Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Oh, brother: Doug Ford remains mayoral liability

By: Metro Canada Published on Wed Jun 20 2012

Okay, so there won't be a provincial election. Probably. That's a good thing. Except for this: now how are we going to get rid of Doug Ford?

The possibility of a snap election in Ontario was a golden opportunity to push the Etobicoke councillor—better known as “the mayor's brother”—out of City Hall and away from municipal government. He's always wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and serve as an MPP. At Queen's Park, the eldest Ford brother would likely have less influence than he has now, plus he'd be mired in the world of party discipline and boring parliamentary process. And he wouldn't be able to meddle with the civic issues that most impact Toronto.

But my desire to see Doug Ford off council doesn't have a lot to do with ideology or personal politics. Realistically, turfing Doug would be good for everybody: left-leaning, right-leaning, centrist or whatever else. It would even be good for Mayor Rob Ford.

Yes, the mayor loves his brother and they built a strong and successful campaign together. But all the facts since then point to Doug as one of Rob Ford's biggest political liabilities. At City Hall, Doug has had the incredible ability to take bad ideas and make them worse. He's played a role in almost every single screw-up, gaffe or defeat this administration has suffered.

If he's legitimately trying to support his brother, Doug Ford is doing a spectacularly bad job.

As a recent example, look to the mayor's big “Cut the Waist” challenge, by all accounts an idea cooked up and pushed forward by Doug Ford. The challenge was supposed to be a popularity-boosting spectacle, simultaneously rallying Toronto around a healthy message while also reinforcing the regular-joe image that resonates with Ford Nation. But it quickly turned into the world's saddest circus. Goals went unmet and the vaunted public weigh-ins became increasingly awkward media appearances that were often cancelled at the last minute.

The sadness culminated at the final weigh-in on Monday when the mayor didn't lose any weight and then literally fell off the giant industrial scale that's been parked outside his office since January. He then limped away, muttering about how he should have done better.

Meanwhile, Doug Ford—who lost 35 pounds, though “he didn't even try”—joked with the media about his own success.

It's hard to find any value in the nearly six-month affair. The weight-loss contest didn't actively distract from other political issues—the mayor still got hammered on his budget, on transit and even on plastic bags—and it didn't seem to spark a major weight-loss effort amongst Torontonians. The media, for their part, treated it as their only regular opportunity to ask the mayor direct questions. (Because it was.) Even the charitable angle proved dubious—when asked about it, Doug Ford wasn't sure how much money had been raised and the Fords' custom-built website doesn't track actual donations.

And that's not even the most egregious example of Doug Ford leading the mayor down a bad path. Last September's debate on the future of the port lands was a similar case where an idea pushed by Doug (Ferris wheels! Monorails!) spectacularly exploded, leaving a chasm of failure behind. That vote was a turning point—since then, councillors have been more eager to vote against the mayor's team on key issues.

And then there are the smaller, more frequent stories about Doug Ford—the exasperating, headline-grabbing stuff. He told protestors at a City Hall meeting to “get a job.” He bragged about confronting a bike courier in downtown Toronto, saying that he could “kick his ass in ten seconds.” He said he'd close a library in his ward “in a heartbeat.” He called out Margaret Atwood, who he claimed to have never heard of. He threatened an activist in the council chamber and then later called him a snake in a speech on the council floor. He tosses around the word “socialist” like it's a synonym for a half-dozen other words, none of which actually relate to modern socialism.

Put simply: he gets a lot of press for a lot of reasons, none of which are overly helpful to the mayor's office. When Press Secretary Adrienne Batra left her City Hall post, it was widely assumed that Doug Ford—and his predilection for speaking on behalf of the mayor's office—was one of her big motivators for stepping down. Former Chief of Staff Nick Kouvalis has also criticized the near-constant presence of the mayor's brother.

Rob Ford would almost definitely be a better mayor without Doug Ford around. Doug's political style—he's a born schmoozer—contradicts the mayor's reserved, lone-wolf approach. Where Rob at least seems to have a familiarity with Toronto, its history and its politics, Doug often seems to want to just turn the whole city into Chicago—the city where he's spent a lot of his time over the last decade.

With Doug gone, mayoral staff would have an outside chance of controlling messaging around key issues. They wouldn't have to worry as much about their platform being hijacked by rogue comments. And the possibility of turning the corner on what has been a politically disastrous year would be slightly less remote.

But with a provincial election off the table for now, the mayor is stuck with Doug Ford for a while yet. Always his brother's keeper.

This post was originally published at on 2012-06-20T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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