New report of ‘domestic assault' while Ford approval remains strong

The Globe and Mail

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford watches the CFL eastern final football game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger Cats in Toronto on Nov. 17, 2013. (FRED THORNHILL/REUTERS)

A new poll suggests that, despite Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s recent admissions of smoking crack cocaine and drinking to excess, his popularity has barely seen a dent – 42 per cent of Toronto residents said they approve of the job he’s doing, and 33 per cent still plan on voting for him.

The Forum Research poll published in the Toronto Sun Friday comes amid new reports that describe a “domestic assault” police call at Mr. Ford’s home this past summer, and an allegation that the mayor was purposely kept away from Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a Conservative party event two days later because of concerns Mr. Ford may have been intoxicated.

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The 42 per cent approval rating is just a slight drop from a similar Forum poll conducted Nov. 6, which had his approval at that time at 44 per cent.

The results suggest that many of the 1,049 residents polled support the mayor even though they are aware of at least some of the allegations he’s currently facing, including drug and alcohol abuse.

Highlights:

  • 69 per cent said they believe that he has a substance abuse problem, and 64 per cent think he should take time off
  • 33 per cent said they’d vote for him regardless in 2014 (Toronto mayors have won with less than 40 per cent before -- John Sewell won in 1978 with just 38 per cent of the popular vote). If he went to rehab, only one per cent more of those polled (34 per cent) said they’d vote for him.
  • 60 per cent of respondents want Mayor Ford to resign, including 28 per cent of people who supported him in 2010
  • Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly’s approval rating is 65 per cent
  • The mayor’s brother Councillor Doug Ford has a lower approval rating than Rob, at just 36 per cent
  • 18 per cent said they would support Mayor Ford if he ran for prime minister.

The seemingly contradictory results can be explained by how polarizing of a figure Mayor Ford is, and how strongly his core group of supporters – Ford Nation – believe in him, said president of Forum Research Lorne Bozinoff.

“He goes into this with a lock on that one-third of the vote – Ford Nation,” he said. “This whole drama, did it destroy his relationship with Ford Nation? No. That didn’t happen,” he said. The around 50 per cent who didn’t support Mayor Ford in the 2010 election would’ve likely wanted him to resign even then, Mr. Bozinoff said. So the fact that it’s now at 60 per cent “isn’t that much higher,” he said.

Mr. Bozinoff added that, though it sounds contradictory that 42 per cent of respondents approve of Mayor Ford’s performance and yet 60 per cent want him to resign, this can be explained because the two questions were asked separately, and deal with separate issues and time periods. “Job approval concerns his achievements in office in the past,” Mr. Bozinoff said. “Whether he should resign concerns the future and whether he should take a break now.”

Mr. Bozinoff said even though the recent poll does appear to show some slip in support among swing voters,  Mayor Ford may still have a chance in 2014. In fact, the drama at City Hall earlier this week, which saw him stripped of many of his powers, might have been a “huge political miscalculation,” he said.

“It might set him up for re-election. Because now he’s going to run against council, which he’s effective at. I think he’s less effective defending his own record.”

John Wright, senior vice president at Ipsos Public Affairs, said that Ipsos’ polling shows Mayor Ford’s approval rating at a similar level – around 40 per cent, as of 10 days ago. But he warned that a high approval rating doesn’t necessarily translate into voter support.

“I have always contended that Rob Ford was elected on his message more than on his personal behaviour,” he said in an e-mail. And many respondents who say they “approve” of the Mayor actually mean that they approve of his message of fiscal conservatism, not his behaviour.

In other words, respondents still approve of his message, but “no longer support the ‘man’ to execute the message,” Mr. Wright said.

The Forum results come as Mayor Ford faces even more questions regarding his behaviour.

According to a police document released earlier this month, police were called to Mayor Ford’s home in Etobicoke just before 7 p.m. on August 27 of this year, on a call categorized as a “domestic assault.”

Details on the actual incident at Mr. Ford’s home are blacked-out in the police document.

Mr. Ford was charged in 2008 with domestic assault and uttering threats against his wife, Renata. The charges were later dropped due to inconsistencies with the allegations.

The August police call appears to have interrupted a police surveillance operation that night on Mayor Ford’s friend, alleged drug dealer Alessandro (Sandro) Lisi. According to the police document, officers had been watching an Etobicoke dry cleaning shop that night (where investigators believed Mr. Lisi was supplying marijuana), expecting the 35-year-old to arrive. But around the same time of the “domestic assault” call to Mr. Ford’s home, the document says, there was a flurry of phone calls and text messages exchanged between Mr. Lisi, Mayor Ford and Mr. Ford’s long-time friend and former staffer David Price.

Instead of driving to the dry cleaning shop as expected by investigators, Mr. Lisi continued driving around and eventually returned home. Police surveillance was called off “after it became apparent that Lisi would not be attending tonight.”

According to The Toronto Star, Mayor Ford checked into the Grand Hotel in downtown Toronto after the police call, where he stayed for three nights.

While he was still staying at the hotel, according to the Star, Mr. Ford attended a Conservative party barbecue hosted by Mr. Harper on August 28. A source told the Star that local organizers, fearing Mayor Ford may have been intoxicated, deliberately kept him away from the prime minister that evening.

Mr. Ford has been facing intense scrutiny since May, when reports about a video that shows him smoking crack cocaine were first published. Since then, the Toronto Police department has acknowledged the existence of the video, and said that investigators are in possession of a copy.

Police documents since then have outlined a long list of allegations from former staffers – that Mayor Ford made vulgar sexual comments at a former staffer, that he sent them frequently to purchase alcohol and perform personal errands for him, and that he appeared intoxicated at City Hall and official events.

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