Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Rob Ford is finally boring — and that's good for his political career

By: Matt Elliott Metro, Metro Canada Published on Fri Jul 05 2013

In the days after Mayor Rob Ford won an appeal in his conflict of interest trial and kept himself from getting turfed, I offered the mayor this piece of advice for his next political chapter: be super boring.

Ford, I reasoned, doesn't lack for name recognition. Everyone knows who he is. After weathering a long list of personal scandals and legal challenges, the mayor's best move was to focus on the most boring aspects of the job and stay out of the headlines for a while.

That was five months ago. The mayor did not take my advice in the aftermath of the court decision. He didn't seem to take anyone else's advice either. Instead, the personal scandals got bigger and uglier, even though nothing seemed to entirely stick. He was accused of getting kicked out of an event for being intoxicated. There was a horribly depressing episode involving sexual assault allegations. He hired his high school football coach but then refused to explain what exactly he was hired to do. He stuck a bunch of magnets on cars. And then, well, there was crack. Allegedly.

But things have changed. I don't know if the crack scandal was simply a political rock bottom, but over the past few weeks the mayor has made a surprising and effective turnaround. He's been available, but mostly uninteresting — focusing on issues like the land transfer tax, reducing the size of city council and the general state of Toronto Community Housing.

In other words, Ford's been pretty boring — and it's been the best thing for his political career in months.

The signs are hard to ignore. Ford has stepped up his event attendance schedule to the point where he's made almost daily appearances. He's finally started letting the media know sometimes when he's going to show up somewhere. He even made his long-awaited debut appearance at a Pride event, heading off some simmering criticism. He's seized on council issues and actually given press conferences where he takes questions. Yeah, he doesn't answer much — any questions about the drug scandal get brushed off with a quick “anything else?” — but it still shows a certain savvy and willingness to play the game that the mayor hasn't always embraced.

As he's done it, the number of cameras and reporters following city hall stories has declined. The shouted questions have quieted. We're back to business.

The summer looks to be good for him, too. He'll get to spend it campaigning for his buddy Coun. Doug Holyday, and the mayor loves nothing if not campaigning. He's got a Ford Fest tonight in Scarborough, where a bunch of people will gather to stand in seemingly endless lines and generally reignite their passion for Ford Nation. And, best of all, he's just been handed a gimme by one of his likely opponents in the 2014 mayoral race — in mid-July, there's a good chance TTC chair Karen Stintz will vote with him to build a subway into Scarborough.

That'll be seen as a big win — something that seemed unfathomable for this mayor a month ago, when he was in full-on threat level midnight crisis management mode. I'm convinced it was mostly dumb luck that saw the mayor get through the crack scandal without more damage. Conspiracy theories that have shadowy forces in the employ of the mayor buying the alleged video and disposing of it don't really work for me. More likely is that the mayor opted for a strategy to simply sit and wait things out. That was an incredibly risky play, but it worked.

So far, anyway.

I doubt very much that there won't be another news item in the mayor's future that sends reporters scrambling back to their camp-out sites in front of his office. Ford's greatest enemy will always be himself. But it needs to be acknowledged that, for the first time in a while, the mayor is doing a lot of things right. And if he somehow manages to stick to the boring stuff — the issues, the taxes, the subways — and keeps that enemy in check, his chances of earning another four years start to look a whole lot better.

This post was originally published at on 2013-07-05T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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