After a meeting with Progressive Conservative officials and a telephone call with Tim Hudak, Toronto Councillor Doug Ford has ended nine months of speculation, announcing that he has given up, at least for now, his ambition to seek a seat in the Ontario legislature.
In the end, Mr. Ford told reporters at City Hall on Thursday that his priority is managing the re-election campaign of his brother, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Tory sources familiar with the discussions said the PCs saw him as a potential liability who could distract from the party’s message in an election campaign. One source, however, said no one actively discouraged him from seeking the nomination. If Mr. Ford had sought the nomination, he would also have had to undergo an extensive background check that might have included, according to one source, an investigator digging into his past.
For a party already facing internal dissent and middling poll numbers, Mr. Ford’s announcement came as a relief, removing one potential problem mere weeks before a possible election call.
Mr. Ford has consistently been at his brother’s side since May, when reports emerged that a video appeared to show the mayor smoking crack cocaine and making homophobic remarks. The scandal cast a pall over Canada’s largest city, and council stripped the mayor of many powers and much of his budget. Doug Ford has made strident denials on the mayor’s behalf throughout – some of which were later contradicted by the police and the mayor himself, who has admitted using crack and appearing drunk in public on multiple occasions.
On Thursday, the councillor said dedication to his brother’s re-election campaign made him opt out of seeking the Tory nomination.
“I can’t wear two hats, being a candidate for the PC party and being a campaign manager,” Mr. Ford said at city hall. “I’d love to, but you have to put other things ahead of your own political aspirations sometimes.”
Party leader Mr. Hudak, who was not in Question Period on Thursday, did not comment on the development.
Sources said Mr. Ford met on Friday with Tory officials and told them he would not seek the nomination in Etobicoke North. On Wednesday, Mr. Ford spoke with Mr. Hudak about the matter for 20 minutes by phone.
While the Progressive Conservatives had publicly left the door open to Mr. Ford’s candidacy, there was concern within the party about whether he would bring with him an air of scandal that would disrupt the Tories’ message.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who identifies as a Tory, said Mr. Ford would have had “challenges” adapting to Queen’s Park’s discipline.
“Because he has those strong views, he’s not as controllable as you’d like to see in the provincial parliament,” Mr. Minnan-Wong said.
Last year, a Globe and Mail investigation revealed that Doug Ford was a high-volume hashish dealer in the 1980s. He denied the report, which was based on interviews with dozens of sources with knowledge of the Etobicoke drug trade who spoke to The Globe on condition of anonymity. While sources said the party did not directly discourage him from running, Mr. Ford could easily have read the signs.
In December, one source said, Mr. Hudak told his caucus not to allow personal matters to distract from the upcoming campaign. He has also taken a hard line on party discipline in recent months, demoting MPPs who defied him from his shadow cabinet and stripping a candidate of his nomination for criticizing an MPP.
Mr. Hudak and Mr. Ford are said not to have a particularly close relationship. One source characterized them as “business acquaintances who cheer for the same team.”
Screening for prospective Tory candidates includes criminal record and credit checks, an interview and a questionnaire. In some cases, one PC source said, the party goes further, tracking down friends and associates to determine if the candidate has done anything that would embarrass the party. The worst thing a potential candidate can do, the source said, is fail to disclose something the party eventually discovers. A different source said things had not progressed far enough with Mr. Ford to discuss the vetting process.
Mr. Ford said he made his decision “a few weeks ago” of his own volition.
And he vowed that the final chapter in his political book has yet to be written, promising “one day, eventually,” to run provincially.
The mayor, who stood by his side at the announcement, went even further.
“[Doug Ford] would’ve been not just a fantastic MPP – he would’ve been a minister,” he said. “And one day, he’s going to be leader of the party.”