Karpluk: Ethics Lessons from Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

Canadian Fire Chief Les Karpluk uses some of Mayor Rob Ford's tales to illustrate the importance of ethics in the fire service.


Actor Mary Walsh of the CBC satirical show This Hour Has 22 Minutes, is known for her ambush interviews of politicians. This is what her character does and the viewers love it. On Oct. 24, 2011 while in costume, Walsh approached Mayor Rob Ford in the driveway of his home to conduct one of her ambush interviews. To make a long story short, Ford ended up calling 911 as he thought he was being attacked and used profanity when talking to the 911 dispatchers. At first he denied it, but later admitted that he used the f-word and he “apologized” for expressing his frustration inappropriately. Sounds like another apology to me, but…sincere?

Let’s fly past all of the media stories on Ford’s inappropriate behaviours, and suspected drinking problems from March to May 2013 to when the Toronto Star came forward on May 17, 2013 to state that reporters had viewed a video clip of Rob Ford inhaling from what appeared to be a crack pipe. Ford denied it and in the following weeks he fired his chief of staff, while others left the sinking Ford ship for other career opportunities.

In August 2013, while attending a festival, Ford was observed as slurring his words and acting inappropriately. The next day he responded to criticism by being open and honest and admitted to "having a few beers" Later in August he admitted that he smoked marijuana and stated, “I won’t deny that, I smoked a lot of it.”

Ok, I’m not sure if this is an apology or just being honest. Let’s think on this one. Maybe if italics were used for his apology it would come across as sincere.

On Oct. 31, 2013, Toronto's police chief Bill Blair reported to the media that the Toronto police service viewed a video clip with Mayor Ford smoking from a crack pipe. While continuing to deny the allegation, Mayor Ford said “I have no reason to resign, I’m going to go back and return my phone calls, gonna be out doing what the people elected me to do and that’s to save taxpayers money and run a great government.”

Hmm…not sure what to say here. Ok, got it. In the best interest of those that elected him, he wants to continue to do what the people elected him to do, regardless of his lack of an ethical compass. Yup, I think that is it.

On Nov. 3, 2013 during his weekly radio show, Mayor Ford admitted to making mistakes and referred to a St. Patrick’s Day party that got out of control. He further stated, “I can’t change the past. I have to maybe slow down on my drinking. I don’t know what else I can say.”

I know, I know, this is past the point of being crazy. Let’s see-is this an apology or admission? Let’s go with the admission because he stated that he has to slow down on his drinking.

On Nov. 5, 2013, and after months of speculation Mayor Ford finally came clean and admitted to having smoked crack cocaine and stated, “Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine but … am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Um, probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago." When questioned by the media why he didn’t admit to it earlier (remember there was a media flurry from March to May regarding this) Ford stated, “you didn’t ask the correct questions.”

Admittedly he did issue an apology - albeit due to the fact that the Toronto Police service possessed a video clip clearly showing Mayor Ford smoking from a crack pipe. If I use bold and italics it could make the apology appear sincere. I know what you are thinking…I am judging. No, I am just emphasizing key points based upon fact and adding my “sincere” remarks.

Please keep following me because I do have a point to make at the end.

On Nov. 7, 2013, another video was released by the media of Ford in a drunken state where he was making threatening comments. Again, Ford admits that he was “extremely inebriated” (his justification for his actions) and stated, "All I can say is again I’ve made mistakes. It’s extremely embarrassing. The whole world’s going to see it. You know what? I don’t have a problem with it. But it is extremely embarrassing, but I don’t know what to say but again I am apologizing. Again, when you’re in that state ... I hope none of you have ever or will ever be in that state.”

Was this another apology?

With his release of the Rob Ford Bobblehead on Nov. 12, 2013, one really has to wonder what part of crisis communications he ignored. Can you say all of it! Remember what I said earlier - I am not passing judgment, I’m trying to communicate the importance of ethics in not only our profession, but in those that have direct control of our profession.