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Toronto mayor-elect Rob Ford, centre, is hugged by a mob of supporters as he makes his way into speak to supporters in Toronto on Monday, October 25, 2010. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
Toronto mayor-elect Rob Ford, centre, is hugged by a mob of supporters as he makes his way into speak to supporters in Toronto on Monday, October 25, 2010. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Gary Mason

Rob Ford tapped into a zeitgeist that goes beyond Toronto Add to ...

Toronto's mayoral race was so intriguing, so lush with irony, it engrossed Canadians across the country.

Vancouver is awash in transplanted Torontonians who couldn't get enough of the fight for city hall. Rob Ford is a compelling, controversial figure even in Lotusland, and now that he's mayor of the centre of the universe, people can't stop smiling.

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Why are so many delighted with Mr. Ford's ascension? People love to see the Toronto establishment squirm and taken down a notch. The fact that the city's elites were so horrified at the thought of being governed by someone they clearly felt was better suited to running a car dealership in Okotoks, Alta., made his victory even sweeter.

There are people who look and sound like Rob Ford sitting on city councils from Winkler, Man., to Smithers, B.C. To see him mocked as much for his appearance as his policies had many westerners cheering even harder for him. It undoubtedly helped seed the schadenfreude that has enveloped his unlikely triumph.

His win was a victory for the little guy - the common man who may not possess the same refined vocabulary as his more educated colleagues but, nonetheless, speaks a language that a great swath of Canadians understand perfectly.

Even I felt a certain sympathy for Mr. Ford. Not that I didn't think his platform was bereft of intelligent analysis and new ideas. It was. Rather, it was the view, sometimes articulated in the media, that he would be a colossal embarrassment to the city not just because of what he said but because of the way he looked. If he weighed 60 pounds less, would he still have been as unappealing? Spare me the talk that the vituperative reaction he elicited was strictly about his policies and had nothing to do with the image he projected.

Anyway, it's over and done with. Mr. Ford is mayor, and political junkies everywhere are debating whether the man tapped into a countrywide zeitgeist or exploited voter rage specific to Greater Toronto.

Put another way: Could Rob Ford get elected in Vancouver or Montreal, cities that, like Toronto, see themselves as sophisticated and urbane and immune to a mayoral candidate with the kind of gonzo qualities ascribed to Mr. Ford? I think the answer is yes, at least a version of him spouting an iteration of Mr. Ford's successful Stop the Gravy Train campaign slogan.

Take Vancouver, where taxpayers are feeling the heat, too. It's why the campaign to stop the HST wasn't just popular in the northern half of B.C., as many first believed would be the case. It had support everywhere, including Vancouver's tony west side.

Then there's the Olympic Village fiasco, in which taxpayers possibly stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars. Still, the current city council persists in going ahead with previously promised social housing on the site that's costing in excess of $100-million when the units could be sold at market rates.

New dedicated bike lanes, meantime, are costing millions and are opposed by store owners who say they aren't being used and will hurt business.

Enter a mayoral candidate in next fall's civic election campaigning on a Ford-like theme: Stop the Madness.

He (or she) promises to sell the proposed social housing at the Olympic Village in order to recoup as much of the public's money as possible that's been sunk "into this mess." He also campaigns to end bike-lane expansion and put a freeze on hiring at city hall. He vows not to raise property taxes beyond the rate of inflation, to give people "a chance to catch their financial breath."

"Enough is enough," our red-faced candidate bellows, jowls shaking. "People are having a tough time putting food on the table and we're building bike lanes and the most exotic and expensive social housing in the world. What's next? Free daycare for city workers? It's time to take back city hall and stop this recklessness once and for all."

Think Rob Ford couldn't happen in a place like Vancouver? Think again.

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