UPDATED: Post-Democratic Trend Lines in Etobicoke

 

UPDATE, SEPTEMBER 2016

– Rob Ford was elected Ward 2 Councillor in the 2014 municipal election.
– Rob Ford, 46, died March 22, 2016.
– Mike Ford was elected a TDSB Trustee in 2014. He was elected to Rob Ford’s former Ward 2 council seat in a 2016 byelection.
– Doug Ford plans to release a book in 2016 (co-written with Rob about the family’s base of political support. He also plans to again seek elected office.


ORIGINAL POST, SEPTEMBER 16, 2014

Since news broke of the decision by Toronto mayor candidate Rob Ford to sto-ballot-box-facebookep away from the mayor’s race and be replaced by his brother Doug the term “feudal” has been thrown around a lot.

The argument quite often associated with the use of this term generally appears to be that the Ford family is treating Etobicoke as if control of the borough is to be inherited and that elections are merely a formality.

I understand the need to put what has happened at odds with what should be happening in a healthy democracy ─ I’m even tempted to use the term feudal myself. But, I argue, the nature of what the Ford family is attempting in Etobicoke does not smack of what is prior to democracy but what comes after the democratic institutions we know and many of us cherish.

In other words, I argue that the Ford family is acting inherently post-democratic in Etobicoke and that current democratic structures are permitting this.

The origins of the term post-democracy are often attributed to political scientist Colin Crouch. The idea is essentially that a small clique of elites control decisions within democratic structures. Tendencies seen in post-democracy include few common goals, a common agenda, the conflation of the public and private sectors and privatization.

This is arguably what the Ford family is attempting in Etobicoke, and more broadly in Toronto governance.

The Ford agenda can be characterized by the pitting of neighbourhoods against each other (no common agenda), that Rob and Doug are seemingly interchangeable (a common agenda), alleged missteps involving lobbying on behalf of private sector firms (the conflation of the public and private sectors) and the use of private capital to fund major public projects (privatization).

By running Doug for mayor, Rob for Ward 2 councillor and Mike Ford for school trustee, the Fords, a wealthy business family from Etobicoke, are using democratic institutions to achieve what could easily be described as a post-democratic aristocracy if the election sees all three elevated to office. The Fords are up against challengers for every seat but the trend lines are there. A healthy democracy won’t permit one family to treat elections as a hoop through which to jump.

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Rob Ford’s Political Body

Toronto’s Rob Ford lives a political life. Both his bare existence and his public personae have taken on a politicization since he entered municipal governance. Plainly said, his weight and other biological issues have become just as political as his public life as “mayor” of the City of Toronto.

The Ancient Greeks, such as Aristotle, had two words for life: zoe (to live) and bios (life as an action).[1] This zoe-bios distinction is taken up and developed by Giorgio Agamben, who explains that zoe was seen as excluded from action in the city, or polis, (bios).[2] Agamben argues that via modern biopolitics, a concept he borrows from Michel Foucault and Hannah Arendt, bios has contaminated zoe.  It is from this foundation that I begin.

  •  In this post, I explore the politicizing of Rob Ford’s body and his own use of biopolitics as an undercurrent of governance at city hall.

Ford has steadfastly maintained that he believes there are things in his life that are private: in other words, outside bios and firmly planted in zoe.

The issue with this, of course, is that Ford has sometimes created a zone of indistinction between bios and zoe himself, such as when he has been filmed while ostensibly intoxicated and talking about his politics.

But also consider the politicization by external actors of Ford’s zoe:

The four examples above, I argue, are the clear contamination of zoe with bios; the politicization of Rob Ford’s bare life.

This is not to say that Rob Ford has not engaged in the same sort of biopolitics. He has been caught using racist slurs, refusing to participate and even working against joyous city events such as the raising of the Pride flag and making disgraceful sexual comments about a female colleague.

These examples show that Ford politicizes others’ zoe, be it based on their ethnicity, their sexuality or sex, in an attempt to politically disarm them.

What is apparent here is that Toronto politics is merely a microcosm of the larger paradigm that sees a blurring of distinction between zoe and bios. We see it in every “political” interaction at all levels of human society but it simply becomes more obvious with our elected representatives, who live public lives. Rob Ford’s nature arguably locates him as a high-profile example.

Toronto politics  is not simply about building transit and making sure the roads don’t have potholes. It, like life generally, is a highly biopolitical existence in which life (to live) is politicized. And from this point, there is no return to the classical zoe/bios dichotomy, Agamben tells us.[3] “And we are not only, in Foucault’s words, animals whose life as living beings is at issue in their politics, but also ─ inversely ─ citizens whose very politics is at issue in their natural body.”[4]


[1] Aristotle, Politics. Translated by C.D.C Reeve, (Indianapolis:Hackett Publishing Company, 1998), 285.

[2] Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen, eds. Werner Hamacher and David E. Wellbery, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 2.

[3] Ibid., 188.

[4] Ibid.