We love stories about celebrities who misbehave. But with Rob Ford, the infamous mayor of Toronto, we have someone whose misbehaviour makes him a worldwide celebrity of sorts.
Arguably, he is the most recognisable mayor in the world today, for all the wrong reasons. He admitted on live television that he loved oral sex, has been captured on video smoking crack cocaine and littered a public path with empty and broken bottles after a night of heavy drinking with a buddy who had a history of criminal records. For some reason, he cannot be removed from office or arrested, even though the city's council has stripped him of most powers and his budget.
His extraordinary public behaviour is what Hong Kong-born Olivia Chow, his prime mayoral election rival in October, means when she says Torontonians are living with a "sense of shame". One of Canada's most prominent Asian public figures, Chow has urged Torontonians, including those in Hong Kong such as yours truly, to vote Ford out of office.
It's estimated there are at least 100,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong who can vote in Toronto's municipal elections. I don't feel shame at all, just amusement at the man's antics, which offer constant material for comedians across North America and beyond. I do agree it's better for Toronto's future to have someone more like Chow than Ford as mayor.
Given Ford's outrages, it's hard for outsiders to understand the continuing support of his constituents, who are mostly working class. But his political platform and boorish behaviour are all of a piece. He rose to power by raging against "the elite establishment". He called them "fancy people". He was the outsider and working-class lad who made good.
Instead of joining the elite with bowtie and tuxedo, he doubled down on his street credentials as boozer and druggie. His supporters can identify all too well with his libido-driven misbehaviour. After his cocaine confession, his popularity rating actually went up five points to 44 per cent. Someone like Ford could gain power because many Torontonians believe City Hall is broken, the system is rigged for the rich and connected, and government is dysfunctional.
Welcome to real democracy.