Doug Ford waving hiiiii as he walks into last night's debate. Photo via Don Peat on Twitter.
After days of speculation surrounding Doug Ford’s bid for mayor of Toronto—is the brother of notorious crack-smoking clown Rob Ford serious? Does he think he can actually win? Is he just doing this to save face for the family dynasty?—his apperance at last night's debate against fellow candidates John Tory and Olivia Chow at a packed high school auditorium was met with more than the usual amount of enthusiasm.
Before the debate even began, loud chants of “We Want Doug!” prevented Chow from being able to have an audible conversation with reporters. But we did get a bit of information from her.
From the get-go, it seemed as if Chow was clinging to her main talking point against Tory’s transit plan: His proposed SmartTrack rail system would have to make a 90-degree turn at one point, which would presumably necessitate the bulldozing of a bunch of homes, a community center, and a childcare facility. Later in the night, Tory calmly explained that he would simply have the rail go underground in that particular section, popping Chow's bubble quite swiftly, though he didn't explain where that tunnel money would come from.
Transit plan bickering aside (Chow and Ford both showed up with signs that had their transit plans drawn onto them, neither candidate went into great detail about what either of them meant) the debate was marked by frequent interruptions from a crowd that seemingly couldn't stay seated and quiet.
About 20 minutes into the debate, a woman named Iola Fortino, who had previously accosted Toronto City Councilor Kristyn Wong-Tam by calling her a “fucking fag,” stood up and yelled, “He [Ford] goes to his family cottage during the pride parade. That's why we love him!” This unpleasant disturbance led to the moderator reminding the crowd that security and police officers were present, which didn’t seem to resolve the issue, until the police came to chat with Fortino and wound up ejecting her from the event.
If you’re keeping score at home, this makes at least two major election events where Ford Nation supporters caused a homophobic disturbance. And, according to Jonathan Goldsbie, Fortino was also involved in a nasty bit of homophobia at a recent Ford Fest.
After the loud homophobe left, the debate was restored to a somewhat normal pace as the dream team of Tory, Chow, and Ford answered questions about welfare, their transit plans, and garbage collection.
The Fords got credit for privatizing garbage, which was undoubtedly a good thing in the wake of David Miller’s pungent garbage strike from the summer of ‘09. (Though Tory needled Ford by saying that it was too bad he, as “co-mayor,” ran out of gas after that.)
Ford also clung to his brother's old adage: subways, subways, subways; which got a crowd reaction that reminded me of moments when Stone Cold Steve Austin would crack a couple of brewskis open and pour them all over his face.
Seriously. People in York love them some Ford.
Chow responded by striking a Helen Lovejoy-esque chord over and over again: Think of the children! She spoke of the importance to keep kids fed in school, because, in her words, when kids have food “they won't be able to be so hungry."
Chow’s transit plan involves building above-ground rail, rather than the underground systems favored by Ford and Tory, in Scarborough—a project she says will be quicker to complete. Chow also wants to electrify the Go Train rail and connect it to the TTC, and she wants to get more buses on the road as soon as possible. She also railed against Tory’s transit plan, arguing that it would shoot taxes up into oblivion.
Tory’s scheme to build SmartTrack trains on existing Go Train rail, which will link up with the TTC subway, sounds good on paper—but as Chow and others have pointed out, large swaths of his plan involve running rail in areas where rail simply cannot be run, unless he plans on demolishing a bunch of buildings. If he keeps the wrecking ball at home, he’ll have to dig tunnels, which Tory frequently handwaves away with a we’re just gonna get ‘er done mentality. Construction cost be damned.
While the discussion of these competing transit plans is not ideal for a time-limited debate setting, with an assortment of crazy people yelling and screaming in the audience, the conversation about Toronto’s future as it pertains to welfare, transit, and waste collection was at least somewhat productive. That is, until the question of the Pride Parade came up.
All candidates were asked if they would pledge to attend Pride. Chow, of course, took her moment to remind the crowd she always goes to Pride, and Tory offered his support as well. When it came around to Doug, however, he was quick to mention that he attended once and proclaimed that he had once donated $3,500 to the parade. If this figure sounds dubious, well, that’s because it is.
Doug was referencing a donation of rainbow stickers in 2010, some of which had Rob Ford campaign messaging on them, which he had valued at $5,000 at the time (now it's apparently slipped $1,500 in value; I guess the sticker market just isn’t what it used to be). Now, let’s remember that Doug is a multimillionaire who owns a label company, so $3,500 to $5,000 in stickers really isn’t much of a goodwill gesture. I spoke with someone at Pride Toronto this morning who confirmed that Doug's donation was through printing, not cash, and that the stickers were donated years ago. It is important to remember that the Fords have never supported Pride, and are in favor of cutting its funding (as is Tory). So it's unsurprising that Ford was unwilling to say, “Yes, I’ll go to the damn parade.” Many of his supporters aren't down with Pride—some, like Fortino, seem to hate the very idea of homosexuality—but it would be political suicide for him to denounce the parade. So instead he danced around the issue, pledging his lukewarm support while not denouncing his most bigoted fans.
Ford also attacked Tory at numerous points in the night for being an elite who has had everything handed to him on a silver platter, and whose executive job at Rogers was handed to him because of nepotism—a bizarre claim for Ford, the son of a wealthy businessman and politician, to make. But inside Ford Nation, presumably such things make perfect sense.
While none of Toronto’s mayoral candidates seemed all that impressive, it was alarming to see all the extremely vocal support Ford attracted. Before the end of the night, a man stood up to yell, “Go home Olivia! Back to China!” in a very sad show of racism and disrespect. Unless you love the Fords (by the way, news broke today that Rob’s sister told the cops she smoked crack with the now former mayor after his taxpayer-funded driver dropped a drunk Rob at her house) your choices are Tory or Chow, and neither are great options. But another four years of the Fords’ bullshit is really just unacceptable.
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