (* means I’m not really swearing, honest.) While it may seem hard to defend people who continue to support someone who is so clearly off the rails, these are the people I grew up with. I lived in Flemingdon Park, Malton and in Ford’s own backyard in Rexdale. This means that there’s a really good chance you’re insulting people I grew up with and people I’m related to. And I’m a little okay with that. Still, I feel the need to explain how this mysterious demographic called Ford Nation formed and why they continue to defend a man who, well, does crack.

What most people picture when they think of Ford Nation. Rob Ford clearly being spoon-fed by his large handed nanny.

What most people picture when they think of Ford Nation. Rob Ford clearly being spoon-fed by his large handed nanny.

Explanation The First: Living In A Crappy Neighbourhood Sucks 

Not shocking news, I suppose, but something you should bear in mind when considering Ford Nation. Most people who live in the “heart of Ford Nation” live there because they can’t afford to live anywhere else. We lived there because a janitor’s salary was enough to get a decent sized apartment. This was not true for, say, anywhere the subway goes. We lived in the ass-end of the city because it was cheap, not because we liked the sounds of late-night sirens, gun shots and our downstairs crack-dealing neighbour’s bass-heavy all-night music parties. We went to schools where teachers didn’t care. We had minimum wage jobs working for folks who hopped in their pretty cars and skipped back to Forest Hill when they were done bossing us around. We were occasionally afraid for our lives and almost always afraid for our bikes, sneakers and walkmans (what? It was the 90s.) I once had my bike stolen while I was riding it. It was an unhappy place to be. We knew the cops hated us. We knew our teachers dreamed of not having 3 devices protect their cars in the parking lot. We knew that politicians either ignored us or used us as talking points.

So how did this help Ford Nation to form? It’s easy. It’s like the soggy potato chip theory of childcare. You see, kids love potato chips (here serving as a metaphor for positive attention.) Ideally kids want nice, fresh, crispy chips. Still, if the only chips left are the soggy, gross ones, they’ll take those (our stand in for negative attention.) Basically, the Fords are our soggy potato chips. They may not be all crisp and tasty, but damn it, at least they’re chips. Most politicians don’t notice crappy neighbourhoods. Even if they do, they usually come to the conversation full of misconceptions, useless platitudes or downright silly suggestions.

Like that time Lyndon Johnston's wife suggested "adding flowers" would solve the problem of gangs and Eartha Kitt was her goddess of a self and told Lady Bird where to stick it only to earn this look from LBJ.

Like that time Lyndon Johnston’s wife suggested “adding flowers” would solve the problem of gangs and Eartha Kitt was her Goddess of a self and told Lady Bird where to stick it only to earn this look from LBJ.

The Fords may not be improving our neighbourhoods (in fact, I’ve talked about the damage I think their behavior does) but they are engaging with people who are often neglected. Unless you’ve lived in Rexdale, you can’t understand just how unseen and unacknowledged the residents can feel. To be seen and acknowledged is not the same as being helped, but it’s certainly better than being ignored. When you judge Ford Nation, realize that they aren’t just choosing between between bad and good, they’re choosing between bad and being ignored.

Explanation The Second: Ford Nation Used To Have The Moral High Ground

I come from the type of people who might support a guy like Ford. They go to church a little too much. They are pretty judgmental (though only of certain things) and they read The Sun. And thirty or forty years ago, most of the city was on their side. In the 80s, when I was a kid, marriage between two people of the same sex was still 25 years in the future. In 1989, two separate people were murdered for being gay or just appearing to be gay. Both of these events happened when I was in the eighth grade. It wasn’t until 1991 that we had our first openly gay Toronto politician, and he was elected in the riding commonly called the Gaybourhood. I remember the open joking and underhanded comments that accompanied his election. Now, in 2014, we may feel that we are a better community, but this openness does not have a long history. It is young and, according to a lot of Ford Nation, wrong.

I want to be very clear here: I’m bisexual. I’m all about rights. I’m as lefty as you can get (and still swing both ways.) But I understand that there are a lot of people out there, though the number is shrinking, who are icked out by gay people. And for a long time, they were generally supported in their point of view. The same can be said of their attitudes about homelessness, immigration, culture and finances. There was a time, very recently, where their opinions were the standard.

And now they are not.

I look at the things I believe deeply: That people deserve equal opportunities and treatment, that love is more important than money, that we need to protect the environment we live in. I ask myself, what if it swung over? What if rights were stripped away? What if the majority became opposed to multiculturalism or gay rights or education and health care? If my opinion was unpopular, would I abandon it, or would I dig my heels in and fight for change?

I like to think that I would fight for what I believe, with my votes, my behavior and my money. And in the end, that is also true of Ford Nation.

Are they wrong? I really, really think so. But they spent a long time being told they were right. The world changed and they didn’t keep up. That’s often how humans operate. We listen to bands we liked in high school. We drink our favourite beer. We pine for the good old days. And Rob Ford is right there pining with Ford Nation – and that may be something we cannot change.

Explanation The Third: Tax Money Really Matters To Ford Nation

I’m a grown up. I have a mortgage and bills and more than one type of insurance. It’s tough to stay on top of it. We do fine, but it’s given me a deep appreciation for the budgets my mother created. She fed, housed and clothed five people on what I now realize is a ridiculously low amount of money. Of that ridiculously low amount of money, a good hunk went to income taxes. Another hunk went to sales taxes. All told, more than 30% of our money disappeared into the well that waters our national garden. Now, we went to school and got medical care and enjoyed garbage pick up and paved roads, so I’m not going to complain about paying taxes, but I have a pretty personal understanding of how – uh – taxing those deductions can be.

Because our income was so low and my family featured an array of dependents, we almost always got money back after tax returns were filed.

How to put this? Tax return time was second Christmas at my house. If the tax return was big enough, we’d each get a $20 bill to spend on anything we liked. Anything.

And I chose this. This is the second coolest toy I have ever owned, after my Cabbage Patch Kid.

And I chose this. This is the second coolest toy I have ever owned, after my Cabbage Patch Kid.

Tax returns helped us pay down our bills, pick up the purchases we’d been putting off and even get a few treats. I cannot overstate how exciting tax time was.

Because when you are on the bottom of the income spectrum, every loonie matters. If someone promises a person making $50,000+ a year a few more dollars, it’s dismissible. Not so much if that’s your lunch budget for the week. To understand how important tax cuts are to Ford Nation, you have to understand the impact that a 10%, 20% or 30% deduction would have on a subsistence level income.

For me, it was the difference between Rocket Hockey and no Rocket Hockey. Which I think you’ll agree is a pretty damn big difference.

So in summary, my left-leaning, sane-thinking, baffled and bemused friends, call Ford Nation whatever smug nickname you want. Mock their intelligence, their ethics and their taste in track pants. But remember, what separates you from them may be a few years, a few dollars and a few kilometers. And that ain’t much.

The End

(This was originally written for the Centennial Reader, a magazine that bought this article, then immediately went the way of other Literary Magazines before it. I will try my best not to take it as a sign.) 

“Good morning.” I wave to my neighbour, a man who does not seem to have a job – or perhaps he just works as I do. Part time. Slip shod. Between depressions and times when my brain runs tickety-tock smooth.

He makes the inhale face that real smokers have mastered. It says that, despite what we have learned, smokers are cooler than the rest of us. He nods. He does not talk very often, just glimpses over the fence as we garden, or half smiles when his son plays.

“Morning.” He mutters, shifting the cigarette in his mouth.

“It’s a nice day.” I say, and it is. It is March and it is atypically temperate. Blue crocuses spot neighbourhood lawns, defying the nightly chill.

“Too nice. I guess this is the beginning of the end.” He says without humour.

I can feel my heartbeat in my neck. I try to count the beats to calm myself as I keep walking, now reduced to my own silent, nodded reply.

The beginning of the end. Did I bring my medication with me today? The little, white, powdery pill that dissolves on the tongue like old Popeye cigarettes and takes the panic with it?

I want the calm or, at very least, the numbing. I know if I think too long, if I linger on our warming planet and our disappearing resources, I will lose myself, maybe for weeks or months.

I pull the pill out of a small plastic container that is always in my bag and slide it under my tongue. I know that in fifteen minutes, the panic will start to fade and I will be able to work my job. I will be able to watch the children and smile and play and give no sign that I am imagining the end of the world while I prepare cheese and crackers.

The end of the world is not new to me.

I first met it in church, between choruses of hallelujah and bible verses memorized for pencils or candy. My earliest memories involve the end; films, humming through ancient projectors, showing flames and death, dragons and monsters, chasing us because we did not love god properly. The only way to avoid the end was to escape to somewhere else, up in the sky. A heaven that was perfect and sinless. A place that our human mistakes could not destroy.

When I would run childhood fevers, I would hallucinate the end so vividly that I would scream and wake my sisters.

Even when I walked away from the god that never was, I could not walk away from the end. When my doctor asked me how a teenager develops ulcers, I did not tell him the truth. I did not tell him about television reports of global warming and deforestation. I did not tell him that I had read John Wyndham and Margaret Atwood and William Golding. I did not tell him what I knew – that if the planet did not devour us, then we would surely devour ourselves.

Then I lost my mind and the doctors pondered whether it had been broken all along or whether it had collapsed under all the thoughts that I could not exorcize. They gave me the little white pill, smaller than a sunflower seed. It ate away the edges until I could be cynical, rather than terrified.

I went to protests. I beat on empty oil drums and took pictures of girls with flowers in their hair. I met a boy and smiled sometimes and imagined a future of gardens and kisses and essays and babies. I saw only beginnings and pretended it was not following me.

Some men from England drilled a hole in the ocean floor.

“This may be the one.” Said my good friend. “If they kill all the fish, we have maybe a year. It’s the beginning of the end.”

He kept driving, using one hand to sip the gift I had brought him: soda pop in a glass bottle. He seemed oddly pleased that they were so very stupid; pretending it could not happen. Perhaps, like me, the end had followed him and it was a relief to stop running.

He was still the person I had know for a decade, but suddenly I could not breathe the air. Suddenly there were not enough little white pills in the whole world.

I was gone for a year that time, buried underneath the fallen supports I had so carefully built. I chose ignorance, until I could learn to tell the voices apart – the ones who preached hell and the ones who preached hell on earth.

I did not want to be stupid and pretend it was not happening. I did not want to be smart and fall apart.

We have started looking up, they say on the news (even Mr. Hawking says it.) Looking for other planets. Other places to make a home. Somewhere else, up in the sky. A heaven that will be perfect and sinless. A place that our human mistakes will not destroy. We have given up on earth.

To try to save it would require us to change and we do not change.

I try to change. I do yoga. I read books with happy endings. I debate egalitarianism online. I distract myself with friends whose questions I do not answer. How are you? What’s new?

I am afraid of the dark, I do not say. I am afraid to close my eyes. I cannot shake the ideas. I cannot sheep-count them away. I save the pill for bedtime so that I do not remember my dream-filled sleep with its earthquakes and fires and buildings falling in.

I do not read the news, though it follows me. Headlines discarded on bus seats, radios tuned and turned up loud, click-throughs on Facebook feeds. Do you want to be ignorant? I ask myself. Oh god yes, I answer.

I do not want to live in interesting times.

Image Vs. Reality – What Rob Ford Is, What Rob Ford Is Not

Mayor Ford. No, I’m not going to play the “let’s find the goofiest photo” game.

We cannot watch the news or a late night comedy program without hearing about our Mayor. We cannot visit our social media sites or engage in water cooler conversation without the topic popping up. We are fascinated by the entire narrative, and the human being at the center of it. I’ve asked myself, why?

When it comes to Hollywood “train wrecks”, I’ve never posted an article or shared a vicariously snarky comment. I didn’t glory in the downfall of Charlie Sheen or the sadness of the life of Lindsay Lohan. I can disapprove. I can be sad for the fall-out around them (let’s not forget, Sheen once allegedly shot a woman he claimed to love – his behavior has hurt people.) I can hope they get help. I don’t feel the need to jump into the debate on their lives. I don’t know them.

Admittedly, the Ford saga is a great narrative. You have a hero or villain, depending on which side of the story you’re on. You have supporting characters that might border on ridiculous, were they invented. (The big brother/enforcer? The long-suffering wife? The embittered ex-staffer turned social media pundit? I couldn’t write this.) We’re waiting for the next episode. The one in which the hero emerges triumphant. The one in which the villain gets his comeuppance. Like many other larger-than-life stories, we want to see how this ends. We want to see if the character we relate to or feel superior to proves our value. “He’s just like us,” we’ll say, or “We’re better than that.” No matter which side you’re on, there’s an invested personal take. Still, I don’t follow the Hollywood tales, so why do I follow this one?

In the end, the power of Hollywood is limited to the power that wealth and fame brings. Mayor Ford, on the other hand, has actual power. Limited though it may be, as a result of our council system, he has power. He has the power to make gay kids feel like they don’t matter when he claims to be on vacation during Pride, then shows up at an event in East York. He has the power to close down shelters or stop them from ever existing. He has the power to create an executive council with no women on it. He has this power and he’s using it in the city in which I live.

Add to that the fact that he and I have led very different lives, yet came from the same place, and yes, I’m watching. I’m watching everything. I may actually need to take a break from watching everything, but before I do, I’m going to call out a few key points of the Rob Ford dogma and put them to the verity test. Feel free to jump ahead to the argument you’re most interested in, because I’m going to go on for a while here.

1) Rob Ford watches out for the everyman. Heck, he is the everyman.
2) Rob Ford is saving money. He’s fiscally responsible.
3) Rob Ford is the only guy who can save this city.
4) Rob Ford is sick. How dare you pick on him?
5) Rob Ford is not perfect, but he’s a good guy.

1) Rob Ford watches out for the everyman. Heck, he is the everyman.

There an idea, perpetuated by the office of the Mayor and the man himself, that he’s just a regular Joe. He’s the guy who gets it. At least, that’s what he keeps telling us. So how does this play out when put up against the golden test, one’s choices and behaviors? It’s easy to dismiss groups that actually count as the little guy (his stance on gays, the homeless and women have been mentioned already.) Folks even seem to approve of his treatment of these individuals, calling them special interest groups. It gives people permission to indulge their own dislike, when the guy in charge is so openly dismissive. Does that make Ford the everyman?

Nope. There’s one incident that, to me, destroys this argument, no matter where you stand on inclusivity, equality or helping those in need. That is the incident involving the Toronto Garrison Ball. The Toronto Garrison Ball is an event to honour Toronto’s armed forces members. Growing up in a blue-collar environment, I learned that the armed forces, the folks who fight and risk their lives, they typify the everyman mythos. They are the guys you just don’t disrespect.

Our Mayor, who presents himself as the champion of the sort of folks who would volunteer for service, showed up at this event so inebriated he was asked to leave. He was asked to leave an event attended by about 800 servicepeople. He was asked to leave an event that raises money for the Wounded Warriors fund. Not only did he show disrespect to the folks in uniform, he distracted from their successes on what should have been their night. These are not the actions of someone who deserves to wear the everyman mantle. These are the actions of someone either so out of control or so full of disdain that he didn’t put off his drinking  for one night to show respect to folks who literally earned it by risking their lives. He doesn’t just disrespect the same people you disrespect. He disrespects everyone.

There are many, many articles that point out the silver spoon beginning of our Mayor. There are articles that show his past of privilege and the disservices he has done to the communities he claims to serve. In the end, folks continue to dismiss these as examples of how “real” Ford is. But ask yourself, would you, as a representative of your community, get so inebriated at an event to honour soldiers that you would have to be asked to leave? If your answer is yes, perhaps it’s time to take a deep look inward. If your answer is no, then congratulations, Ford is not “just like you.”

2) Rob Ford is saving money. He’s fiscally responsible.

I’m throwing a caveat on this one right from the get-go. I don’t have a decent understanding of how city-wide, large-scale budgets work. I am not a fiscal genius. Looking over the coverage of the Ford saga, there are journalists that are totally convinced that his financial record is excellent and those who are convinced that it is deplorable. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. I can’t present as an expert on budgets. I’m not going to try. However, lets examine a few incidents and see what they tell us about the Mayor’s fiscal choices, on the small-scale.

Rob Ford has, up until recently, held hiring power for his Mayoral office. He’s made a habit of hiring, well, football players. He’s hired his own high school football coach. He’s hired his assistant coaches at Don Bosco. He’s hired a former quarterback from the University of Toronto. Is this because football players make great political assistants? Is this because they were the best candidates for the job? Nope. We paid their salaries and it turns out that, according to multiple sources, most of them were really hired to help Ford coach football. How fiscally responsible is it to hire people based on a shared sports background? I understand the drive to surround oneself with known entities and friends, but is that in the best interest of the city? Is it the responsible choice? And to then use this resource for non-city business, it’s questionable at best.

It should also be noted that Ford recently gave his small band of workers $5000 bonuses. It’s hard to know what to say to that. $5000 is more than I make in several months. It’s not chump change. And what is it buying him? I’d really like to know.

Are these incidents conclusive proof that Ford is fiscally irresponsible? No, but they do call into question the idea that he is financially savvy and that, unlike the rest of us, really understands how it all works. I would guess that most politicians have spent money irresponsibly. But they have not all stood on a principled pedestal, declaring that only they can stop the government gravy. Gravy like hiring assistants with no political experience because they can help you with your part-time football coach aspirations.

3) Rob Ford is the only guy who can save this city.

Here’s one that sits in my craw, probably more than any other. This one is straight from the man himself. In the end, we’re told that we should forgive everything he does, because he saves the city and the taxpayers money. For a moment, let’s ignore how horrible it is that people are basically saying, “I don’t mind if he kills himself and hurts people, as long as I get a few dollars from it.” Instead, lets enjoy this list of non-crack-smoking counsellors or mayoral candidates that are also fiscal conservatives:

Norm Kelly
Denzil Minnan-Wong
Karen Stintz
John Tory

There you go. Four right off the top of my left-leaning head. I’m pretty sure they’ve also never degraded their spouse on air, been recorded drunk at a city event or mugged a reporter. If none of these fiscal conservatives do it for you, find one that does. The truth is, there are always fiscal conservatives available for those who prioritize it in their voting. What we need is an ethical and respectable fiscal conservative. Let’s not forget, the words Right and Honourable are in the title of Mayor. If you can’t even make it through your title job title without making eyes roll, perhaps you’re in the wrong job.

4) Rob Ford is sick. How dare you pick on him?

I have a mental illness. Let’s get that out of the way right now. I know I have a mental illness. I get help for it. It’s a big deal and it sucks. That said, let’s examine the defense that Rob Ford is sick.

This defense breaks down almost as soon as it exits one’s lips. If Rob Ford is not an addict or mentally ill, then his behavior cannot be excused and he is simply a horrible person. If he is ill, then he is currently unable to fulfill his job because of it and he is not in a place to lead the city. Either he is sick and he needs to step down or he is a disgrace and he needs to step down. His potential illness cannot be used as a shield against criticism.

That is not to say that a person with a mental illness or a recovered addict could not be a good and honourable mayor. They could. What I am saying is that their mental illness or addiction should not be an admissible excuse for what can most kindly be called unprofessional conduct.

5) Rob Ford is not perfect, but he’s a good guy.

Let’s ignore the obvious question of whether being a good guy qualifies you to run the biggest city in our fair country (it doesn’t.) Let’s also ignore whether Ford is really a god guy (he’s not.)

When someone is accused of a crime, or a misbehavior, or a mistake, or whatever we’re calling it this week, there is an opportunity to indulge in the fact that we have all made mistakes. However, Ford’s repeated use of this strategy is what those in the biz call deflection. The sins of everyone else are not justification for your own. When someone says “Have you done drugs?” And you say, “Well, have you?”, that’s deflection. When someone says, are you involved in illegal activities?” and the response is, “I’m not perfect. Maybe you are. Maybe other people are.”, what you’ve done is taken a question about you and made it a question about everyone else.

We are all imperfect. But really, are we all associates of people facing drug charges? Have we all tried crack? While in office? In a drunken stupor? I have my imperfections, but there are no dead people tied to my mistakes. There are no recordings of my husband calling 911 because of our conversations. There are no moments in my adult life that I do not remember because I was so very, very drunk. And even if there were, in no circumstance would I have been drunk in a place where people were smoking crack. I’ve actually never seen someone smoke crack and I lived a building known for its drug dealers.

Does this make me a better person than our Mayor? YES! God, yes. You know what? Perfect and imperfect are two ends of a scale and in the middle are many possible levels of imperfection. Those levels are not all equivalent. Not all crimes or mistakes are equal. This is evidenced by the varying degrees of punishment we mete out for different infractions. The fellow who goes over the speed limit gets a different punishment than the fellow who drives over the limit, while drunk, in a school zone. We understand that both have committed offenses, but they are not on the same scale. Our scale of shared imperfection does not excuse us from all offense. In fact, it is the very tool we use to measure the severity of a crime or mistake. We know that some offenses are worse than others. It seems the Mayor does not.

Whew. Can tell you how good it feels to get all that out? I know that there will be a lively debate over the points I’ve made, so all I ask is that we avoid hyperbole without factual backing and that we try to be respectful, to the best of our ability. I’m eager to hear differing points of view. Let’s be civil. Let’s talk. Let’s engage in the kind of debate that puts council to shame. After all, we’re none of us perfect, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try.

The Real Tragedy of Rob Ford’s Toronto

When I see the news stories of Rob Ford, I’m struck, as we all are, by the similarities between our mayor and quite a few Chris Farley characters from Saturday Night Live. The over-arching attitude toward his folly is that he’s a buffoon. He’s a ridiculously silly man who is just one of the boys, gone wrong. We dismiss any damage he might do as negligible. It will affect how people see Toronto. It has made a joke of our city. Still, what he does on his own time…

Nope. What he does on his own time matters, and here’s why:

Welcome to Dixon Road (from CTV.com)

Welcome to Dixon Road (from CTV.com)

What he does on his own time is become deeply involved with a questionable group of potential (charged, not convicted) drug dealers. These potential drug dealers live in an area called Dixon Road, an area peopled largely by immigrants from Somalia. I know Dixon Road. I grew up in Rexdale. I went to Kipling Collegiate Institute (one of a few Rexdale schools I attended.) I did a co-op placement at Dixon Grove Junior Middle School, working with kids in Grade 4, and in the ESL program. I had friends and students who were born in Somalia and came to Canada with their families. They came with hope, but also with damage.

You see, Somalia is a country that knows tragedy. By the time the Europeans finished fighting over it in 1960 (I’m looking at you, Britain, France and Italy) Somalia was already very deeply divided. Political in-fighting, war and drought meant that peace was a dream that seemed unattainable. Because of its location, someone always wanted Somalia. The Russians, the Egyptians, the Kenyans, there was always a battle to be fought. I’m not going to try to understand the why of these conflicts in the context of this blog. I don’t care, in this case, who was right. I care that people – kids, families, workers – they lived with war and death and anger like we live with transit problems and Sriracha shortages.

So they left. They left a home they loved for a chance at something better in Canada. Many of them came here to Toronto and they settled on Dixon Road.

It was to this area that Mayor Rob Ford took his bad habits. He came and spent time there. He hung around with people. He integrated himself into the community. He, admittedly, did drugs there.

From transparency.org, showing Somalia's corruption rating.

From transparency.org, showing Somalia’s corruption rating.

And here’s the tragedy – he showed them that, like in the home they loved and left, politics and crime are connected. Somalia was recently given a rating of 8/100 for the level of corruption in their government by organization Transparency International. Out of 176 rated nations, they came 174th. This is a place that the UN Peacekeepers left, calling the mission a failure. This is a place where drugs and government are bedfellows of the worst, most destructive kind.

By taking his misbehavior to a place like Dixon Road, Mayor Ford damages that neighbourhood. By putting his money into the drug culture there, he supports the most pernicious and hateful behaviors people engage in. He funds a culture that kills, that steals futures and that ruins families. He shows the kids growing up there that the land they’ve come to is just as corrupt and untrustworthy as the one they left.

The real tragedy here isn’t one sad man who has a problem (though he does.) The real tragedy is a man in a position of power who proves, once again, that power corrupts.