Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Rob Ford's tangled views on social programs for youth

By: Matt Elliott Metro, Metro Canada Published on Thu Jul 26 2012

This week's burning question: How is it that Mayor Rob Ford can so aggressively oppose the idea of increased funding support for social programs while simultaneously talking about the positive impact his own youth programs have had in low-income communities?

In other words, how can the mayor denounce the role youth programs can play in curbing gang violence when he himself runs a youth football program that has surely been effective at keeping kids away from gangs and violence?

It doesn't make any sense. One of the things that makes Rob Ford so personally likeable is his extreme devotion to his role as a football coach in Rexdale and the Rob Ford Football Foundation charity. The mayor's got a passion for the positive impact he's had on kids. When he decided to continue coaching even after he was elected to the city's top political office, I saw it as incredibly endearing—a coach, and a mentor, opting not to abandon his players.

In the past, Ford has sounded like a regular bleeding heart when explaining the importance of the football program he kickstarted nearly a decade ago with his own money. He's pointed out that more than half of the 80 players he coaches at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School live in public housing. As part of a National Post feature a few years back, Ford got right to the core of the matter: “Many of the kids on this team don't have fathers in their lives anymore – some never did.”

In the same article, Ford directly credited his program with helping an NFL-bound player avoid a life of violent crime: “If it wasn't for football, I'm absolutely sure he would be dead or in jail.”

Ford believes in the program he started at Don Bosco so much that he's actively—sometimes too actively—worked to spread similar programs across the city. Earlier this year, he told a local newspaper that he hoped to see one or two football programs at every school in the city, noting that the programs help “turn kids' lives around.”

Ford connected the dots a long time ago. This is a mayor who has seen and understands the benefits of youth programs that keep students in school and engaged in recreation. He's also served as a mentor, going so far as to appear as a character witness for one of his players at a Toronto courthouse.

So how is it that the same mayor can go on talk radio and dismiss similar efforts as “hug-a-thug programs”? How can he vote against a series of city grants to similar organizations that are working to bring the same level of engagement to youth in other neighbourhoods? Do young people really care whether their program is funded with private or public funds?

When it comes to youth violence in the poorest areas of the city, Ford already knows the best play.

A final note about the mayor's annoying use of “hug-a-thug” to describe youth programs. Last year, the Globe & Mail's Patrick White was on-hand to cover the do-or-die final regular season game for Ford's Don Bosco Eagles. After an undefeated season, the team—none of whom should ever be described as thugs—lost the game and missed the playoffs in a heartbreaker.

White's article concludes with this:

At the final whistle, Mr. Ford looked at the heavens. He’d coached his last game for the season and gone down 41-22. A senior defensive end, Jeremy French, ran crying into his arms. “You’ve been a dominant player for five years, son,” said Mr. Ford, bear-hugging the young man for nearly 10 seconds. “You've had a great career. You played well. You’re out on a high note.”

Ford would do well not to dismiss the value of a good hug.

This post was originally published at on 2012-07-26T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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