This week, a few days after Toronto Mayor John Tory announced he was resigning over an affair with a former staffer, reporters asked Ontario Premier Doug Ford what he thought about it all. His response was vintage Ford.
Mr. Tory was a “really, really” good mayor who worked relentlessly for the good of his city. So “let’s not upset the apple cart for a personal issue.” Besides, if “a left-wing mayor gets in there, we’re toast. I’ll tell you, it would be a disaster in my opinion.”
It’s tempting to wave off this little outburst as just Mr. Ford being Mr. Ford. He is an unapologetic conservative and makes no secret of what he thinks about “the lefties.” Overstatement is part of his brand. Everything is either the worst ever or the best of all time. So saying that a whole city would be “toast” if it happened to elect someone from the opposite side of the political field is hardly surprising coming from him.
But this is more than just a little outburst. It is part of a pattern. Since he became premier in 2018, Mr. Ford has intervened again and again in the governance of Toronto. He simply can’t keep his mitts off the place.
The reason is fairly obvious. Mr. Ford started his political life as the right hand man to his brother Rob Ford at City Hall. Rob won the mayoralty in 2010 and Doug won the city council seat that Rob had vacated to seek the top job.
Though they ran the show for four years, before Rob was engulfed in scandal and then sidelined by a fatal illness, they always acted like outsiders. They were Daniels in the lions’ den, surrounded by slavering lefties. They were heroic friends of the long-suffering taxpayer, battling big government from the inside. Except that the lefties, the bureaucrats and the elites were always getting in their way, thwarting them at every turn.
When he was elected premier, Mr. Ford set out to get his own back. Practically the first thing he did was cut a “bloated and inefficient” city council literally down to size. Though the 2018 election was already under way, he upset the apple cart, in a manner of speaking, by reducing the number of council seats by half, something he and his brother had tried and failed to do when they were in power.
Never mind that he failed to mention the idea in his election campaign or to bother asking the city for its opinion. Never mind that an initial court ruling found it unconstitutional. Mr. Ford even threatened to use the notwithstanding clause if the courts continued to block him.
Last year, after his second election victory, he put his oar in again.
This time, he announced he was giving mayors of Toronto (Ottawa, too) special powers to run the city. Mr. Ford had spent time in Chicago heading a branch of the family business. Back in his City Hall days, he spoke admiringly of the “strong-mayor” system that prevails in many American cities.
He didn’t get his way then, but he was determined he would now. Mr. Tory went meekly along, even asking the Premier for the authority to push certain measures through council with a minority of the votes, a flagrantly undemocratic power. The strong-mayor system imposed by Mr. Ford was in place this week when Mr. Tory took his latest budget to council before formally leaving his job on Friday.
It was another disruptive, intrusive, vindictive and wholly unnecessary intervention into Toronto’s affairs. Already endowed with the moral authority that comes from being elected citywide, most mayors got their big plans through council without much trouble. Ottawa’s new mayor has distinguished himself by saying he doesn’t need strong-mayor powers and has no plans to use them.
Perhaps Mr. Ford is right about the coming by-election to replace Mr. Tory. It’s been more than a dozen years since the left had someone in the mayor’s office. Perhaps voters will switch things up and elect a lefty. If so, that’s their business, not the Premier’s. For once, Mr. Ford should butt out.