As violent winds rattle the windows of this Etobicoke coffee shop, a group gathers around plastic tables and paper cups to discuss the latest allegations swirling around Mayor Rob Ford.
They are the mayor’s bedrock supporters. They belong to the suburban coalition known as Ford Nation, and they are clearly unmoved by the alleged pattern of behaviour revealed in a police document unsealed Thursday, which suggests Mr. Ford met regularly with suspected drug dealer Alessandro Lisi. None of the allegations has been proven in court. Mr. Ford, who has not been charged and has not been interviewed by police, says he does not smoke crack cocaine and calls Mr. Lisi a friend.
To his supporters the allegations appear flimsy at best. They call it a conspiracy, a media feeding frenzy, and say Mr. Ford is just a good guy trying to limit the size of government and save taxpayers money. It is not that Mr. Ford is any kind of mythic figure. His appeal seems to rest on his ordinariness, his unpolished style and his simple message. They say it would take a lot, possibly a criminal conviction, to persuade them to change their minds.
“I heard last night the chief of police say there is a video [that purports to show the mayor smoking crack]. Anybody can alter a video. That’s not really evidence,” says Mahad Isse, an optician, one of a half dozen people around the table engaged in earnest discussion.
“If you look at the city there’s a lot of untendered contracts and he tried to stop that. You’ve heard of the gravy train? Those vested interests were in on that game too and he’s trying to stop them.”
In the heart of Ford Nation, it’s clear that while some have changed their minds about the mayor, his base of support remains.
Mr. Isse and the others here want the mayor to keep his job. They say he’s guilty of nothing and should be given the benefit of the doubt. It’s an opinion that’s quite common around the neighbourhood.
A few kilometres away at a Tim Horton’s just off Islington Avenue, Lin Turner and her friend Sophie Zamrij, both retired, meet as they do every weekday morning. They live in nearby condos.
“It’s just that people are hating him. I like him so much. He doesn’t raise taxes. He’s saved us lots of money already,” Ms. Zamrij said. “I”m going to vote for him again.”
Ms. Turner concurs. “He’s for seniors,” she says. But she also understands that he’s in serious political trouble.
“He’s put his foot in something,” she says.
The controversy is clearly the talk of the town but taking its pulse is an inexact science. A TTC driver in his maroon jacket chuckles when asked what’s next for Mr. Ford.
“I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that today,” he says.
At the taxi stand adjacent to the station the taxi drivers delight in the opportunity to harangue a reporter.
“I voted for him and I will support him until you prove something. If he’s smoking crack so what? Is he doing his job? The man’s doing what he’s supposed to do,” one taxi driver said. “Let’s see the video.”
“I love the man. The man is a worker,” says another. “These are just allegations. Allegations are not proof.”
Dave Ireton, a 67-year-old former banker, says he thinks the whole issue has been blown out of proportion.
“I think the media is out to get him,” he says. “He hasn’t been charged with anything and they’re calling for him to resign.
“So what if he uses drugs? Is he the first politician who uses drugs? Look at Mel Lastman, he had a secret family,” Mr. Ireton says. “Why doesn’t Justin Trudeau resign? He admitted to smoking illegal stuff, but Trudeau’s a hero and Rob Ford’s a villain.”
Where does this unshakeable support come from? When Mr. Ford swept to power in 2010 it was thanks to a tide of support from the suburbs. The results laid bare a stark contrast between the voting patterns in the old city of Toronto and in the amalgamated municipalities beyond. Zack Taylor, who teaches city studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough, has analyzed those results and found they reveal not a new divide, but one that dates back to the founding of the megacity. The people downtown are wealthier, better educated, more likely to rent, live in denser neighbourhoods and to commute by transit. If there’s one question that’s likely to identify a Ford supporter, he says, it’s whether they drive to work. At an aggregate level these people tend to experience the city differently and have different expectations of what it can and should be, he says. Mr. Ford’s fairly straightforward policy promises, to rein in spending and end the “war on the car,” appealed to these suburban voters, who outnumber those downtown and in East York by about 2.5 to 1, he said.
“This is bigger than Rob Ford, it’s older than Rob Ford. I don’t think it’s going to disappear when Rob Ford disappears,” Prof. Taylor says.
While many of his supporters are keeping faith with Mr. Ford, there are also some whose convictions were shaken by recent revelations.
Manuel Moreiro is a 64-year-old construction worker with dusty boots and a pencil tucked behind his ear. He describes himself as a working class guy who just wants a break on his taxes. He was a Ford supporter, until yesterday.
“When there’s this much smoke there’s probably fire. I was watching the news and the in and outs of the gas station with that guy [Lisi]. I don’t know, but I got a bad feeling,” he said.
“When I saw the police chief come on I said ‘uh oh.’ He’s got young kids, what’s he doing?”
Evangeline Polakowski, an Etobicoke resident and Ford supporter, said she had been unsure what to think of the Ford allegations until she saw the news last night.
“When the police chief said Rob Ford was on the video I said ‘My goodness, I guess it’s really true,’” she says. Now she’s rethinking her allegiance.
Bob Hamilton, who has lived in Etobicoke for 35 years, said he’s not a Ford supporter but he was happy to give him a chance as the city’s democratically elected mayor. Instead his tenure has been an embarrassment, he says.
“I think he should do the honourable thing and resign and put us all out of our misery,” Mr. Hamilton says.
Of the dozens of people canvassed in Etobicoke, the responses all fell into one of three categories: those who support Mr. Ford and reject the calls for his resignation, those who never supported Mr. Ford and have doubted him for months and those whose minds were changed by Thursday’s events. It seems Ford Nation was dented this week but it has not been derailed.