For a political wife, Renata Ford is an enigma—neither humanizing homemaker nor independent careerist. So who is she?
Renata Ford is the invisible wife. Most Torontonians caught their first glimpse of her on election night: a smiling, slender blonde, wearing a jacket constructed of leathery gold leaves and standing one step back from her triumphant husband. Immediately afterward, she disappeared from public view. Today Renata remains an enigma, the first mayoral spouse about whom almost nothing is known, including her age, background and occupation.
In Canada, the media generally regard political spouses as off limits. They are, after all, unelected and unpaid. Nowadays, as women out-earn their husbands, head up political parties and dominate graduate-school enrolment, there is less of an obligation or even an expectation for a political wife to play a public spousal role. David Miller’s wife, Jill Arthur, declined, but at least we knew she was a lawyer at the Ontario Court of Appeal.
So is the media discreet, or merely cowardly? You be the judge: a rumour has been circulating for months now about the infidelity of a high-level political wife in Ottawa, possibly involving a female RCMP officer. And yet not a whiff has made it into print (until now). It’s the kind of rumour tabloids and talk shows love in the U.S., Britain and France, and for good reason: a politician’s home life speaks to his character.
In Canada, deference to authority is embedded in our political DNA. We’ve never fought a war of independence, guillotined a king and queen or rammed a Magna Carta down the throat of a recalcitrant monarch. That doesn’t mean we aren’t curious about the personal lives of politicians. A literal bedfellow is a confidante, someone with a potential influence on public policy.
So what’s it like to be married to Rob Ford? A fiscal hawk might be great for taxpayers, but not so great if he’s your husband and (probably) the main breadwinner. I know that if I had two toddlers at home, I’d be less than thrilled if my husband spent hours every week coaching high school football, and occasionally brought home troubled team members for sleepovers. I’d ask, “Honey, where are your priorities?” The city has asked the same question. Surely the mayor of Toronto won’t have time for charity work. Ford’s reply: he’d give up coaching to tend to city business only if a suitable replacement could be found.
Imagine being married to someone who claims to have personally returned more than 200,000 calls in the past decade. A YouTube video of a campaign appearance shows Renata sitting at her husband’s side, nodding like a bobble-head doll, while he waves a fridge magnet with his telephone number on it and tells the audience, “I return phone calls personally.”
As this city’s mayor, will Ford ever stop being receptionist-in-chief? After I left several messages, I received one of his famous 54.8 returned calls per day (although exactly why he bothered is a mystery).
Ford: “Hi, this is Rob Ford.”
Me: “Wow. So you really do return calls.” I quickly repeated my voice mail—that I was a journalist, writing about him and Renata.
Ford: “All media has to go through Adrienne Batra.”
Me: “Well, can you at least tell me how old Renata is?”
Ford: “Sorry, you have to go through Adrienne.”
Me: “Can you tell me when you were married?”
Me: “Well, is your person going to set something up?”
Ford: “You have to go through her.”
Batra, his press secretary, and various assistants all declined my repeated requests for an interview with the Fords and refused to answer any questions.