June saw a familiar scene, one we have grown used to since the surprising June 2016 election of a relatively unknown and untested local politician to the top of Canada’s most populous city.
Doug Ford became leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party while best known for being a former Toronto City Councillor, public relations expert and TV personality, most famous for his program “Ford Nation.” But it was the byelection of early December of that year — as the city began to recover from a horrendous drought — that put Ford in the lead of his eventual run for the provincial PC leadership.
Ford’s ascendancy all but assured that the city of Toronto would have a new mayor by May 2018; he beat his NDP competitor and the incumbent mayor, a Conservative, in the polls by some 25 percentage points, and went on to win with over 70 percent of the vote.
Just before Ontarians voted, Ford made a fateful call to his departing predecessor, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, to offer his congratulations on his win. That represented a massive break with the city’s longtime establishment and held the potential to further divide the city between Ford’s populist base and the city’s many centrist and progressive community activists, who did not relish the idea of another mayor too closely associated with the previous administration.
Since that fateful phone call, Mayor Ford has taken his own surprising and dramatic detour, imploding in February after reports emerged that he was addicted to crack cocaine. However, he has remained an influential figure at City Hall, serving as a loyal lieutenant to Mike Tory, now Ontario’s premier, in many ways just as he once helped facilitate his brother’s surprise election to the top of City Hall.
By the time Doug Ford entered the Ontario PC leadership race, however, the former mayor’s public humiliation had rippled through the mainstream Toronto media. His rehab stint earned him not only a long-awaited apology but also an influx of celebrity media attention. In the end, Ford secured a surprise win.
So, today Toronto voters go to the polls to choose the city’s next mayor.