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World's eye view of Ford's nation undimmed -- yet

Ford city brand blog
 Muddy waters: the world reflects on Rob Ford's city hall. Photo: AFP Geoff Robins/Getty Images

International fame has at last reached Toronto, via Mayor Rob Ford. And not in a good way.

Is being too drunk to remember smoking crack an explanation you would accept from your mayor?" read a tweet from CNN's Anderson Cooper.

“I don’t know what he’s saying, but it clearly looks like outtakes from Tommy Boy,” TV host Jon Stewart weighed in when a second, ranting video surfaced.

And satirist Stephen Colbert, in a mock Ford apology, joked, “have I lied to you about never smoking crack? Yes I have. Is that the worst thing in the world? Does that make me a murderer? No. Have I ever murdered anyone? Yes, but that was in the past. While I was high on crack. In the present, I am not murdering anyone.”

From New York to New Zealand, it seems, everyone has now heard of Toronto.

Writing in the National Post,London-based writer Afsun Qureshi commented, “the one upside of this sad, sorry mess is that the whole winter wonderland, maple syrup, happy clappy, quaint cliché of Canada that still annoyingly prevails in the UK has been re-written just a little. Now we are seen as drugged-up overfed losers with an ineffective police force and a public with strange voting habits. Like I said, thanks for that, Mr. Mayor.”

So is Toronto’s clean-and-safe, tourist-and-business-friendly image up in smoke?

Not according to British expert Simon Anholt, whose Anholt-GfK Roper City Brands Index ranked Toronto ninth in its 2013 survey for overall image, but only 28th on familiarity (although the latter may have abruptly changed.)

“There is a huge amount of vague, general, positive goodwill tied up in the international image of Canadian cities and provinces, which it would be extremely hard to damage in any serious or permanent way,” Anholt said in an email.

Furthermore, “we don’t change our minds about cities just because of one rogue mayor:  you’d need Ford-type mayors running the city for at least a generation before people around the world started thinking that Toronto was somehow less admirable than the country in which it is located.”

And still on the bright side, Ford has taken over the well-worn stereotype of the “Ugly American” – an out-of-control, loudmouthed, obscene, violent, drunken aggressive slob.” However, “since the one thing everybody in the world knows about Canada is that it’s not America, they will probably regard him as what he is: an anomaly.”

Whew! At least, until 2014.

Olivia Ward has covered conflict, politics and human rights from the former Soviet Union to the Middle East and South Asia, winning national and international awards.


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