More than a few people have observed the irony of Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) Party leader Doug Ford urging Premier Wynne to leave the distribution of cannabis, when it is legalized, to the private sector. This, allegedly, is his area of expertise.
Let’s look at the history of these allegations. In an investigative article, published on May 25, 2013, about the Ford family’s connections to illegal drugs, The Globe and Mail claimed that in the 1980s, Doug Ford had been a major dealer in hashish in central Etobicoke. In a background piece, editor John Stackhouse reported that the authors had worked on the article over 18 months, and conducted multiple interviews with 10 people who had bought hashish from, or sold it to, Doug Ford. Given the Ford family’s political power at the time, the sources all chose to remain anonymous.
Doug Ford issued an immediate and angry denial, saying that he hadn’t ever sold hashish. He also threatened to sue The Globe, but never did. There were two complaints to the Ontario Press Council against The Globe (not made by members of the Ford family), regarding with the use of anonymous sources and partisan intent. Editor Stackhouse issued a statement of defence, and the Council deliberated, and ruled in favour of The Globe.
Now that the PC Party has chosen Ford as its leader for the election to be held on June 7, I think it appropriate to revisit this history in terms of what it reveals about Ford’s character.
In my view, the record shows that The Globe did exemplary investigative journalism, as indicated by Stackhouse’s accounting and the Press Council decision. Doug Ford’s credibility is undermined by his issuing only a denial and by providing no comprehensive explanation of how he spent his time when The Globe claims he was dealing drugs. In narrative terms, The Globe set out a narrative, but Ford provided no counter-narrative. Ford’s decision not to sue is, for me, evidence of his unwillingness to have his behaviour examined in detail. My conclusion is that Ford both broke the law and lied about it. Furthermore, Doug Ford has often spoken about his opposition to drugs, which is hypocritical.
It is instructive to compare Ford to politicians who have recently been accused of sexual harassment. In the case of harassers, for example former Senator Al Franken, behaviour that was considered acceptable in the past has been re-evaluated in terms of new and more demanding standards, and found wanting. While our attitudes towards harassment have become stricter, our attitudes towards drug use have become more tolerant. Cannabis was illegal in the 1980’s, but is now on the road to legalization. Some might therefore conclude that though Ford broke the law in the 1980s, he has been vindicated by the change in attitudes.
Another point of comparison might be the attitude – to this point – of conservatives in the US towards President Trump’s personal history of sexual harassment. The first line of defence is that he’s repented. The second line of defence is that, even if he hasn’t repented, it was a long time ago and he, apparently, hasn’t repeated that behaviour recently. And the third line of defence is that even if it wasn’t such a long time ago, his behaviour doesn’t matter because he has delivered on enacting and implementing the conservatives’ desired policies. If Doug Ford’s character becomes an issue in the Ontario election, one could imagine his supporters making a comparable defence.
In my view, both a politician’s promised policies, and his character, should be relevant to whom you vote for. You want to vote for someone who will enact policies you prefer. But, the world is uncertain and a lot of unexpected things can happen during a four-year mandate. Character is the measure of how a politician will deal with the inevitable crises and “unknown unknowns.”
A politician’s character is something that you judge on the basis of his/her record. In Doug Ford’s case, I think the allegations of drug dealing are a significant stain on his record. He broke the law, lied about it, and hypocritically claims opposition to drug use. He hasn’t been very forthcoming about the rest of his record. His profile on the PC Party website is cursory in the extreme. It says a bit about his record as a municipal councilor, claims 20 years of volunteer work with the Toronto West Rotary Club, and refers to him as a businessman, but says nothing about his business career. There is a lot more we need to know before we can judge Doug Ford’s character. I will discuss that in my next post.