Like regular citizens, elected officials are entitled to privacy. They are not, however, entitled to flaunt a blatant disregard for the law or to disrespect their office and position of power — such as in the case of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
At a time when people demand decency and honesty from their elected representatives — and yet, expect very little from them in the long run — a simple respect for the office he or she occupies can set a politician apart. Rob Ford has repeatedly shown that he does not hold his position as the Mayor of Toronto in a high degree of esteem. He has demonstrated this disregard for the seriousness of his position on several occasions, crossing the line of not only the law, but of moral decency. A past charge for driving under the influence, a guilty sentence in a conflict of interest case against him, and, most recently, admitting to the use of marijuana, speak to issues that reflect on his character and ability to reason, not only as a person but as a leader. The alleged crack-cocaine scandal and his comments regarding his past marijuana usage have been only the latest displays of a chronic disregard for the rules of society — the same values he took an oath to uphold. Democratically-elected officials are representatives of the people’s will and thus should, within reason, focus on adhering to the behaviors and guidelines that the electorate sets forward as standard modes of behavior.
Certain government employees, politicians, and judges are elected or appointed with the expectation that they will use moral reasoning to guide their decision–making and actions; this is an historical expectation, and one that has not lost favour with the public. This is something that is open to a wide variety of interpretations, but ultimately, politicians must take great care to ensure that they are upholding the standards of office dictated to them by the electorate. Name-calling and outbursts have become a regular part of Ford’s regualr behaviour in recent months. He has referred to reporters as “a bunch of maggots” on his radio talk show with his brother, City Councillor Doug Ford, after the media depicted the mayor in an unfavorable light. These outbursts and gaffes negatively influence Mayor Ford’s perceived legitimacy as a leader and cast doubt on his ability to make decisions.
Unlike Justin Trudeau, leader of the federal Liberal Party, Ford was sly enough to not reveal the time period of his marijuana use — the amount of which, by his own admission, was “a lot.” The bottom line is that his actions were illegal. In light of the recent crack-cocaine allegations scandal, Mayor Ford’s choice to comment on his personal use of marijuana is indicative of his poor judgment, as it once again thrusts him into the spotlight for breaking the law. Public office is not a place of privilege where elected officials enjoy immunity to law and order — rather it is a burden of service, one Rob Ford seems incapable of carrying.
Jennifer Gosnell is a University College student studying political science and American studies.
In May, the Toronto Star set Mayor Rob Ford reeling by alleging that they had access to a video depicting the mayor smoking crack-cocaine. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in a full-blown media circus, calling his legitimacy as a political leader into question. When this type of political scandal breaks, the public’s attention is distracted from the official’s work of governing and focused instead on his or her private life. These distractions are manifestly bad for leadership and cause the democratic process to slow to a halt. Elections start to become about the morality of candidates’ past transgressions and not about the true purpose of democracy: electing the candidate who will ensure the protection of the rights of the people.
Political figures are human beings — like the rest of us, they have their flaws and are prone to mistakes. However, when the well-being of the electorate is in question, these errors become the primary focus of the media, even if they have no relation to the efficacy of the scorned leader. Only when a politician’s private activities affect either the well-being of the public or their ability to carry out the duties of their office — and have been proven to do so without any cause for doubt — should his or her actions become public knowledge.
Separating Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s media persona from his role as a political figure is no easy task. Following the Toronto Star’s allegations, the image of Ford created by countless Buzzfeed gifs and memes turned him into a social media clown, now indistinguishable from his role as an elected official. Mr. Ford suddenly became an involuntary celebrity, defenseless against the aggressive news media — where known criminals and drug-dealers are considered legitimate sources.
Regardless of your personal opinion of Mayor Ford, he has completed a number of projects that he set out during his campaign. He successfully ended the proverbial “gravy train” by slashing city council’s budgets and privatizing road side garbage pick-up west of Yonge Street. The fundamental question then becomes: “How are voters choosing who they vote for?” I wish I could say it was for a candidate’s leadership skills, but it seems very clear that it is about his or her alleged past actions, and sometimes thier physical appearance, that steer the vote.
There is an ethical demand to base the news on hard facts and not hearsay, which certainly should not include abusive comments about personal appearance. The population should, in turn, recognize that politicians are human beings, with families and friends they cannot control, and pasts they may not be proud of. Yet, candidates ought to be elected on the basis of their campaigns and their political projects as opposed to an alleged video depicting substance use that may or may not have actually happened. The media’s job is to tell the full story, not just the ill-founded, scandalous part that riddles pop-media outlets. Falsely criticising a leader only results in the destruction of his or her reputation and the consequent denigration of the entire democratic system.
Olivia Forsyth-Sells is studying English and philosophy.