He was 46.
Few Toronto political figures captured the city’s imagination and ire quite like Rob Ford. The former mayor presided over a mayoral term marked by unprecedented controversy, one which inspired loyal supporters dubbed “Ford Nation” and passionate critics who opposed his policies, and eventually drew international attention to his behaviour. The mayor became a larger than life figure who, for better or for worse, single-handedly shaped Toronto’s political discourse.
Ford passed away Tuesday at Mount Sinai Hospital after living with cancer for the past 18 months. He was 46. The councillor for Ward 2, Etobicoke North is survived by his wife Renata, children Stephanie and Doug, mother Diane, and older siblings Doug, Randy, and Kathy.
An outsider as a city councillor for a decade, Ford frequently lost votes by 44-1 margins. But he turned his anti-establishment position into a winning formula. Successfully tapping into a sense of political alienation—particularly in Toronto’s inner suburbs—Ford argued City Hall was entitled and out of touch on his way to being elected mayor in 2010. With 47 per cent of the vote, he won large margins outside of the old city of Toronto as he defeated a former deputy premier of Ontario and deputy mayor of Toronto.
The series of events shocked longterm observers of City Hall who didn’t consider the councillor a serious contender until he built up a lead he would never relinquish in the polls.
Despite some quick early policy wins, like repealing the Vehicle Registration Tax, cancelling most of Transit City, and outsourcing garbage service west of Yonge Street, Ford proved more adept at campaigning than governing.
The unconventional Etobicoke politician presided over a tumultuous term that saw him lose major council votes at an unprecedented rate. He faced a council revolt over a plan to radically alter the Port Lands, lost his first major budget vote, saw his tenuous hopes for a subway on Sheppard revert to LRT, failed to bring a casino to Toronto, and lost about half of all significant votes in his term, by one measure.
The mayor also faced several court challenges, including one that looked like it would see him removed from office (the mayor won on appeal).
Later, Ford became an object of international mockery for his behaviour after allegations emerged about his crack cocaine use. The mayor also became embroiled in a police gang investigation, and publicly denied substance abuse for a year before committing himself to rehab.
He faced frequent charges of racism, homophobia, and misogyny. In an apparently inebriated state, he used several racial slurs, and bragged, “I’m the most racist guy around.”
Despite these challenges, Ford never gave up politically, and only seem emboldened by the opposition. He was always buoyed by 30 per cent of the electorate who would never abandon him—the Ford Nation who would listen to his weekly radio show, attend annual Ford Fests, and line up to purchase bobblehead dolls in his image.
Even after interrupting his 2014 mayoral campaign to attend rehab, the mayor did not resign or drop out from the campaign. That would come in September 2014 when he learned that he had cancer. The mayor dropped out of the race to run for the Ward 2 council seat, which he held from 2000 to 2010.
Although most of his time as a councillor was spent on the fringes, and he failed to implement much of his agenda as mayor, Ford has had a lasting impact on Toronto politics.
His mantras of “fighting for the taxpayer,” and “stopping the gravy train” clearly resonated with voters. Other politicians tried to mimic the rhetoric, and have pursued policies more in line with Ford’s in an attempt to either duplicate or limit his success.
But his political message was tied up in his personal image, and so his formula cannot be duplicated; for better or for worse, Rob Ford was one of a kind.