A night out at Ford Fest 2011.
Rob Ford holds a free party, generally known as Ford Fest, for his supporters each summer, behind his mother’s large Etobicoke home. This wasn’t particularly odd when he was a councillor—all of them hold community events from time to time—but now that he’s mayor of the entire city, one might have expected him to call the event off, or at least move it to a larger venue. He did neither. And so here is what it was like to party in Rob Ford’s mom’s backyard on Friday night.
Two of us arrived together at the North Etobicoke bus stop nearest the Ford residence, and we walked down a suburban street lined with medium-sized homes until we came to the front lawn. We could tell it was the right one because there was a line of about 30 people there, snaking into the rear. It was not immediately clear what they were queuing up for, but we joined them.
We talked amongst ourselves while the line moved, slowly.
“Did you see the Globe and Mail article about his personal phone bank? The flunkies who answer all his personal phone calls from constituents?”
“Er. He’s right in front of you.”
It turned out the line was a line to shake Rob Ford’s hand.
“Hello,” I said to him.
“Thank you,” he said. (No, thank you!) He gripped my hand. An assistant gave us each Ford’s business card, and a fridge magnet with the words “ROB FORD MAYOR” on it.
Rob Ford’s mom’s house is fairly large and has three storeys, but much like Ford himself it greets the public with an attempt at humility. Only two storeys are visible from the front, the top storey windows set into the shingles of a roof with sloped sides and a flat top, which gives the whole place the appearance, from the street, of a high-end steakhouse. The backyard is an intricately landscaped pleasure garden, large enough to accommodate hundreds of visitors at once. It has stone paths, an in-ground pool, and a diverse menagerie of bronze animal statues (a baboon, a kangaroo). Its centrepiece is a fountain, perhaps 10 feet tall, held aloft by three nude, bronze women. Two bronze turtles vomit jets of water into its basin. What appears to be a bronze heron perches on top.
By the pool was a large shed with a kitchen inside, where caterers were busy preparing free food for guests. A banner on the shed’s roof read: “WELCOME FORD NATION.”
The entire area was thronged with at least 500 people, most of them middle-aged, and all wearing Sharpied nametags, us included.
On a stage in one corner of the backyard, different dignitaries gave speeches to the crowd. Tim Hudak, the provincial PC leader, gave the most impassioned one of the night, part of what has been interpreted as a risky bid to ride what remains of Rob Ford’s coattails to electoral victory in October.
Then Ford himself gave a speech in which he reminded attendees of the various campaign promises he’s fulfilled since taking office. “We said we were going to do things,” he said. “We are doing ‘em, ladies and gentlemen. We are doing ‘em.” He promised the crowd that if there was a property tax increase in 2012, “I will guarantee that tax increase won’t be higher than two-and-a-half per cent.” Some of his council allies took the stage next to him, everyone wearing black Ford Fest–branded t-shirts. TTC chair Karen Stintz, who is rumoured to be on the outs with Ford’s administration, was notably not there.
The party began in earnest when Gently Bent, a band whose drummer is right-leaning Councillor Gary Crawford (Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest), took the stage and began playing covers of hits from the ’60s and ’70s. A fog machine shrouded them in mist, and coloured stage lighting pulsed in rainbow hues. The night began to seem like a hallucination. Was there LSD on that business card? No wait, Rob Ford wouldn’t know where to buy that stuff. He couldn’t even score oxycontin.
We lined up for food and a chef gave us each a grilled hamburger on a white bun. We ate those, and drank plastic cups of free beer and wine while Gently Bent played Beatles songs. Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North) waded into the crowd in front of the stage and spent the better part of an hour shaking hands and having his picture taken with smiling fans. Rob Ford spent most of the party out of sight.
The Ford family is pretty trusting of their constituency. There were no off-limits areas in the yard. The shades on the house’s windows hadn’t even been drawn. We glimpsed a wood-paneled living room with a giant-sized HDTV, next to a mantle with what looked like an elephant tusk on it. A second-floor dining room had stained-glass windows, tall and peaked like those in a cathedral. Every spare shelf held an expensive-looking figurine. Down below, on the deck, visitors lounged on the Fords’ patio furniture. It was like a family picnic, but enormous. Nobody misbehaved. There were private security guards on duty, though.
A little after 10 p.m. (by which point Gently Bent was a-little-more-than-gently bent and the songs were sounding less and less like we remembered them), a voice on the PA announced last call. In the front yard, someone set off fireworks that bathed the whole party in a colourful glow. We had enjoyed ourselves at Rob Ford’s party.
As we walked to the street, we happened to come upon Doug Ford shaking one last hand on his way inside the house.
“Thanks a lot,” I said.
“Take care, folks!” he replied.
And there we were, all just folks. This is evidently how municipal elections are won.