At the beginning of the scrum, there's no hint of front-page news. It's a feel-good affair, the launch of the 100th Grey Cup festival, and it's going off without a hitch: theatre full of suits, pounding dance music, speech from the Mayor, free popcorn for all.
It's a story, but not a big one - at least until Doug Ford Jr. starts talking.
Before the rookie councillor can glad-hand, he agrees to answer a few reporters' questions. It's a request he's come to expect over the whirlwind year during which he's evolved from a successful but anonymous executive in a 200-employee family printing firm to one of the city's - and, for that matter, the country's - major political power brokers.
The initial question revolves around future subway financing. No news there.
Next comes a question about possible road tolls. Ho hum.
Finally he's asked about luring an NFL team to Toronto. His answer?
"Before our administration's four-year term is up, hopefully we'll have an NFL team."
In the middle of a CFL party? Now we're cooking.
Front Page Ford strikes again.
The next day's Toronto Sun labels him a "PARTY POOPER" on its front page, accusing him of crashing a CFL celebration by speaking on ambitions to land an American team that could kill the Canadian game in Toronto. It's typical Doug Ford: too blunt, too off-the-cuff, the kind of spontaneous quote to try a press secretary's soul. In an interview with The Globe and Mail that morning, he promises to speak about anything - his brother's intellect, the curious business philosophy he's bringing to city hall, his potential provincial candidacy, but "I'm not saying another word about football until we get a team. That's it. Not another word."
At city hall, he is rumoured to be the mouthpiece, muscle, brain and conscience of his brother the Mayor. But despite being a human news-generator, a new politician with so much sway after just six months in office that a conservative establishment that shunned him twice now openly courts him - little is known of what the rookie actually does.
"Technically, he's just another councillor," said Councillor Josh Colle, a fellow newbie councillor. "I'm not totally clear what his role is beyond what I see in the council chambers."
Others are more certain.
"He's the de facto mayor," said Councillor Joe Mihevc, who sits behind Mr. Ford in council. "He calls the shots."
Bringing Six Sigma to City Hall
Doug Ford is a 46-year-old father of four daughters. He is five-foot-ten and weighs in at 260 pounds. He does not eat red meat. He used to work out three times a day and bench-press 350 pounds, "but then everything went to hell," he says, grabbing his belly. "I'd like to get back into the 225-pound range, back to being dancing dynamite." He worries the non-stop life of a councillor will kill him.
He drives a black Lincoln Navigator SUV and can leap atop the hood in a single bound. Like many aspects of its driver's personality, the Lincoln is too big for City Hall. On Mr. Ford's first day of work at the clamshell, he scratched his roof navigating the underground parking lot.
The Lincoln has been relegated to an outdoor gravel lot ever since.
Several years ago, his life and business changed when he discovered Lean Six Sigma, a kind of contemporary Taylorism where every aspect of a business is analyzed, charted and stripped of parts that don't create value.
During an interview in his sparsely decorated office, Mr. Ford demonstrates one aspect of Six Sigma he employed while chief executive officer at Deco Labels and Tags, the family printing firm founded in 1962 by his father, Doug Sr., who died in 2006. "We'd do a spaghetti chart," he said, drawing out random scribbles. "You follow a person around. Everywhere he'd go, you follow him and follow him, by the end of it you'd have something like that, a plate of spaghetti." He holds up a tangle of squiggles, meant to map a press operator's movements for an entire shift.
When Six Sigma experts, who rank themselves according to coloured belts much like martial artists (Mr. Ford is an orange belt, third from the bottom), videotaped the press operator, they realized vast portions of his shift were spent searching for lost tools. Deco bought new tools and then traced their shapes on walls and drawers, so it was obvious when something was missing.
"It was just like shop class, we'd come by with a supervisor to check for missing tools," he said. "By end of … it went like this, bing-bang-boom, no more spaghetti." He holds up a series of straight, symmetrical lines. "It's all about limiting movement."
He sees obvious applications at city hall and has encouraged the head of every department to hire two black belts. "It's the best investment any company could ever do."
Spontaneity, ambition and the bottom line
Doug Ford often refers to the city in company terms. He's had bottom lines on the brain since he was seven years old. Back then he was calculating income from his Globe and Mail paper route. "Those Saturday papers, I tell you, those were killers."
Later he would work at an ice rink, credit-card manufacturer and, for four years, Canada Packers, slinging beef (hence his aversion to red meat) on St. Clair Avenue for $12.49 an hour, a handsome sum for a young man at the time.
In 1984, his business attention turned to Deco. A strike at Humber College, where he was studying "business, football and females, like any college guy" prompted him to put on a suit and head to his father's office. "What are you doing?" he remembers his dad asking him when he strolled in.
"I'm not going to sit at home, I'm going to start selling," the younger Mr. Ford said. That was the only job interview he ever needed. Acting on impulse would become his corporate and political trademark.
He dabbled in politics throughout the nineties, helping with Doug Holyday's 1994 election as mayor of Etobicoke, his father's 1995 election as an MPP and then his dad's re-election campaign in 1999, in which the Progressive Conservative establishment under Mike Harris turned on the family, backing Chris Stockwell in a bitter nomination battle for Etobicoke Centre. "There was definitely a split in the conservative family there," said Mr. Holyday, now Toronto's deputy mayor.
As early as 2008 and 2009, when he and his brothers would sit in a Deco office talking about Rob's chances in a mayoral race, they saw the same pattern repeating. Not a single prominent conservative, save Jim Flaherty, was lining up to support Rob. They were shunning the family again. Doug would "personally leave millions on the table" to drop his role at Deco and enter politics. It didn't seem worth it.
Rob knew better. "He's like a walking pollster," says Doug of his younger brother. "Just imagine calling 80 to 100 people from all across Toronto hearing what they have to say. He gets this city. It really bothers me when people say this or that about him.…That guy is brilliant in his own way. Is he a brilliant speaker? Not all the time. Is he eloquent? Not all the time. But man, Rob's my hero. Rob's a political genius."
The grease in the mayor's wheel
Nowadays, Doug Ford may be down millions of dollars personally, but he's up some influential friends politically. He turns down phone calls from Mr. Harris and has rebuffed requests to run provincially from the same conservative establishment that once snubbed the family.
"He's not going anywhere, he loves his brother more than anything else," said Nick Kouvalis, who helped run Rob's campaign with Doug and acted as chief of staff for a spell. "You don't want to get between Doug and his brother. I've been there a couple times. It's hairy."
That's not to say Doug's running Rob's show. The rookie councillor is still green, and it shows in his frequent headline-making outbursts. "He's a very enthusiastic guy who has to learn to how to control how he acts and what he says a little bit," said Mr. Holyday, who has taken Doug aside on several occasions to offer advice on political comportment. "I offer him my thoughts here and there. Whether he heeds the advice, I don't know."
"The mayor's the boss, that's clear," said Mr. Kouvalis. "He approves everything. And the main brains belong to the chief of staff Amir [Remtulla]and Mark [Towhey, director of strategic planning] Mark is the smartest guy in the office. I'd hire him in a heartbeat."
That leaves Doug in more of a COO role to Rob's CEO. He's the hands-on one who's swinging side deals and keeping the mayor's agenda in the minds of other councillors. "I think Doug makes Rob a better mayor," said Councillor Adam Vaughan, a vocal critic of the mayor. "I disagree with him a lot, but it's collegial disagreement. He's open to talking. I have two or three conversations a week with Doug. I've had more conversations with Doug this week than I've had with Rob in 10 years. I think he was quite amazed to come to council and realize we're not all the wide-eyed socialists his brother made us out to be. He's engaged in thinking about the future of the city, and that makes him a more complex person than his brother."
Doug says his chief role is trimming the size and cost of government. "My key goal is to focus on the finances," he said.
In particular, his eye is on financing the Sheppard subway and selling off idle portions of Toronto's $18-billion real-estate portfolio. "We shouldn't be in the real-estate business," said Doug, who sits on the organization responsible for liquidating city properties, Build Toronto. "There is a couple billion dollars sitting out there in the form of vacant buildings, not creating any value. We want to up-zone them and sell them and make a profit." As a major initial stage in that liquidation, Case Ootes, the one-man board at the helm of Toronto Community Housing, announced on Thursday plans to sell 900 homes for $400-million.
The mayor's Sheppard subway plan seems to some a pipe dream. Even Gordon Chong, the man the Mayor appointed to explore financing options for the Sheppard subway, has said the project may end up being unfeasible. But Doug Ford has a plan. He's heard a number of serious proposals already for financing the $4-billion line privately, including at least one from a Chinese firm. He insists the city should start digging with partial funding: accepting a few hundred million from the federal government, borrowing against future tax revenues (known as tax-increment financing) along Eglinton and Sheppard and diverting cash leftover from the $8.1-billion the province has promised for the Eglinton subway. "I know for a fact Eglinton won't cost that much," he said. "Let's just get the shovels in the ground," he added. "Even if we go a kilometre a year, just don't take those boring machines out of the ground once they start going."
Local councillors question the math. "Tax-increment financing is supposed to be used for local improvements," said Mr. Mihevc. "Why should people at Black Creek and Eglinton mortgage their future tax revenues for a subway way out on Sheppard East? The money isn't there. You might squeeze millions or maybe tens of millions that way, but definitely not billions."
As for that $774-million budget shortfall, he seems certain that the mayor's quiet request for 10-per-cent cuts from every city department will fill much of the hole.
"It's tough work, but I'm having the absolute time of my life," he said, as he sat up from an office table to meet with an Armenian delegation. Not such a good time that he'll commit to another term in office, however. "I can't answer that, I don't know," he said of running again. "I know one thing, I don't want to be reading my obituary in the newspaper, and this place may very well kill me if I go much longer."
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