Only four years ago – as if anyone can have forgotten – Rob Ford plunged Toronto into its biggest political scandal in memory when he admitted to smoking crack cocaine. City council stripped him of many of his powers. Now his successor as mayor, John Tory, backs naming a sports stadium after him. Seldom has history had such a rapid whitewash.
We name things after past leaders to honour them. Rob Ford does not remotely deserve such an honour. He brought disgrace to the city. His tragic death from cancer last year does not erase what he did.
The proposal to name Centennial Park stadium after Mr. Ford is backed by his family, still a big political force in the suburb of Etobicoke. Mr. Tory says the family was pushing for a decision. He decided that naming the stadium after his predecessor was the right thing to do, especially given Mr. Ford's years as a football coach.
And the scandal? "We all have things that may or not have been, you know, our best days, but he gave a big part of his life to public service," the mayor said on Thursday. He said he wants to "put politics to one side" and acknowledge Mr. Ford's contribution.
But it is not political to believe that Mr. Ford did wrong. It is factual. Mr. Ford used drugs while preaching to youth about the dangers of drug use. He associated with gang members while vowing to crack down on crime. He was caught making a series of ugly slurs. He refused to admit his crack use for months after the scandal broke. He said that those who pressed him for answers about his behaviour were nothing more than vultures.
The world wasn't "out to get" Mr. Ford. He brought his troubles on himself.
This was not just a matter of having a few bad days. Mr. Tory's forgiving tone has echoes of the line taken by many Ford supporters: that all of us have our flaws. To them, their hero was no less heroic because of his slip ups, which simply made him more human.
It is understandable that Mr. Tory wants to strike a note of reconciliation. There is nothing wrong with trying to see the good in others. But remember that Mr. Ford's brother Doug has announced he is running for mayor against Mr. Tory next year. He is running at least in part on the memory of his late brother. Burnishing that memory is part of the game.
It is one thing for Ford supporters to ask others not to harp on what the late mayor did, now that he is gone. It is quite another to ask city hall to slap his name on the side of a public stadium. That suggests that all is forgiven and forgotten. It shouldn't be. Toronto shouldn't entertain a revisionist version of Mr. Ford: the hard-working, well-meaning regular guy who just happened to have a weakness. The truth, as usual, is rawer than that.
Perhaps Mr. Tory's advisers wanted to avoid giving ammunition to the Fords. Perhaps they felt that denying the family's request to name the stadium after Mr. Ford would anger Ford followers and hurt the Tory campaign. Easier, some might say, just to go along with the renaming and head off a fight on the issue. What harm can it do to name a suburban stadium after a popular local boy who made it all the way to the mayor's office, even if he strayed from the straight and narrow?
The harm is to history. The Ford scandal happened. It is a mistake to minimize it. It is wrong to honour the dishonourable.