Mayor Rob Ford told Torontonians he had become his own “worst enemy” and that his problems with drugs and alcohol had compromised his family life and work.
But in his first public speech since taking a paid leave of absence two months ago, Ford said that people with substance abuse problems should get a second chance, and offered up a list of claimed accomplishments as justification for continuing to run for reelection this fall.
“I am not asking you for forgiveness,” said Ford in the speech, which lasted about 17 minutes Monday, June 30.
“I accept full responsibility for what I have done. Thankfully, we live in a civilized society – a society that realizes that people do make mistakes and that some people need help. And those that seek help can be given another chance.”
Ford delivered the speech in his city hall office’s protocol lounge, to a select group of journalists. Metroland Media Toronto was not invited to the event and not permitted to enter the room. Other news media excluded from the event included NOW Magazine, The Grid and various bloggers.
Ford’s brother Doug Ford had promised earlier that the mayor would deliver a prepared speech and take no questions, and that is how the afternoon transpired. Ford showed up at Toronto City Hall early in the afternoon, and took the podium on time, at 3:30 p.m.
On his arrival, it was evident that the mayor had lost weight – and during his speech, he singled out his personal trainer for additional praise as he thanked the other staff at the GreeneStone rehab facility in Muskoka where he spent some portion of two months.
He said that his decision to go to rehab came after “experiencing some of the darkest moments of my life,” in which he decided “I had become my own worst enemy.”
Ford decided to check into rehab after a series of videos emerged – one of him in a bar, where he made lewd comments about mayoral candidate Karen Stintz, as well as a string of racial slurs – and another of him in his sister’s basement, appearing to smoke crack cocaine.
Those followed a string of scandals and misbehaviour that made news worldwide, and began with the revelation in 2013 of a video in which Mayor Ford was appearing to smoke crack cocaine and making racist and homophobic remarks.
Ford denied the existence of that video for months, and only admitted to having done so as details of a Toronto police investigation emerged in the fall.
Ford said that after “hundreds of hours” of intensive therapy there, he understood “that the staff at GreeneStone saved my life.
“I learned about triggers and what happens when you have uncontrollable cravings,” said Ford, adding that he understood his addiction “is really a disease... a chronic medical condition that will require treatment for the rest of my life.”
Ford said during treatment he met others struggling with addiction.
“Listening to their stories gave me the strength to help me deal with my own mistakes,” said Ford. “I can proudly say that today I have begun the process of taking control of my life. But folks, this is a long road to recovery and no matter what I do I will never be able to change the mistakes that I have made. I was wrong and I have no one to blame but myself.”
Ford offered up apologies.
“I want to sincerely apologize not just to the people of Toronto but to every single person I’ve hurt by my words and my actions,” he said.
“It was never my intention to embarrass the city or offend my fellow members of council. I deeply regret some of the personal choices I have made in the past. I now realize I was blind to the dangers of some of the company that I kept, and those associations have ended.”
Ford said that he learned to accept that because of his position he must be held to a higher standard.
“To my fellow councillors and especially to Karen Stintz, for my hurtful and degrading remarks I offer a deep-felt apology for my behaviour.”
Ford said that he would keep “battling this disease for the rest of my life.”
“I am determined to make myself the best person I can be for my family and for the people of Toronto,” he said. “With your support I am also resolved to work harder than ever for the taxpayers of this great city.”
Ford finished his speech with a relatively lengthy list of claimed accomplishments for his administration.
“We have accomplished a lot together,” he said. “When I was first elected in 2010 I promised to stop the gravy train and that is exactly what I’ve done. We’ve moed away from the tax and spend ways of the past and changed the culture at city hall. We have reduces the size and cost of government and saved the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Ford also boasted of the decision to contract out some of the city’s garbage collection, the decision to make the Toronto Transit Commission an essential services, and a relatively peaceful labour situation.
“I want to thank the people of Toronto for their understanding and continued support during this very, very difficult time,” said Ford. “I look forward to serving you for many more years.”
Reaction from Ford’s opponents in the mayoral race was swift.
John Tory said he was happy to see that Ford seemed to be contrite. But he continued his call for Ford’s resignation.
“He should resign from office – he should have resigned some time ago,” said Tory, who said that Ford had so many questions still unanswered, and such a toxic relationship with most members of council that he cannot effectively govern.
“Because he’s massively embarrassed our city he’s conducted himself in a way that render it virtually impossible for him to get things done,” he said. “His refusal to answer questions today is indicative that he doesn’t get it.”
Olivia Chow also wished Ford well – but noted that Ford had yet to apologize to the “diverse” community for his remarks.
“I note that Rob Ford has not apologized to the diverse community – to the ethnic and visible minorities and the LGBTQ community,” said Chow. “The question is not whether Rob Ford is clean and sober. The issue is that he is a failed mayor.”