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The weirdest mayoralty ever—the inside story of Rob Ford’s city hall

Rob Ford | The Incredible Shrinking Mayor

Other politicians might savour the chance to boast of such an intimate strategic summit, but Ford prefers to play good ol’ boy. “I don’t want to get into it,” he says with an aw-shucks shrug. “We just had a private day together and I caught some big fish. In fact, I think I actually caught the second biggest fish ever in his lake.”

Despite reports that Harper never baited a hook, he too seems to have felt he had a big one on the line. A month later, when the Fords hosted an invitation-only tribute to Flaherty in their mother’s backyard, the prime minister dropped by to cast further goodwill upon the waters. Lauding Diane Ford for nurturing a political dynasty, he urged Ford’s faithful to get back out on the hustings and work for what he termed a “trifecta”: a Conservative victory in the October provincial elections that would put every level of the region’s government in the party’s hands. At the time, that prospect still seemed like a distinct possibility, and it is a measure of how swiftly Ford’s approval ratings sank last fall that, only weeks later, Conservative leader Tim Hudak scrupulously avoided any association with the suddenly problematic mayor.

Still, with the Liberals’ tenuous hold on a minority government, Harper and Flaherty have a continuing stake in Ford’s fate. In March, when the prime minister came to town to break ground for the Island airport tunnel, he tried to give the beleaguered mayor a rhetorical boost with a personal testimonial on the joys of subways. At his side was Flaherty, who seems to feel responsible for the irrepressible Fords. During a meeting with the finance minister, one councillor recalls him telling her, “If you have any trouble with the boys, call me.”

When Rob Ford first ran for city council, even Doug Holyday wondered why he was the candidate, not his big brother, Doug, who was five years older, more gregarious and clearly the brains of the family. Today, Holyday has his own thoughts on the question. “I was always of the theory that Doug wanted to have his father and brother in politics,” he says, “because that gave him a freer hand to run the business.”

In the Ford family, business has always come first, and well before their father’s swift, devastating death from colon cancer in 2006, Doug Jr. had been handed the keys to that kingdom. Taking over as DECO’s president at 29, he expanded the company into the U.S., commuting every week to Chicago, where he established a foothold in the $15-billion North American label industry that has secured the family fortune—and thus the political franchise it helps underwrite.

As for that political franchise, few knew that the Fords had a long-term game plan. John Tory discovered it in 2003, when he was running for mayor against David Miller. Advised that he ought to seek out the blessing of Ford’s father, who was then regarded as the reigning power broker in Etobicoke, Tory arranged a lunch date with the retired MPP. When he arrived, he found Doug Sr. waiting to size him up along with Diane and all three of their burly blond sons. After an hour of pleasant chatter, Diane Ford got to the point. “She said, ‘Well, we think you’re a pretty good fellow and we’re going to support you for mayor,’ ” Tory recalls. “ ‘You can serve for a couple of terms and then it’ll be Robbie’s turn.’ ”

Tory was dumbfounded at that scenario. At the time, Rob Ford had already cemented his reputation as the odd man out on council, the lone obstructionist who voted against almost every motion and was widely dismissed as a buffoon. Ford’s colleagues would look on in trepidation whenever he rose to speak, bouncing from leg to leg with gathering fury, his voice rising as a tide of crimson flooded the flesh above his collar.

Six years later, when they tuned in to the mayoral debates, they were astounded by his transformation. Conservative campaign wizard Nick Kouvalis had bunked into a second-floor DECO boardroom, drilling Ford in focus and messaging techniques. Still, veteran councillor Pam McConnell was alarmed by his preternatural calm: “I thought, ‘What have they done to him?’ ” she says.

  • Torontonian

    Part of the problem with our current city council is that 1/2 those on council are determined that no matter what Ford does or says, they have to disagree. If he were to say water is wet, they would immediately take an opposing view. Council is disfunctional as a result, and there is no opportunity to reach a consensus on any item the Mayor champions, whether it is good for the city or not.

  • I.M. Fletcher

    Great article, Marci!

    We’re well aware of what Ford stand against (gravy! taxes! streetcars!), but I don’t get a sense of what he stands for. My idea of a mayor is someone who has a vision for the city they love, and can articulate it at a moment’s notice. Acknowledge the failings, but have ideas (or listen to others’ ideas) on how can we make it better together in a way that benefits as much of the city as possible. Topical example: for less money than it would cost to extend the Sheppard subway line, we could have LRT lines on Eglinton, Sheppard E., and Finch W., benefitting tens of thousands more people.

  • Ella

    Bravo to Toronto life!
    I am enjoying reading this. All 12 pages! I love that there is a place for in depth, well-researched and considered articles. As for the other person that commented, there are people on council that will agree with anything the mayor says or does (Doug Hall, Doug, Hollydale, Georgio).
    The Mayor has ideas that are not considered or research and he wants people to vote. He doesn’t like the 5 cent grocery bag surcharge. He doesn’t care about the environment or waste or good reason, we are expected to agree with him just because it is HIS opinion.

  • Martin

    @Torontonian, seriously. If Rob Fvcking Ford weren’t always so wrong, you’d find a whole lot more people on council agreeing with him. Thank gawd there are people there that will call him on his bullsh*t.

  • Mort D. Fame

    All this was covered by Seinfeld when George decided to do the “opposite”. The “opposite” was the right thing to do…….and this is how we should react to Mayor Ford. Anything he suggests, we should embrace the opposite and we will be right.

  • James

    Rob Ford, Doug Ford, and their shrinking coterie of hangers – on are an embarrassment of international proportions to Toronto. Their brain pans are far too small to provide the kind of leadership that our wonderful city requires. Unfortunately, we had already invited the world to visit us (Pan Am Games, World Pride 2014) to a city we were proud to show off – - proud, that is, before the Ford era started making everything that was wonderful the subject of small and petty ideological, not to mention untruthful, arguement. We are going to be ashamed before the world.

  • Jen

    @Torontonian – in the exact same way you accuse 1/2 the council of blindly opposing the mayors ideas, you failed to mention the litany of others who blindly support every idiotic idea that falls out of his mouth!

    He also has an entire ‘newspaper’ supporting him blindly in the Toronto Sun, and an entire radio show supporting him blindly on 1010. He’s a big boy who can, and should be able to handle his opponents.

    I’m so SICK of hearing Rob Ford and his lackeys complain about the public scrutiny around him, when his entire campaign and all of his platforms were designed to stir up controversy and deal exclusively in right-leaning extremes. It’s as if he expected the city to fall at his feet immediately after the election! He should learn to win people over with logic instead of brash vulgarity

  • Marc

    Great article. I agree with a previous comment – it’s nice to read a well-researched, measured piece – not a scattershot of editorial opinion. Nice work.

  • Torontonian

    Fair point – yes, there are those who blindly follow him as well, and they deserve equal criticism. The fact remains though that with everyone on council apparently picking a side and sticking to it, there is seemingly no room remaining to actually focus on what’s best for the city. There are flaws on both sides of council, and it’s a shame that there are sides at all.

    I certainly don’t agree with everything (ok, most things) that Mayor Ford proposes. But the reality is that if anyone in the media had undertaken this kind of critical analysis (above article) during the election we might have had a different outcome. And while the Sun may firmly cheerlead for Ford, the Star does a bang up job in the opposite direction…

  • iwill

    Here’s to Rob Ford winning another election! Keep up the good work Rob.

  • Kim

    It pains me that so many intelligent people waste their time and energy trying to understand Rob Ford. Let’s just call a spade a spade and devote our energy to more worthwhile causes. It’s unfortunate that he got elected and now we just have to bide our time until he’s gone and hopefully the person who takes over will right the wrongs that Ford has gotten away with. What I’m trying to say is that he isn’t worthy of the attention he is getting. Yes, he’s a moron and yes he has bad ideas and doesn’t know what he’s doing, but talking about him, writing about him and analyzing him ad nauseam won’t change anything. In fact, it probably makes a jackass like Ford feel really important and special; two things he is not.

  • Caligari

    It’s very unmayor-like and low-class for a sitting mayor to have a radio call-in show at all; it’s something you might expect in a hick town, but not in Canada’s largest city. Is Rob Ford in fact Mayor Tommy Shanks of Melonville?

  • Phil Resch

    @Torontonian … What people keep forgetting to take into account – about the divisiveness of Council – is that it is the Mayor’s job to make Council work. They Mayor is the leader. A leader’s job is to find compromise, to find a way to appease Council members who are doing their best to represent their respective Wards. To use a sports analogy, when a team loses it’s cohesion and is losing games because of that, the coach (leader) is fired and replaced with one that came make the team act as, well, a team.

  • scottd

    Toronto needs a full time mayor. If any of the dim wits who voted for him had ever bothered to follow City politics at all for the previous 10 years they would have known that Ford is a huge slacker when it comes to the vision thing.

  • Harold

    Seems enough people of Toronto decided that no one should be making a decent wage or any benefits if they work for Toronto.
    And elected a clown who should have been booted from council years ago , let alone become Mayor to do what Conservatives do best, and that is slash and burn jobs and services and continue raising taxes.

    Interestingly though this new Ford appointment for T.T.C. chair Stintz is a clown as well expecting Torontonians to absorb a 30 billion tax cost for her proposal, all the while the former Webster was fired and handed a 500,000 platinum handshake to leave when he had less than a year left in his contract and would have retired ( saving ) the Toronto taxpayers half a mill.
    The Circus continues…..

  • not living in TO

    Very good article – really knew nothing about him. The family problems aside – I don’t think he has the makings of a leader. A leader cannot bully to get his way – it does not work. I hope all residents read the article and realize the error in electing him as mayor. Maybe his mom should run LOL!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Daniel-Dreibelbis/551526113 Daniel Dreibelbis

    lately it seems he’s been less Mayor Tommy Shanks and more The Kids In The Hall’s Mayor Larry Buckman.

  • loveliving

    Rob Ford is a privileged white man who should not have even been allowed to run for Mayor in the first place. What person in this age, can be allowed to hold such a high position in a city of this size and economic stature without having college or university degree in business or law or a profession that is relevant to the position. The amount of mistakes he has made is what is “ridiculous.” I am afraid that as a city we have failed and I am wondering why things have to get so bad in Toronto before the media has spoken out. Where’s the exposé about the Ford cronyism and gang of backers who want to control the waterfront, potential subway contracts and now the casino. Why didn’t we hear about his constant disappearance from official city business. Why is the media only now talking about his obviously substance abuse problem? Why was he being propped up so long? It looks like a situation of white privilege. Even the dealers know that Rob Ford should not be Mayor. I only hope that Toronto votes properly next time, we need someone who has some credentials. We need some diversity. Time to give others a shot.

  • http://twitter.com/NadineLumley Nadine Lumley Real

    “Ford, Hudak and Harper: A trifecta cabal of
    republican-style, right wingers.”

    Our Prime Minister Stealin’ HarperCon was behind Ford’s
    appointment.

    And Mike Harris as well was behind Ford’s campaign (Rob
    Ford’s dad used to work for Mike Harris).
    With help from Guy Giorno, who happens to be Harper’s ex-Chief of Staff
    - and Guy Giorno used to be chief of
    staff to former Ontario premier Mike Harris.
    Guy Giorno was also the campaign manager in May 2011 during Harper’s
    infamous Robocall scanadal. Makes you go
    hmmmm.

    Are you starting to notice a neocon circle jerk going on
    here?

    http://www.thestar.com/News/Canada/article/428557

  • user xyyyz

    Every politician in Canada, federal, provincial, municipal should be required to have a drug test annually. If they fail they are gone. My 2¢

  • Vote Ndp

    I hope the TPS will be ready to arrest ex mayor Ford and admit him into rehab. once admitted, dont let him out until he’s clean and doesn’t have anymore psychiatric issues.

  • Well now

    Wow.
    Some sanity and light on this subject at last. Excellent journalism! Excellent
    writing! I would differ on a couple of points.

    The total lack of leadership did not result in a vacuum, per say. RF filled it with
    illegal activities, to what extent we do not know. Instead of a nice clean
    vacuum we have a horrid gory soul-destroying nation-wide mess.

    And for some reason the hands of the police and the justice system are tied. That
    is, just as council let itself be bullied, and after that then tried to keep up
    the pretense that all was ‘really OK’, so too the police could not arrest /
    stop RF when they had the chance. (Another topic which needs your analytic skills???
    :)

    As well, I do not think RF is capable of developing strategy. (Like a toddler he
    goes from one instance of instant gratification to another.) Instead, he
    stumbles on a set of phrases which a group of people like and he keeps
    repeating them. So now we have ‘the great divide’.

    There has been an ubiquitous pervasive, council wide, city wide and nation wide blindness happening. Because, really, how could we have ever imagined or believed such a deranged person could rise so high in politics, in this country?

    But it happened with the help of unlimited financial resources and various ego maniacs ganging up together to use one another. If council does not pull together on Wednesday to remove RF, then we will have gotten what we deserve.

  • Well now

    Wow.
    Some sanity and light on this subject at last. Excellent journalism! Excellent
    writing! I would differ on a couple of minor points, with the benefit of hindsight of course.

    The total lack of leadership did not result in a vacuum, per say. RF filled it with
    illegal activities, to what extent we do not know. Instead of a nice clean
    vacuum we have a horrid gory soul-destroying country-wide mess.

    And for some reason the hands of the police and the justice system are tied. That
    is, just as council let itself be bullied, and after that then tried to keep up
    the pretense that all was ‘really OK’, so too the police cannot seem to arrest /
    stop RF. Maybe he’s too close to Harper?

    As well, I do not think RF is capable of developing strategy. (Like a toddler he
    goes from one instance of instant gratification to another.) Instead, he
    stumbles on a set of phrases which a group of people like and he keeps
    repeating them. So now we have ‘the great divide’.

    There has been an ubiquitous, pervasive, council wide, city wide and nation wide blindness happening re RF. Because, really, how could we have ever imagined or believed such a deranged person could rise so high in politics, in this country?

    But it happened with the help of unlimited financial resources and various ego maniacs ganging up together to use one another. If council does not pull together on Wednesday to remove RF, then we will have gotten what we deserve.

  • Mark Spark

    Do you even know what a neocon is? Do you think Rob Ford checks with Washington and Tel Aviv before he decides to privatize garbage collection?

 

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