"Residents split over who to believe in Ford controversy," read a recent headline. Too true. The Ford affair has exposed the rifts in this city as never before.
To explore them, I decided to take a little trip from his house to my house.
The mayor lives in Etobicoke in a modest bungalow on a winding suburban street. I live downtown in a 16-foot-wide semi-detached Victorian on a street with postage-stamp front yards.
One day this week, I drove out to his place, then turned around and drove back to mine, stopping along the way to talk to people about how they are feeling about the mayor. The route took me from the big lawns and sprawling apartment plazas of Etobicoke to the cafés, art galleries and Portuguese sports bars of my own neighbourhood. It takes no more than 20 minutes in light midday traffic, but it can feel like a journey between separate worlds.
A look at the demographic profile of Mr. Ford's city electoral district, Ward 4, shows that 50 per cent of residents live in houses, compared with 23 per cent in my Ward 18 (and 37 per cent citywide). The average age in his ward is 44, in mine 37 (and in the city as a whole, 39). The population density is 9,490 persons per square kilometre in my ward, 3,230 in his.
Where you live can influence how you feel about civic issues, and that is especially true when it comes to the polarizing Mr. Ford. An Ipsos Reid poll for CP24 and CTV News showed that Torontonians are evenly divided on the question of the alleged drug video, with half asserting that they believe him when he insists he does not smoke crack cocaine and half saying they don’t.
And, as Ipsos Reid puts it, the fault line is “largely a function of the downtown vs. suburbs dichotomy that has existed throughout Mr. Ford’s tenure.” Forty per cent of residents in the downtown believe Mr. Ford, 48 per cent in Scarborough, 48 per cent in York/East York, 54 per cent in North York and 61 per cent in his native Etobicoke.
To get from his Etobicoke driveway to his city hall parking space, Mr. Ford often avoids the clogged highways and heads east along Dundas Street. En route, his black Cadillac Escalade passes within 100 feet of my place just south of Dundas near Dufferin.
Dundas, an old colonial road that was intended to connect Toronto to the town of Dundas near today’s Hamilton, takes an irregular route. Most of Toronto is laid out on a simple grid pattern, with some streets running roughly north-south and others east-west. Dundas curves and swoops from Mr. Ford’s neighbourhood to the heart of the city, carrying the mayor to within a block of the entrance to city hall.
It can be a frustrating drive at rush hour, and Mr. Ford has complained on his weekly radio show about getting stuck behind the trundling Dundas 505 streetcar. His loathing for “these damned streetcars” may spring partly from his commute. But the Dundas route is more direct than boxing the city via the 401, 427, QEW and Gardiner.
I started my return trip at a gas bar, a block from Mr. Ford’s modest bungalow, where he sometimes stops for coffee on the way in to work. This is the heart of Ford Nation, and not surprisingly, most people I talked to said the mayor was a great guy who was being hounded by a hostile press.
Carol Demmitt, 47, who sells cosmetics, says she suspects someone faked the tape. “I do feel there is that much of a hatred for him, that they would go out of their way to create something like that just to stick it to this guy.”
Martin McCarnan, 44, who drives a produce delivery truck and was wearing an NYPD ball cap, says he voted for Mr. Ford in 2010 and would do it again. He likes the fact that Mr. Ford is “human,” not a plastic politician. “As far as the crack thing, if you can’t prove it, leave him alone. Put up or shut up.”