Skip to main content
toronto city hall

Politics Insider delivers premium analysis and access to Canada's policymakers and politicians. Visit the Politics Insider homepage for insight available only to subscribers.

Sometimes Rob Ford seems like one of those science-fiction characters that absorb energy when under attack. The more you fire at him, the stronger he gets.

The mayor is facing fire from all sides these days. City council is getting set to grill him over the crack scandal. Demonstrators are to gather in Nathan Phillips Square on Wednesday at noon to call for his head. The courts are considering whether to release yet more material from that damning police-surveillance document.

Yet there he was on Tuesday, signing Rob Ford bobbleheads in the lobby of City Hall – and clearly loving it. Grinning, joking, shaking hands, wiping sweat from his brow with a handkerchief, he sat at a long table for a good five hours, inking his name on the base of the plastic figurines with a bronze felt pen and posing for hundreds of photos.

He lapped up the praise of his supporters, who told him to ignore critics and stay the course. "Just got to keep swinging, just got to keep moving," he told one of them. "That's all you've got to do."

"Nobody's going to get me down, don't worry about that," he told another.

He kissed a baby on the head. He handed out Mayor Ford fridge magnets and business cards. He lifted a toddler from his stroller, causing the boy to burst into tears. "I lost one vote," he said. The young man calmed down.

When a pitcher of ice water spilled all over the table and onto the mayoral lap, he wiped off his dark suit pants and shrugged it off with a smile. "Nothing I can't handle," he said. Supporters gave him a cheer.

"Who's better than Ford? Nooooo-body," shouted construction worker Moe Cola, 57, wearing his fluorescent work vest.

He signed one figurine: "Rob Ford, gravy train slayer." When the 1,000 bobbleheads had run out, sold at $20 a piece to raise money for the United Way, the mayor started signing Ford T-shirts. He even signed one young man's silver computer. "I've never signed a laptop before," he said.

Whatever you think about how he has acted, it was hard not to be impressed by his stamina and gusto. In a session that lasted from about 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., he took no bathroom breaks and worked through lunch. "I don't miss many meals," he joked, "so I can last."

The mayor and his staff approached the bobblehead signing like an assembly-line operation. Aides took the 17-centimetre-tall Made-in-China figures out of their boxes and lined them up on the table for signing, asking people at the front of the line what they wanted him to write.

Before long, the mayor had it down to an art: sign box, sign bobblehead, stand for photo, grin, say thank you. "I really appreciate the support. It's very kind of you," was his standard formula.

Amid all the signing and thanking, the mayor was relaxed enough to chat about his favourite sport. "We're going to kick those Tabbies back to Hamilton," he said, looking ahead to Sunday's Eastern Final football game between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Toronto Argonauts.

He complained in a good-natured way about how sore he was from a few recent trips to the gym. "I've been pumping iron three days in a row. It's killing me."

Despite everything, he still has that unvarnished quality that helped sweep him to office in 2010. People started lining up at 6 a.m. for the event. Some waited for three hours to reach the front of the long line that circled through the marble-floored lobby directly under the city-council chamber.

Not all were Ford supporters. Sari Miettinen, 42, came to get a bobblehead as a gift for her office Secret Santa event. Many others just wanted a novelty to show their friends or, with luck, sell at a profit.

One young guy in a grey tuque pinched his fingers together as if smoking a joint as the mayor posed for a photo with him. Another had a shot taken of him as he stood beside the mayor and said "bababooey."

Since admitting to having smoked crack cocaine, probably in a "drunken stupor," Mr. Ford has become a strange kind of celebrity, the star of a political reality show that makes the Kardashians or the Osbournes look like Little House on the Prairie.

"I'm 10 feet from Rob Ford right now. It's hilarious, dude," said one passerby, on the phone to a friend.

Others came to protest. "Resign, Mayor Ford, resign. This is ridiculous," shouted one young man before security guards hustled him out the door.

But those who like Mr. Ford like him a lot. Investment adviser Carlo Aiello, 55, said that the mayor phoned him personally at half an hour after midnight one day after he complained to city hall about gas-company drill holes left for too long on his street.

"I'm not some kind of groupie," he said, but "that really elevated my view of the guy." When he got to the front of the line on Tuesday, he gave the mayor a page from his daily calendar of Biblical sayings.

It is hard to say whether bobblehead populism will help the besieged mayor in any practical way. "Are there people out there who think Elvis is alive? Yes," said Councillor Adam Vaughan, a frequent Ford critic. Still, "he's done. He's so finished." Even if the mayor manages to hang onto his job, said Mr. Vaughan, he has lost control of city council.

But as Mr. Ford met the media at the end of the day, brushing off yet another question about why he misled the people of Toronto, he was still glowing from the Day of the Bobblehead. "I enjoyed every minute of it," he said. This time, at least, you could be sure that it was true.

Marcus Gee is The Globe's Toronto City Hall columnist.