Fighting controversy: the ups and downs of populist mayor Rob Ford
Brett Mitchell, W5 Senior Producer
Published Saturday, April 6, 2013 10:00AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, April 6, 2013 11:05PM EDT
Not a week goes by it seems, without Toronto Mayor Rob Ford generating the kind of headlines that would devastate most politicians.
He’s faced down conflict of interest charges and a lawsuit for defamation; he’s been accused of groping a colleague at a public function and he’s been photographed reading while driving.
Most recently, the Toronto Star reported that Ford had a drinking problem and was asked to leave a public function. His response was typical Ford bluster.
“It’s just lies after lies after lies. I’ve called you pathological liars and you are so why don’t you take me to court,” Ford said.
“You can cover politics a long time and never encounter somebody who is so genuinely so unsmooth, so guileless,” said Ed Keenan, a city hall reporter and author of ‘Some Great Idea: Good Neighbourhoods, Crazy Politics and the Invention of Toronto.’
“I think that part of why he got put into power is because that to a certain degree, [he] appealed to a lot of people. That guilelessness, that lack of polish. There’s an appearance of authenticity there. It’s not just an appearance that is the authentic Rob Ford.”
John Parker can vouch for that authenticity. As a Toronto city councillor, he’s worked alongside Rob Ford since 2006.
Prior to that, he was an Ontario Progressive Conservative backbencher in the Mike Harris government where he served alongside Rob Ford’s father, Doug Ford Sr.
“Rob Ford struck me as a younger version of his father. Built the same way, with the same common sense, straightforward, homespun sense of good and bad, right and wrong,” said Parker.
But even political allies like Parker have grown weary of Ford’s propensity to bring unwanted attention to himself.
“I think we’re all disappointed that when the mayor’s profile rises, it’s usually for all the wrong reasons. And it’s for reasons that we wouldn’t want either, so that can’t be good for any of us.”
Whether Rob Ford is good for Toronto is debateable, but he is indisputably good for one group of people, comedians.
Ford’s foibles have been a fodder for political cartoonists and political satirists. He’s been parodied in online music videos, on stage in ‘It’s a Wonderful Toronto: The Rob Ford Holiday Spectacular!’ and perhaps, most memorably, he was a target of Mary Walsh’s Princess Warrior persona on the CBC program ‘This Hour Has 22 Minutes’.
While other politicians and celebrities generally play along during encounters with Walsh’s Princess Warrior character, Ford took offence.
“He called 911,” recalled Walsh. “He has 911 on speed dial.” As for his value to comedians, “he’s the gift that keeps on giving,” said Walsh.
Nevertheless, according to veteran campaign organizer John Laschinger it is unclear whether the negative public attention will do Ford any harm when he faces Toronto voters during the next municipal election in October 2014.
“A populist can get away with a lot of things,” Laschinger told W5.
Laschinger maintained that Ford’s common touch has an enduring appeal to a significant part of the electorate.
“They say, ‘You know what, he’s a real guy, just like me. You know he’s a real guy, he’s sincere, he’s trying. He’s trying to do his best. He’s not the smartest guy in the world but he cares, you know, and he’s cut some gravy.’ So I mean, I never underestimate a conservative populist to get elected.”
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