If you've shaken your head in wonder that Canadians — gentle, sensible Canadians — had elected a drug-addicted, violent, lying buffoon to run its largest city, this excellent account of the rise of the Canadian neoliberal right by historian Paul Cohen is required reading. Cohen draws on disparate threads from Preston Manning to Mike Harris and connects them to Stephen Harper, Rob Ford, and the rise of a nasty, ugly Made-in-Canada version of Thatcherism, Reaganism, and modern neoliberalism.
Once the Conservatives took the full measure of Ford's electoral appeal in a city that has long been a Liberal party fortress, they happily plugged him into their long-term Ontario strategy. Here was a genuine, Canadian-grown Tea Party insurgency whose flames the Conservative party could fan and whose power its leaders thought they could harness. Though Ford bankrolled his campaign with loans from his family, the big Conservative donors who had supported his principal opponent switched horses, paying off Ford's $600,000 in campaign debt.
Ford's campaign manager went on to manage the Conservatives' campaign in Ontario in the 2011 federal elections and today runs a political consulting firm with the president of the Ontario Conservative Party. Ford campaigned tirelessly on behalf of the Conservatives in 2011, contributing to an unexpectedly strong showing in the Toronto metro area. A grateful Harper invited Ford on a fishing trip at his summer residence and attended a barbecue at Ford's mother's home. Praising the Fords as a "great Conservative political dynasty" (a nod to Ford's father and his brother Doug, who sits on city council), Harper compared how Ford "is cleaning up the NDP mess here in Toronto" (referring to Canada's social democratic New Democratic Party) to the way he himself was fixing the "left-wing mess federally." Conservative strategists saw in Ford the key to winning Ontario provincial elections and making inroads in Toronto in the 2015 federal elections. Ford had become a rising, well-connected Tory star with a seemingly bright future.
In retrospect, it's nothing short of astonishing just how much dysfunction the Canadian right was willing to put up with in order to stand by its man in Toronto. Months after news emerged that a video of the mayor smoking crack might exist, Harper was still happy to engineer photo ops with Ford and publicly support the mayor's reelection campaign. As recently as last October, a leading corporate lawyer and Conservative fundraiser reaffirmed his support for the embattled Ford, declaring that his "economic record is spectacular." It was only when police confirmed the existence of the crack video that the same right-wing political formations, leaders, and media outlets who had jumped on Ford's bandwagon and made him their political creature scrambled for the exits.
The Passion of Rob Ford, or the Neoliberal Making of Toronto's Municipal Crisis [Paul Cohen/Dissent]
(Image: Rob Ford with puppet, Shaun Merritt, CC-BY)