Even though Toronto city council recently stripped Mayor Rob Ford of his powers, both according to polls and how he’s mobbed at events like football games, Ford remains deeply popular to a certain segment of the electorate. The day after he admitted to smoking crack cocaine, a Forum Research poll showed his approval rating stood at 44 percent, above Obama’s rating of 39 percent. Some other important things to know about this whole Ford saga have been lost in the drama, not that these facts will automatically turn you into a card-carrying member of Ford Nation.
Extensive personal problems aside, many Torontonians thinks he’s a good mayor. Ford received 47% of the October 2010 vote, 100,000 more votes than the second-place finish, who was widely viewed as the establishment candidate. A poll released November 14th indicates that while he’s now going to face a tough road to re-election, 47% of Torontonians want his “respect for taxpayers” agenda to continue.
When Ford first started winning the polls in the summer of 2010, many wrote him off as a flavor of the month. But his unpolished penny-pinching everyman persona stuck, even if his platform lacked the finesse of other campaigns. Or perhaps in spite of it. Ford was in many ways a protest vote to his predecessor, the left-leaning David Miller. While Miller delivered surplus budgets, he did so in part by creating deeply unpopular tax grabs. Two months after the election, Ford axed the much hated $60 vehicle registration tax Miller created in 2008, which brought in about $64 million annually.
But he’s most in his element tackling the little things. This October he railed against 30 chairs for City Hall that together cost $75,000. His supporters love needling this sort of largesse.
His greatest achievements done early in his term were previously considered near impossible. He made public transit an essential service so that transit workers can’t strike, inked a four-year labor deal that will save close to $100 million over five years (Miller’s era gave Toronto a 2009 summer strike of 24,000 unionized city employees that saw stinking garbage piled high in skating rinks). Ford privatized half of the city’s garbage collection, saving about $10 million a year. As the city of Toronto’s website notes, “the 2013 Budget marks the first decline in gross expenditures since Toronto’s  amalgamation with a $20 million decrease.”
If Ford seems strangely immune to calls to resign when most other politicians would have obliged long ago, one reason is likely because he’s grown accustomed to outrage from the public and from media for years for offenses as minor as reportedly giving someone the middle finger while driving in July 2011 (which he denied). Clearly, Ford is his own worst enemy, but the left-leaning newspaper the Toronto Star has devoted an enormous amount of resources—17 reporters, according to its publisher—to uncover his personal problems. However, in recent weeks even his usual media supporters have left him including the typically right-leaning Toronto Sun (for which I am a columnist). Not surprising, given his admission of crack-cocaine use and purchasing illegal drugs.
But the lie in this whole saga is that Toronto’s council had to remove his power for the sake of saving the city. Saving it from what? Toronto is doing just fine. Toronto’s apolitical city manager issued a statement on Nov. 7 explicitly denying media reports that the city is “in crisis.”
Sure, the man is, all in all, a bad scene. But Ford has not been charged or convicted of anything. He has not violated his fiduciary duties. In Quebec, one mayor was charged with gangsterism. In London, Ontario, the mayor is facing fraud charges and remains in office. Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was recently sentenced to 28-years in prison for fraud, among other charges.
Instead, Ford is a man with a bunch of drama and allegations surrounding him that, taken together, might make voters think twice about supporting him in next year’s election. But then again, they may think him the lesser evil.
Rob Ford’s landslide election was a sign of the public’s exhaustion from going from one member of the perpetual political class to another. They don’t trust the perma-smile crisp suits anymore, regardless of party affiliation. They feel like the suits are just in it to dole out the pork-barrel dollars. True or false, it’s a very real sentiment. And, Toronto being a democracy, people have the right to vote accordingly.
Anthony Furey is a national columnist for the Sun Media chain of papers and a commentator on Sun News Network. He can be reached via @anthonyfurey and www.fureyonpolitics.com. The views expressed are solely his own.