Late last month, the NBA’s hopeless Toronto Raptors announced the hiring of local hero Drake as their global ambassador–whatever that means–in an attempt to rebrand the lamest team in basketball, and to lure American-born free agents to a city where the money is multi-colored and hockey is king. Like any good global ambassador, Drake dutifully showed up to the press conference, recited his shpeal about his love for his hometown, and presumably went home to be hand-fed Tim Horton’s timbits by a bed full of models.
For the rest of the world, it was just another stop on the rapper’s never-ending publicity campaign. But for us Torontonians, it was a far more momentous occasion, as it marked the first time Drake and Toronto’s embattled mayor Rob Ford, who was also on hand at the presser, were photographed in the same room together. Keep in mind, these are two men who couldn’t be on more opposite trajectories, yet there they were; our city’s most successful export and our greatest embarrassment, side-by-side.
In case you’ve been locked in a Siberian labour camp for the last six months, and are wondering why our mayor has become something far worse than just your run-of-the-mill laughingstock, let me fill you you in. Six months ago, Gawker published a report that claimed a video existed of Ford buying crack, smoking crack, and hurling racial epithets while high on crack. What ensued was a series of bizarre twists and turns that made international headlines, involving police investigations, cover-ups, and murder; a series of events that would make anyone in The Wire‘s writers room green with envy. But when the video failed to turn up, the rest of the world lost interest, and eventually so did we.
Toronto police revealed that after a months-long investigation, they had obtained conclusive evidence that Rob Ford had indeed smoked crack, and that not only did the phantom video exist, but that it was in their possession. The reaction in Toronto was emphatic to say the least. Social media erupted with a chorus of shock, which gave way to wisecracks, and finally relief at the thought of our maligned mayor being forced out of office. It was as though an atomic bomb had been set off in the heart of the city, which once again finds itself in the crosshairs of popular consciousness. As the story continues to unfold, Toronto is being talked about everywhere. And although we’d much rather be recognized for our burgeoning food truck scene, or our low unemployment rate, believe me when I say that most Torontonians couldn’t be more thrilled about our newfound relevance.
In her piece over at New York magazine, Michelle Dean argues that “a crack-smoking boor of a mayor brings another kind of spotlight” to Toronto, “and not the kind they wanted, not at all.” Wrong! She doesn’t know what it’s like to be a citizen in an understudy in the pantheon of great North American cities. Deea also fails to mention that Torontonians are renowned for their sense of humour. Her Facebook wall Twitter feed aren’t inundated with locals trying to extract every last chuckle from the whole sordid affair. Mine is.
It’s a very rare thing to see our city’s name splashed across the front page of every major news outlet in North America, unless it has something to with Drake, or to a lesser extent, the Toronto International Film Festival, which unfurls over ten days in the fall. Other than that, we’re an afterthought, a bench player, a kid at the back of the class with our hand raised, begging to be picked. We feel like we belong with the great metropolises of the world but it’s hardly mutual. I’ve travelled extensively, and have since learned a hard truth: People from other major cities know very little about Toronto, which I’ll admit, wounds my civic pride. They equate us with a mid-sized American city, like say, Cleveland. Ugh. I mean, we just narrowly missed being awarded the summer Olympics! We just eclipsed Chicago as the fourth largest city in North America! Mike Myers is from here!
I think a lot of Torontonians feel that way, which is why we make such a big deal about any kind of acknowledgement from cities that we admire or deem superior, like a travel write up in the New York Times, or London’s Jamie Oliver Instagramming a picture of the CN Tower (which was once the tallest freestanding structure in the world, if you must know.) It’s why Drake, who grew up feeling dogged by just about everybody, is the perfect mouthpiece for a city that always feels disrespected, and why he’s so adamant about proving to everyone that Toronto is the shit. And until now, he was the only one getting the word out. But thanks to Rob Ford, our jolly, rotund, crack-smoking mayor, we have a world class political scandal that makes the Anthony Weiner debacle look like an episode of Degrassi, and Toronto couldn’t be more proud.