For the past few years, there has been an unwritten rule in Canadian politics. When it comes to Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor, Rob Ford, always expect the unexpected.
Last week, Ford was diagnosed with a tumor near his abdomen. He’s currently in the hospital, receiving treatment and waiting for test results from a biopsy. This health scare, which unfortunately fits the pattern of Ford’s turbulent career, saddened many Canadians. No matter what one thinks of this controversial politician, most decent people wish him well.
Well, there was nothing po-faced about the next six months. More videos came out, including ones showing Ford in the company of a rumored drug dealer; doing professional wrestling/UFC moves in a off-beat manner; and making negative comments — in a Jamaican patois — about the Toronto police while he was intoxicated.
In what could be called his coup de grâce, Ford denied accusations that he had engaged in sexual relations in his office. As he was about to enter an elevator, he told a pack of stunned reporters: “It said I want to eat her pussy. I’ve never said that in my life to her. I would never do that. I’m happily married. I’ve got more than enough to eat at home.”
Major news publications (the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, even Le Monde), TV stations (Fox News, CNN, BBC), and late-night talk-show hosts (Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart, David Letterman) couldn’t get enough of the Toronto mayor’s loose lips and crazy antics. In fairness, who could blame them? The insanity occurring in my relatively sane city was just too good to pass up.
Let’s be frank: This sort of media circus would have destroyed the careers of most politicians, irrespective of political stripe. But Ford isn’t your average politician. He seems to be made of teflon. He has a strong and loyal base of supporters (the so-called Ford Nation). Many Torontonians didn’t seem to be as bothered by his many foibles as perhaps they should be.
Finally — and mercifully — Ford took a leave of office from May 1 to June 30 and entered rehab. It was a wise decision. He lost weight, regained his composure, and looked eager to get back to work. And, to his credit, he kept his nose clean during the summer months.
Meanwhile, Ford’s mediocre poll numbers were improving. He was in second place and definitely in the hunt. This was aided in large part by the lackluster campaigns of his two main contenders: John Tory (a moderate conservative adored by many centrist Liberals) and Olivia Chow (a left-wing New Democrat with socialist views and values).
Even though some Toronto conservatives were still unsure how they were going to vote on October 27, Ford was a top contender. This included me, one of his former supporters. While I couldn’t have voted for the embarrassing crack-smoking mayor, I was more than willing to consider Rob Ford 2.0.
Rob Ford’s health scare ended this discussion in a hurry. More to the point, the timing was horrible. The mayor received his diagnosis late in the day on September 10, and the deadline to be a municipal candidate was the early afternoon of September 12.
This led to what I now like to call the Ford Shuffle. Three stunning political switches were made before the 2 p.m. EST deadline that caught everyone off-guard:
1) Rob Ford dropped out of the mayor’s race because of his health problems. He will run in his old city council seat in Ward 2.
2) Doug Ford, the mayor’s older brother and current Ward 2 city councilor, will run for mayor of Toronto. He had previously announced he wouldn’t run in this election.
3) Michael Ford, the young nephew and political neophyte who was going to run in Ward 2 in his uncle’s place, will now stand for school trustee.
Who is Doug Ford? For years, he was heavily involved in the private sector. He’s a co-owner of Deco Labels and Tags, a company co-founded by his father, Doug Ford Sr. (a former one-term Progressive Conservative MPP in Ontario). When his younger brother ran for mayor, Doug Ford decided to succeed him in Ward 2. He won with over 70 percent of the vote and became his brother’s closest political ally.
To be sure, Doug Ford has also made his share of controversial comments. This includes a long-running public spat (and nearly a lawsuit) with Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair over the crack video, and reportedly saying that a group home with some autistic children had “ruined the community” and hurt property values.
That’s why Toronto Sun columnist Lorrie Goldstein, who called Doug Ford “a smart businessman,” wrote the following: “Should Doug Ford become mayor, the paralysis at City Hall will be even worse than if Rob Ford had managed to get re-elected. The city’s relations with Queen’s Park (given Doug Ford’s constant musings about running for the provincial Tories) will be even more of a train wreck. Four more years of political paralysis is not what Toronto needs right now.”
Yes, Doug Ford is a different political animal than Rob Ford. He’s not a populist, and he doesn’t have the folksy personal appeal of his younger brother. On the other hand, he’s intelligent, has real business acumen, is a solid strategic thinker and, most important, lacks the mayor’s litany of personal problems. (It’s also worth noting that he donates his annual councilor’s salary to community groups.)
Doug Ford’s sudden candidacy does have some real political advantages from a communications standpoint. For instance, he’s running in his ailing younger brother’s name. He’s putting family first and abandoning his previous decision to leave politics. He will get voter sympathy on two fronts: his brother’s health scare and his decision to run for mayor with so little time left in the campaign.
Will all of this lead to a Doug Ford victory? An early snap poll by Forum Research last week had Tory at 41 percent, Ford at 34 percent, and Chow at 19 percent. Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale wrote that Doug Ford is “in a competitive second place.” From where I stand, that’s not a bad start. With some momentum, he could end up winning.
As for Rob Ford, he’s already reportedly at 59 percent support in Ward 2. Even if he never leaves his hospital bed during the campaign, he should win his old seat comfortably.
You’ve really got to hand it to the Ford family. Even in the worst of circumstances, they’re able to find ways to turn the tables to their advantage. This switch in the mayor’s race could work to their advantage.
— Michael Taube is a columnist for the Washington Times and a former speechwriter for Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.