Global Politics

If you find it hard to understand Toronto's Mayor Ford, this might help

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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford during a city council meeting on November 15, 2013.

Credit:

Jon Blacker/Reuters

Toronto's mayor Rob Ford refuses to step down, after scandals involving smoking crack, drinking and verbal abuse. So this week, Toronto's City Council stripped him of some of his powers.

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We asked Marcus Gee, a long-time Ford watcher, to explain who Ford is, what he has done for Toronto, and what happens now.

Gee, a columnist for Canada's Globe and Mail, says Ford has always been an unusual politican and is a classic populist.

“He is an SUV driving, streetcar hating, right-wing kinda guy.”

And why doesn't Ford like public transportation? "Because it gets in his way when he drives," says Gee. "He's cursed streetcars many times because he gets stuck behind them on his way to city hall when he is driving his SUV in from the suburbs."

Ford came into office on a pledge to bring more efficiency and fiscal responsibility to city government, explains Gee.

There was a city-wide strike in 2009 and people in Toronto were also upset about city hall during the financial crisis. Ford was able to ride that wave of anger into office. He pledged to improve customer service, keep taxes down, and give the unions a good kick, says Gee. 

And Ford has kept some of those promises. He negotiated a fairly tough contract with the unions, he canceled one unpopular tax, and he tried to bring costs down. Gee feels many of Ford's claims of success, though, are exaggerated.

Gee does give him credit as a populist. For example, Ford answers constituents' calls. Even as the mayor of a major city, Ford takes a lot of time to answer calls from people complaining about backed-up sewers or fences that are deemed to be too high. Ford will call you back, says Gee, sometimes late at night. "And sometimes he even goes himself and checks out the fence," Gee says.

In our system of government, the city council is supreme, explains Gee. Since the mayor is only one of 45 people on the council, "mainly the job relies on the power of persuasion. He's lost so much of that now. The city council has turned their backs on him... even literally they turned their backs on him during a debate the other day while he was speaking. So it will be very tough to get things done. He is really mayor in name only."

Interestingly, Ford is popular with conservatives in the suburbs, but also with many new immigrants in the city who suffered from corruption in their homelands. To them, Ford looks like a straight shooter, who helps the little guy.  "So he is quite popular with the typical taxi driver," says Gee.