Doug Ford wanted to be in the room.
It was 2012, and the then-city councillor was in Chicago accompanying his brother, the late former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, on a business trip. Mayor Ford was scheduled to meet with his Chicago counterpart, Mayor Rahm Emanuel. But the agreement was that older brother Doug would not be in on the meeting.
Doug Ford insisted, and actually went in, only exiting when he was asked to leave by one of Emanuel’s staff.
The incident, detailed in Mayor Rob Ford - Uncontrollable: How I Tried to Help the World's Most Notorious Mayor, written by Rob Ford’s former chief of staff Mark Towhey, illustrates a dynamic that a lot of people noticed between the two brothers — that during Rob Ford’s tumultuous tenure as mayor, arguably one of its biggest liabilities was the rogue co-pilot: his brother Doug Ford.
It also shows how Doug Ford, the more polished and brash of the look-alike siblings, always saw himself as in charge.
And now, that’s exactly where he finds himself as the premier of Canada’s most populous province.
On Thursday, Ford’s PCs swept to power with a majority government, catapulting Ford into the Premier’s seat.
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His win signals the rise of populist politics in the province, with echoes of Donald Trump — when he was elected leader of the PC party in March, the parallels made between the two were immediate and endless.
Ford, who like Trump has a penchant for simplistic slogans and ran a personality-driven campaign with little regard for the details behind his grand promises, has cast himself as the only politician working for the little guy. He rails against the establishment, publicly disparages the media, and speaks out against big government. Mirroring Trump’s attack on Hillary Clinton, in April, Ford suggested that former premier Kathleen Wynne should be in jail, along with a Liberal aide serving a sentence for his involvement in the corruption scandal. It was Ford’s PCs, however, that consistently found themselves embroiled in one controversy after another throughout the campaign, from the lawsuit filed against him by his brother's widow to allegations of voter fraud to the revelation that a candidate had publicly praised a terrorist group.
None of that seems to have had an impact though.
“He knows what every culture feels, what they believe, what they face… this family, they are normal guys. They don’t behave like millionaires who are above the people. They are normal, they’ve penetrated the community, they reach every community,” Abukar Ahmed, a Ford supporter, told VICE News recently.
“Doug Ford is a businessperson, and that’s what Ontario needs right now,” said Christine Liu, a vocal opponent of Ontario's sex ed curriculum, which Doug Ford has vowed to overhaul. “He knows his numbers, he knows how to control his costs, he knows how to open up Ontario for business. Doug Ford, if you want me to describe him in one word, it’s integrity, which Kathleen Wynne has completely lost. She says one thing and does another.”
Much like Trump, the PC leader has seized onto the anger of disaffected voters in the province and promised action, with the full understanding that they won’t care about the details. He has a similarly antagonistic relationship with reporters, treating stories about him and his family as media witch hunts. When The Globe and Mail reported an in-depth investigation into his past as an alleged hash dealer, Ford responded that it was a “complete fabrication” (he denies the allegations and has never been charged.) Throughout his campaign, he rarely answered questions or granted private interviews.
Ford is a single-term city councillor with no experience in provincial politics. Like Trump, he’s touted his business acumen, as one of the heads of his father’s label-making company, as proof that he can run a multi-billion-dollar government. While questions have been raised about Ford’s competence as a business manager before, nothing got as much traction as the explosive lawsuit launched by Rob Ford’s widow Renata Ford.
Just days before the election, Renata, along with her two kids, filed a $16.5 million lawsuit against Ford, claiming he and his older brother Randy have been withholding millions of dollars from her and her children. She’s also alleged that under his direction, the family business Deco Companies has suffered millions of dollars in losses. Ford has refused to address the claims specifically, but insists the business is in good shape and that the allegations would be disproven in court.
Ford, who has spoken fondly of Donald Trump and once said he would’ve voted for him, now laughs off the comparison and says he doesn’t “give two hoots” about the president.
“Absolutely he respects women,” he said in 2016. “There’s millions of women that have voted for him. So all those millions of women are dumb? I don’t think so.”
Now, however, Ford stresses that his family has been involved in politics for way longer than Trump has been around. It was at his urging that his father Doug Ford Sr. ran for a seat in provincial parliament in 1994, and for decades, the family has been entrenched in conservative circles, establishing themselves as the gatekeepers of the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke where Ford and his siblings grew up.
In 2010, when Rob Ford became mayor, Doug Ford took over his seat on city council, kicking off one of the most chaotic periods in Toronto’s political history.
But Ford Nation has remained loyal amid a conflict of interest case that nearly got Rob Ford thrown out of office, the admission that he’d smoked crack in one of his “drunken stupors” after months of lying about it, among other scandals.
Doug Ford’s combativeness and off-the-cuff comments have landed him in trouble in the past.
Doug Ford’s combativeness and off-the-cuff comments have landed him in trouble in the past, too.
“He can go to hell, I don’t even care,” Ford told the Toronto Sun in response to an integrity complaint filed against him by the father of an autistic child after he made some offensive comments about an Etobicoke group home for kids with autism: “This is not normal in democracy. . . It is a full out jihad against us right now.” In 2011, he told a confrontational anti-poverty protester to “get a job.” He also started a public feud with the city’s former Chief of Police Bill Blair, accusing the cops of leaking information to the Toronto Star and Blair of looking for “payback” after his contract wasn’t extended. Blair had subpoenaed Rob Ford in the extortion case against his friend Alessandro Lisi. In 2014, another mayoral candidate accused him of “heavy swearing and name-calling” during a handshake following a testy debate.
“Doug is a physical bully. He can be quick to anger, and, when opposed, puffs himself up and attempts direct intimidation—threatening physical violence, or some form of retribution or retaliation,” Towhey wrote in his book. “I never saw or heard of him actually becoming physical with anyone, though.”
Ford has dismissed this characterization of himself, arguing that he just tries to “stand up for my brother and stand up for the taxpayers.”
He’s continued to use the taxpayer line, repeatedly taken credit for “saving” the city $1.1 billion during his and Rob Ford’s time a city hall, making it one of the pillars of his campaign, despite the fact that the figure has been proven to be false.
As city councillor, Ford had pushed for large corporations to take over public projects to pay for developments — he wanted a corporation to redevelop Toronto’s waterfront, for example, and build the world’s largest ferris wheel, which never materialized. He sought tiny ways to cut down the city’s expenses — like contracting out cleaning services — and offered to use his own money for public causes — he once offered to put up $50,000 to revitalize the city’s parks.
But in one key way, Ford and Trump, at least on the surface are different. Rather than painting immigrants and people of colour as criminals and rapists, Ford has actively been courting their votes. His lead in the 905, the towns encompassing the area surrounding Toronto proper, populated by racialized immigrants, is what pollsters predicted would propel him into office. The narrative that racialized immigrants would be responsible for his election, however, has been contested by those who point out that the majority of voters in the province are white and from rural parts of the province. Ford’s election as the leader of Canada’s most powerful province will alter the country’s political scene in a big way, making him a major player at the federal level.
Cover image: Ontario PC leader Doug Ford makes a campaign stop in Oakville, Ont., on Wednesday, June 6, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)