Most Edmontonians probably couldn’t tell you the name of Vancouver’s mayor. Or Montreal’s. I’m willing to be most Edmontonians couldn’t name the last two or three mayors of Toronto, either.
But Rob Ford? Now, that’s an entirely different matter. Toronto’s current mayor has become a national political celebrity – thanks both to his larger-than-life persona and his constant war with Toronto’s media. Whether he’s caught reading on the Gardiner Expressway, chasing journalists from his neighbourhood, or musing about deporting and banishing bad guys from the Toronto city-state like a latter-day Medici prince, Ford’s actions and words make news.
Still, the mere fact that Toronto’s pugnacious leading man was in Edmonton probably wouldn’t have been news – except for the fact that it came as a surprise to almost everyone. Had Ford’s office issued a press release, saying that he was coming to Edmonton for meetings and a holiday, most of us would have yawned. Somehow, the idea that he showed up unannounced, wandering the streets of downtown Edmonton, made his visit social media fodder.
Enter Glenn Kubish.
These days, Glenn is an upstanding banker-type, a communications executive with ATB Financial.
But those of us who are still ink-stained wretches remember well when the Kubes was one of us.
Before he went over the wall to do corporate PR for the Treasury Branch, Kubish was one of this city’s leading journalists – a former city hall reporter who became an editor and then a television executive. Over his 20+ year career in the media, he worked for Alberta Report, The Edmonton Sun, The Edmonton Journal, Global Television, andCTV.
Kubish may have left the biz – but he clearly hasn’t lost his news judgment.
Hence, when he spotted Toronto’s Falstaffian mayor in the area of the construction labyrinth which is Jasper Avenue and 101 Street this Thursday, he rolled down his window, said hello, and offered him a ride.
(Kubish may have given up “professional” journalism - but he maintains a charming personal blog, where you can read his own version of the encounter.)
Now, I understand perfectly well why Glenn would have offered the mayor a ride – he’s not only a writer with a keen story sense, he’s also a terribly nice man.
What still boggles and somehow delights me is that Rob Ford – a politician who’s earned his share of enemies – would get into the vehicle of a total stranger in a strange city. (And given Ford’s poisonous relations with the media in his own town, the fact that he willingly got into a car with a former city hall reporter and news editor is particularly ironic.)
Now, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Glenn Kubish for more than 30 years. We met in 10th grade, when we were cross-town high school debating rivals. We studied English Literature together at the University of Alberta. We worked together, first at Alberta Report and later at The Edmonton Journal. I know his character to be as sterling as his silver hair. But Ford didn’t know Glenn Kubish from a hole in the ground. And yet, he climbed into his car, and allowed himself to be given a mini-tour of Churchill Square and the Art Gallery of Alberta.
Some of this, I’m sure, has to be chalked up to Glenn’s self-deprecating boy-next-door charm. But I think this chance encounter also says something unexpectedly charming, almost naif, about Toronto’s populist mayor, and about Canada itself – that a controversial politician would trustingly accept a ride with a stranger in a strange land – and that Glenn Kubish would honour that trust, not by mocking him, but by writing quite a sweet account of their encounter.
At a time when civility in Canadian life, especially Canadian public life, seems under assault, how can you not be tickled by this story?
I hope Rob Ford enjoys the rest of his stay in Edmonton – we seems to have rolled out our very best weather. I hope that in addition to taking in an Eskimos game, that he and his wife might want down to Whyte Avenue to sample an onion cake and a Fringe play. (Perhaps the Fringe isn’t really Ford’s scene – but stranger things have happened. Already.) In the meantime, I want to thank him, and my old colleague Glenn, for giving us all a moment of impromptu street theatre worthy of any Old Strathcona stage.