Thank You, Rob Ford!
Hearty gratitude from one Canadian to another
Contrarian click-bait aside, I'm not going to try to justify the behavior of Toronto's Falstaffian mayor. I'm as crafty a debater as the next guy, but defending the crack-smoking, gang-adjacent, pussy-saying Ford is beyond both my skill and my will.
Here's the thing, though: as a Canadian expat, there's a part of me that's frankly delighted.
It's been wonderfully predictable to read the steady stream of responsible Canadian journalism specifically calling Ford out, not simply for his despicable actions, but for the way those actions have affected Canada's image. Torontonians, and Canadians in general, seem more embarrassed by the whole affair than anything else.
This is in stark contrast to my adopted homeland, where a meaningless and painful government shutdown prompted everything from disgust to self-pity, but very little in the way of humiliation. Americans, it has been amply demonstrated, quite simply don't give a damn what the world thinks of them. And they're comfortable being seen for what they are, even when it's...well, pretty fucking ugly.
Canadians aren't like that. We much prefer dishonesty to reckoning. It's why Canadians will hate tourists without telling them so, or resent Americans without calling them out on it, or work damnably hard to preserve an image to the world of what Canada is that is self-consciously distorted.
We like being seen as friendly. We like that people think we're smart, and organized, and funny, and nice. We like maintaining an aura of respectability, of responsibly distributed wealth and effective governance. But what's readily apparent to all Canadians is that all that is a fiction.
Canada has the second largest land mass in the world, unspoiled wilderness, and nearly endless resource wealth. We have recession-proof minerals like diamonds and gold, we have climate change-proof reserves of fresh water and lumber, and we have a booming high-tech industry - Blackberry and Healthcare.gov fiascos aside. And all that wealth for a citizenry smaller than the state of California.
If we were anywhere near as socialist as we like to pretend, nobody would be hungry or homeless in Canada. But even in a pitiless climate, that's not the case. In Montreal, where I went to school, temperatures fell to -40 degrees. It doesn't matter whether I specify Fahrenheit or Celsius, because that's where the two scales meet: at extremely fucking cold. And yet my daily life in Montreal was peppered with the homeless epidemic. Every subway entrance, every busy street corner, every park was animated by cold, hungry people with nowhere to go.
That's the people who are worst off, but culturally, poverty runs very deep in the Great White North. My own people, the French-Canadians, have faced a centuries-long hardscrabble existence as laborers in a giant, untamed boreal forest. Ethnically, historically, we are loggers, miners, and construction workers. We are resolutely blue-collar, and everything that comes with it. We may want you to believe that we're saintly Nordic doctors and astronauts, but the truth is we're much closer to West Virginians. We're workers.
The same goes, incidentally, for most of English Canada, which is much more diverse than our round-shouldered Toronto aristocracy would have you believe. Western Canada is home to the same kind of vacillating political tradition that would be familiar to American heartlanders: the sunny, impassioned populism of figures like Tommy Douglas northside and Eugene V. Debs southside; and the gritty, small government conservatism of Ronald Reagan and our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.
And yet that's not how the world views us. Canadians are unfailingly regarded as enlightened, sophisticated, and dignified to the point of self-effacement. Rich, content, and harmonious. A quiet, well-run, and blessedly peaceful part of an otherwise violently disjointed world - a world full of people like Rob Ford.
Take if from a Canadian: Rob Ford is not an anomaly in Canadian life, just as swaggering, bible-thumping George Bush Jr. is not an anomaly to anyone who's spent time in the States. He's simply an anomaly in internationally visible Canadian politics, the architects of which have long succeeded in keeping people like Rob Ford out of sight.
So as unfortunate as it is for the people of Toronto to be saddled with a mayor who's unfit for the office, it's a happy day for those of us who'd just as soon see Canada shed its stubbornly squeaky-clean image. And as virulently as the fair trade latte crowd might object, this is what Canadians look like. It's long been time that someone lifted the veil, and Rob Ford, bless him, has finally managed to do it.
As another diehard once put it: Welcome to the party, pal.