With Canada’s mainstream newspapers asking the mayor of Toronto to step down and humourists worldwide making a caricature of Rob Ford, it seems as though no one could conceive a single person voting him to power again.
Yet, none of this rubs off on the indomitable representative of Canada’s most immigrant-rich city who continued his take-no-prisoners approach in Ottawa last week, calling his fellow mayors a “lefty caucus.”
Yet, some expect that “Ford Nation” could rise and give Toronto a surprise in the coming elections.
“He’s been making a laughingstock of the country; that’s a reality. Nobody likes that,” said Maria Tavares, administrator of the First Portuguese Canadian Cultural Centre. “But as a mayor, I don’t think he’s done nothing to deserve that.
“What he did in his own personal time, that’s his own problem,” she said, adding that she sees no issues with the way the mayor has managed the city’s affairs.
“I am his fanatic. I support the mayor because he thinks about needs of community, of people and he does not want to increase taxes. That’s why I will vote for him,” said the secretary of the Jewish Russian Community Centre of Ontario, who did not wish to be identified.
Resonating with diverse communities
Mr. Ford’s simple messages such as cutting taxes and building new subways appear to have bred a constituency the mainstream media calls “Ford Nation,” the term used to describe supporters in Toronto’s suburbs.
“If you’re a newcomer and you’re struggling and if you don’t feel like you necessarily fit in with the prevailing elite in your new society, [his message] is attractive,” said Phil Triadafilopoulos, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto.
He said while it is impossible to determine who cast ballots for him in 2010 — because of the lack of research on immigrant voting patterns — he sees the appeal Mr. Ford can have on new immigrants.
“He spoke very clearly,” said Pablo Vivanco, an activist in Toronto’s Hispanic community. “What he said really resonated with people who live in the suburbs and have different concerns from downtowners.”
Any press is good press
Mr. Ford’s repeated public relations disasters over the last year even seem to have worked in his favour in some sectors. Some people started viewing him as human rather than as a politician.
“He doesn’t think before he speaks, that is his problem,” said Ms. Tavares. “He is just a regular guy trying to deal with the press.” She added that she admires Mr. Ford’s determination to stay in power despite public outrage over his conduct.
“His whole message has always been geared around casting himself as someone different than the downtown elites, someone different than the people who already have not only economic, but social, power,” said Prof. Triadafilopoulos.
“The anti-elite message, the outsider message, struck not only among new Canadian voters, but among a lot of people who agree they don’t necessarily like elites, they don’t like high taxes, they want someone who has almost a singular anti-elite, anti-tax message,” said the academic.
Mr. Ford said that this message will be the defining factor setting him apart from competitors such as former Progressive Conservative party leader John Tory, whom the mayor’s supporters accuse of being part of the entrenched elites.
But the mayor’s anti-elite message, although at odds with the reality of his wealthy family background, has gotten the mayor some faithful constituents.
“When I was talking to my cousins, they were still adamant he had the best campaign. Even if he had those scandals,” said Samantha Lui, a Chinese community member from Scarborough.
That immigrants would support a man known to have made racist comments in the media towards communities like the East Asian community has many critics perplexed.
“They were shocked alright. My dad says he probably won’t vote for him,” said Ms. Lui.
Amir Pasha, a member of the Persian community in Toronto, gave his opinion on the mayor’s leadership.
“I, along with every other individual that has the capacity to reason, believe that it is absolutely ridiculous — and frankly offensive — that a man known for using illegal drugs continues to hold the office of the mayor of Toronto. I know that many of the Iranian community members in Toronto share this concern as well,” he said.
Mr. Vivanco said regular individuals are more likely to give their real opinions about Mr. Ford’s conduct than city-funded community groups. He said some heads of these groups won’t speak candidly about the mayor because they fear if they do, the city will cut their funding. He said he has seen this happening with other mayors.
Some are still pretty vocal. Ismet Cihad Ulker, a youth representative from the Turkish Society of Canada, called the Ford saga “incredible.”
Speaking for Toronto
Mr. Ulker said many in his community are questioning the reliability of the mayor.
“In Turkey, we respect individual freedoms, but you also expect leaders to have a conservative behaviour when it comes to drugs and crime,” he said.
Elias Hazineh, former president of the Canadian Arab Federation, said his community is not united in its opinion of Mr. Ford. “The vast majority is, if not disgusted, at least disappointed,” he said.
“Running a city doesn’t only take ideas. You can always hire people to bring you ideas. You are a personality that people emulate, that they look up to. You represent the city. So your character has to be clean. You cannot change hats after five o’clock and say that you are a private citizen. You are a mayor 24/7.”
Mr. Hazineh said the people in his community who voted for Ford and still support him are of the view that less government is better. “He represents that: Less taxes. Less services.”
But for Mr. Vivanco, the tax cuts are pure talk. “Even though Ford said he was going to lower property taxes without cutting public services, taxes did [go up] when he approved expanding the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission).
“He said he was going to cut spending without cutting services, but as soon as he got elected he started cutting services … In that sense, he acted like a typical politician. This year, when people receive their tax bills and look at the increase, they will begin asking questions,” he said.