Is Ontario getting another Trump?



                       by Kenneth Bagnell


         There’s an addendum to this blog at the end. 

        I’ve always admired a man you may not know of named John C. Maxwell, who happens to have written a book that was one of the best sellers in North America: The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader. It makes me smile a bit when I think of Toronto’s Mayor as our leader in the years of 2010 to 2014. His name was Rob Ford and, sad to day, his term was a dreadful mess: he drank too much, he ate too much, he used cocaine, was cosy with low level gangsters.  Responsible citizens                     were virtually out of their minds. He died in 2016. Now, his brother, Doug, has thrown us his decision to run for an even higher post, Premier of Ontario. One head-shaking point: The Toronto Star ran his picture beside another odd ball named Donald Trump, who is the world’s expert at making bad decisions and doing it with regularity. (The Star ran the photo headline: “Ford and Trump interchangeable.”

       Our population is now roughly at two million and seventy three thousand – one of North America’s largest cities – but it supported the disastrous regime of Rob Ford who was often staggering into his office and not because he was drinking soda water. I’m reluctant to be that blunt but, after having been an editorial writer, at both The Star and then The Globe, I am expected to be candid and correct. My memory and my research suggest these sad and sick aspects of a man whom I never met.

      As far back as 2013, Mayor Ford was a humiliating public problem. Certain issues should have kept him out of office for such a huge city with a proud and favorable reputation. Instead we had a mayor who, for example on November 14, 2013, the Toronto City Council actual asked – yes asked! – that he retire for a few days because the police, having met up with his alleged condition, reported in their documents that he’d had drugs, alcohol, and, sorry to say, a prostitute. (Toronto has a countless regiment of them, advertising in the back pages of a popular tabloid.)  Later on in Ford’s early mayoralty, he was exposed for what he was: a real addict. This was exposed by a video that revealed him doing drugs and smoking crack cocaine, which, if I may say, is not the sort of thing most of Rosedale would like their mayor to depend upon.  Perhaps he was honest when, in an interview with Peter Mansbridge, he told Peter that he was done with alcohol. No more of it. Though he wasn’t very religious, he told his interviewer: “I had a come-to-Jesus moment if you want to call it that.” (He meant he was “saved.”)

     As for his “recovery” it was a nice idea and, insiders say that he kept it up, and passed it off as socializing and having a few because others do and then drive. “All of us have done this,” he said, “you go out to a dinner party, you go to a restaurant with your wife, have some wine. Do you drive? Absolutely, you drive.” Not really. I like a glass of wine when somebody else (who hasn’t) does the driving. Unfortunately, those who knew him, say it’s hard to believe he ever stopped at one drink.

   To be fair, he did tell Peter Mansbridge that he had turned to experienced helpers, or as he called it, “dealing with professionals…”  It was, we must acknowledge, the wisest thing to do. Looking back however, he should not have sought the high and serious position he did, because his habit was bound to make him blunder. (Some of his colleagues, in and out of the council, claim he lost almost 20 pounds, and promised to lose more.) Hence he told the media, “I have no reason to resign….” A lot of Torontonians would debate that. Given the excess of his habits, it is no wonder that in 2016, he died.  It gives credibility to a heading used by Macleans in the spring of 2013: “Rob Ford’s insatiable appetite for destruction.” Well put.

      Nonetheless, I can’t avoid taking note of American papers which gave wide and not worthy exposure to Rob Ford, the mayor of Canada’s largest city. The heading was accurate and, to some, a bit wounding. It appeared during Rob Ford’s mayoralty, and with a heading that more or less embarrassed old Toronto the Good: “His Honor? Toronto’s Mayor Rampages On, To City’s Shame.” When he took the phone call from the Times journalists, he didn’t handle things in a very political way. The story began with this sentence:   “The end did not come for Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, when he proclaimed his proclivity for oral sex on live television…” Did he? Really? I missed that!

      The story was up and down, but the late Rob did get his part of the politics into The Times. The journalists who wrote it said, “It seems that Mr. Ford, absent a decision to quit, will remain at the helm of Canada’s largest and most affluent city at least until his term ends next year…. He says he has too many phone calls to make.” The journalist then quotes his perspective: “Are you aware that 2,200 people call me,” Mr. Ford  repeatedly said, adding that he also got 138,000 emails a year that require a response, by way of explaining why he ought to keep his budget and staff. “I’m still doing the job…”  That’s of course now long ago and the man himself has left the earthly life.

       The American interest in Toronto is rather consistent. In late March, The New York Times, once again, reviewed the situation in Toronto and more specifically the province of Ontario. Why? It appears that the actual reason is Rob’s brother, Doug Ford, whom The Times seems to believe has a strong chance at being Premier. Whether you favor it or dismiss it, we are bound to be interested. The level of credibility of the story is partly evident in the piece’s title: “Will Canada elect Tin-Pot Northern Trump.” Clearly, people in the United States – where we’ve been for a month —know very little as to the economic and political culture of the neighbor next door.

      Here’s a paragraph as a window on the story’s perspective: “No” writes the journalist, “I’m not rehashing the victory of President Trump. I’m describing the rise of Canadian politician Doug Ford who this month was elected leader of the Progressive Conservative party of Ontario, the right of center opposition in the country’s most populated province. With his party leading in the polls ahead of a June 7 election, Mr. Ford has a strong chance of becoming premier… Trumpism, it seems, has migrated north…”.


     I place this paragraph as a footnote to history: my blog, which is above this note, tells its own story. I chose to use this footnote to advise you that long ago I met the late Martin Luther King and had an interview with him which appeared in The United Church Observer in August 1962. He is in all our memories. His views were told me as we drove from his hotel to the Holy Blossom Synagogue which had invited him. My understanding and great respect regarding Dr. King is now told in the latest copy of The United Church Observer. If you have a friend who receives it, I suggest you contact her or him. It will give you a sense of a person who was a truly brilliant man in a great many ways. I knew of his brilliance well before I met him  — his professor and I met early in 1960, and Professor DeWolf could not help but tell me of his special student – he always referred to his brilliance — long before Barbara and I came to Toronto and The Observer. I soon became Managing editor of The Observer and while I was there I became a good friend of a great scholarly Rabbi, Gunther Plaut of Holy Blossom. One day he phoned and offered to give me the only opportunity he could to interview Martin Luther King. The interview was arranged.  It was published in the August 1962 edition of The Observer. Life led me to be an editorial writer on The Toronto Star so that on the day after he was shot, I was asked to write the Star’s lead editorial under the title: “The greatest moral leader of our time.”  Now, I’ve been invited to preach on his life, his contribution, his memory at Manor Road United Church in Toronto this Sunday, April 8 at 10:30 A.M.      Ken






  1. E Karabanow
    Apr 14, 2018

    Thanks for your Commentary which needless to say is most disturbing, but hopefully “we shall overcome.”

  2. Don Gillies
    Apr 14, 2018

    Such memories and such experiences. You were indeed blessed in your work as a writer. As it happens, Harold DeWolf was my major prof. at Boston University when I did my STM there many years ago. A great guy, and a great teacher. Nice to hear his name again.