Paul Greenberg

Old-timers may recall the old days when Canadian politics were not just dull but almost blank. As empty as a modern white-on-white canvas depicting some vast snow belt in the featureless depths of Arctic winter.

But that was before Toronto's mayor and buffoon-in-chief changed Canada's image all by his outrageous self. Rob Ford seems a politician made for the times and tabloids -- like Anthony Weiner or Eliot Spitzer, a couple of New Yorkers who might be a better fit for New Orleans, or at least some of its seamier wards. (Would those two be allowed anywhere near the respectable Garden District? Surely they'd be stopped and sent right back to the French Quarter.)

Who knew the day would come when such types could be confused with, of all species, Canadians. The late Mackenzie King, PC, OM, CMG and nigh-eternal stuffed shirt of a prime minister, is definitely dead. And so is once standard Canadian respectability.

It used to be said in the long ago that Canada had some of the most beautiful scenery and dullest people in the world. In these more colorful climes south of the 49th Parallel, characters like Louisiana's Edwin Edwards and Earl K. Long ran around loose. And one governor of Illinois after another took up residence in a federal penitentiary.

Once upon a better time, trying to imagine an oafish, loudmouthed Canadian was like trying to picture Warren Christopher or Allen Dulles doing stand-up comedy. Just to dredge up their names is to forget them. And that's when they were still being dutifully mentioned in the morning papers, which must have been starved for copy.

Who would have thought that someday -- like now -- Canada would be where the hilarious/sordid action is. It seems Toronto's half-disgraceful, half-comic, all-bizarre all-the-time mayor was caught on tape smoking crack cocaine, threatening to kill somebody, and generally making an appalling ass of himself. Now he can't seem to stop embarrassing himself and what used to be his thoroughly respectable metropolis.

In the latest frame of the Rob Ford Show, taken as Toronto's city council was reducing him to a mayor in disgraced name only, the big lug charged right through a petite, 60-year-old councilor, knocking the poor little lady to the floor.

The visibly shaken Pam McConnell ("I just need to sit down," she said after being helped to her feet) sounded aghast. "This is the seat of democracy," she protested, "not a football field." Though after Rob Ford came rumbling through, it wasn't easy to tell the difference.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.