Toronto may be in an uproar over Doug Ford’s out-of-the-blue decision to cut city council in half and redraw the ward map in the middle of an election campaign. Former Ontario premiers of all three major parties may have condemned him for threatening to trigger a rarely used override clause in the Constitution to ram his plan through. But on a Saturday night up in Vaughan, the sprawling Toronto exurb north of the city, it’s alllll good.
At a community centre that features a replica of St. Mark’s campanile, the historic bell tower in Venice, the mass barbecue and political rally known as Ford Fest is in full swing. Throngs of fans are gathering to celebrate Mr. Ford – no, Premier Ford! – and his triumph over Liberal Kathleen Wynne in June’s provincial election.
It’s a sweet moment for the tribe known as Ford Nation. Winning Toronto City Hall under Doug’s little brother Rob was one thing. Now a Ford is in charge at Queen’s Park, the seat of government for Canada’s most populous province. Followers have come out en masse, ready to rock.
Ford Fest is usually held in the big backyard of family matriarch Diane Ford. This event is too big for that. In fact, as it turns out, it’s too big even for this giant venue. The parking lot is full of cars and so is the lawn. The cops are turning drivers away, so the only way to approach is on foot. As the faithful stream toward the fenced picnic ground, the smell of seared meat fills the air and a cloud of smoke rises from the cooking station. The line to get through security stretches far into the night.
Inside the fence, excitement is rising. Sunny Days by Lighthouse blasts from the sound system. Then Oh, What a Feeling by Crowbar. It’s 1971 again. A middle-aged woman with a pile of burgers on a sagging paper plate does a little shimmy as she makes her way toward the main stage.
A roar rises as Mr. Ford takes the mike. He has the biggest, brightest grin in Canadian politics and, on this night of nights, it could light up a football stadium. "Wow, I’ll tell ya, what a crowd tonight,” he marvels. Ford Fest, he says, sounding a bit like Major Kong in Dr. Strangelove, draws Canadians of “every race, religion and political stripe.”
He tells the crowd that his Progressive Conservative government is "a government for the people.” In its first 100 days, "we have started to turn this province around.”
The crowd laps it up like buttermilk. They cheer when he promises “smaller, leaner government.” They woo-woo when he boasts of ending a strike at York University, giving police more money to fight crime, lowering the tax on gas, promising to bring back "buck a beer” and ending a Liberal carbon-pricing system that was "the worst tax on Earth.”
They boo lustily when he accuses Ms. Wynne of leaving Ontario with a giant debt and concealing the size of the budget deficit. "Kathleen Wynne lied to all of us,” he says, and “you don’t just get to walk away” from a cover-up like that. Taking the cue, the crowd chants “lock her up,” the same threat directed at Democrat Hillary Clinton during Donald Trump rallies.
When Mr. Ford is finished talking, Joanne Tremayne, 55, says his speech was nothing short of “inspiring.” A retired aircraft mechanic who travelled two and a half hours from Brighton, Ont., for the rally, she says that he “is getting hold of this province and taking us forward.” Osman Nur, 52, a truck driver, says Mr. Ford is not a politician, he’s a leader. "He says what he means and he does what he promises.”
Anna Germain says she loves Mr. Ford for killing that Liberal energy-pricing regime. It’s not our driving and our auto emissions that are changing the climate, "it’s the sun – the sun affects our environment more than anything else.” If former U.S. vice-president Al Gore – Al "Bore,” she calls him – is so worried about global warming and rising sea levels, why did he buy a house on the ocean in California. Answer that.
No one seems bothered in the least by Mr. Ford’s decision to slash the size of Toronto council. Cutting council will save money. Who needs all those politicians?
Mr. Ford stays on the stage after his speech to pose for photos with admirers. Hundreds line up for the opportunity. Some wait an hour and more. Mr. Ford grins and grins and grins. Oh, what a feeling. What a rush.