In a game of municipal musical chairs, multiple Fords are now running for office on the grounds that they are entitled to do so, because they are Fords.
So things went a little bit nuts at the City Hall registration desk on Friday as Rob Ford pulled out of the mayoral race; Doug Ford took his place in the mayoral race; nephew Michael Ford withdrew his candidacy for Doug’s (formerly Rob’s) council seat in Ward 2 (Etobicoke North); Rob signed up to run in that old council seat; and, finally, Michael filed papers to compete for school trustee in Etobicoke North (which encompasses city council wards 1 and 2—the school board has half as many wards as council does).
While we wish Ford a speedy recovery—this is not how we’d ever wish to see him leave the mayor’s office—this isn’t just about him. These decisions are about the future of Toronto, and it is staggering to see the arrogance on display here from the entire Ford family.
The hubris of Rob Ford: simply issuing a statement that he cannot compete for the mayoralty given his current medical condition while simultaneously thinking, hey, Ward 2 is totally fine. If there is a better example of the sense of ownership and entitlement Ford has always demonstrated towards his home ward, we’re hard-pressed to identify it. Rob has been skipping campaign events (and the duties of his office) more and more frequently over the past few weeks, presumably because of his tumour and the pain it has been causing him, and will have to skip many more since he is effectively bedridden. From all this he concludes not that he needs to step back from public life and tend to his health, but that he can still run, just for a slightly less demanding office.
The message Rob is sending through his actions is very simple: he does not believe that he has to compete in his home ward—he doesn’t even have to show up. He is saying that he owns those votes, and he doesn’t need to knock on anyone’s door to earn them.
Certainly Rob Ford is still popular in Ward 2, but, as a general rule, even wildly popular politicians campaign at least a little in their own jurisdictions and meet the people who they hope to represent, because it’s important to show your constituents that you give a damn. Ford quite possibly does give a damn, but just not enough to actually put his former constituents first and ensure they are represented by someone who will be in a position to do the work a councillor should: go to committee and council meetings, attend events in the ward, conduct community consultations, and, yes, fix potholes and streetlights (which is the purview of a ward councillor if not a mayor). He is, to be frank, putting his own desire to continue in elected office above the well-being of the people he would be serving if he were to win. In the end, it has always, always been about what Rob wants rather than what his constituents need, and what Rob wants is a never-ending sense of public validation.
The hubris of Doug Ford: jumping into the mayoral race at literally the last possible moment. Of course, we say “the last possible moment,” but reports are already surfacing that this has been a long-standing backup strategy, originally devised as a contingency plan if Rob’s substance abuse made it impossible for him to run for re-election. But far more important than how the Fords arrived at this decision, whether their hand was forced or if this was all part of an overall strategy: where Rob feels entitled to Ward 2, Doug feels entitled to Rob’s entire city-wide campaign. He feels entitled to it even though last summer, when he told reporters he wasn’t running for re-election, he said he’d be “running away from this place” as soon as Rob’s re-election bid was complete.
Not to state the obvious, but Doug is not Rob. Whatever the motives for Rob Ford’s constituent work, he did it for over a decade and through it earned a network of political support the old-fashioned way. Doug just showed up in 2010 and said, “I’m with him.” Certainly over the last four years Doug has made it clear that he thinks his primary job is to be “the real mayor”: he takes many of Rob’s press conferences, talks for Rob at every possible opportunity, and goes in and out of the mayor’s office like it was his own. Doug walked into City Hall the day he took office with far more power than any rookie councillor ever has, simply in virtue of his relationship with his brother. And this was not just to serve as Rob’s mouthpiece: Doug acts in importantly different ways. He is more combative, and was also the driving force behind proposals like a giant Ferris wheel on the waterfront that even Rob ended up needing to walk back. Doug is not and never was the mayor. Nobody voted for Doug as mayor, because they’re two different people, not one congolomerated mass that exists only to present people a Ford to vote for. And yet Doug stands up and tells the residents of Toronto that Rob has passed the baton, as though mayoral campaigns were a set of heirloom family candlesticks.
(As an aside: Doug replacing Rob in the mayoral race benefits Olivia Chow more than anyone, because no longer can John Tory just silently stand there and let everybody say, “Well, he’s got Rob Ford’s policies minus all of the crack.” Now John Tory will have to differentiate himself from Doug Ford on policy, which will be difficult considering they generally have the same policy inclinations. In his press conference reacting to the news of the mayoral musical chairs, Tory called Doug an “insult machine” and said he was possibly worse for Toronto than Rob. Doug, known for his violent temper, often has his buttons pushed, and Tory’s best strategic play is to try to push them and spur Doug into public outbursts. This would enable Tory to continue to quietly avoid pointing out how conservative he himself is.)
The hubris of Michael Ford: registering for two elected offices for which he is manifestly unqualified. His experience relevant for being a school board trustee is that he was, until relatively recently, in school. We suppose that’s better than his experience relevant to being a city councillor for Ward 2, which is effectively nonexistent. “Growing up in Ward 2” doesn’t count, because there are literally thousands of residents who have lived in Ward 2 longer than Michael Ford has been alive.
This isn’t about Michael Ford being young; after all, mayoral candidate Morgan Baskin is younger than he is, and we all congratulate her—rightly—for her civic involvement. But Baskin’s campaign engages with the public and press: she wants to be held accountable for her positions and ideals. Michael, on the other hand, has been running a simultaneously fearful and entitled campaign since day one, refusing to attend debates and refusing to grant interviews. It’s not even clear if he’s been canvassing. Michael is running, very simply, on the fact that he is a Ford, and therefore deserves votes. (Doug Ford made this crystal clear some weeks ago when he explained that “politics is in [his] blood.”)
All in all, this has been a banner moment for the Fords, who are—lest we forget—the unimpressive and undistinguished scions of the late Doug Ford, Sr., a man who actually accomplished substantial things in his life and then made the mistake of letting his children believe they were more than the incredibly lucky people they are. (Doug is the most capable, and he topped out at “take existing successful company and not mess it up.”)
With these choices, the Fords have demonstrated, once again, that they do not appreciate their supporters or the people of Toronto generally. Certainly we all knew they didn’t appreciate people who didn’t support them—though some are their constituents also—but it’s amazing to see them take for granted the people who have so devotedly supported them throughout their tumultuous, disastrous municipal careers. Or, maybe, it’s less than amazing. It depends on what you expected from the Fords. Most of us have learned to expect only the least.