Not even under his brother Rob has Toronto seen a display of populism as crude as the one being put on by candidate Doug Ford. Rob always stressed his bond with ordinary people. He was the one who toured public housing estates, spent hours personally answering constituent calls and boasted of his role as champion of the little guy against the stuck-up Toronto establishment.
Now that Doug is running for mayor in his brother's place, he is taking that campaign to a new, more obnoxious level. His target is John Tory, the former business executive and provincial Conservative leader who opinion polls suggest is the front-runner in the contest for mayor.
Even before Mr. Tory launched his run, Doug Ford was calling him "one of the elites of the 1 per cent." In the past week, actively joining the race for the first time since his brother was diagnosed with cancer, he plunged into Huey Long territory, painting Mr. Tory as a spoiled son of privilege who had everything handed to him "on a silver platter" and came from a "different world" than most people.
Pulling out of a $800-a-table debate at the downtown Empire Club – "that is more money than some families make in a week!" said a Ford campaign statement – he claimed that Mr. Tory "is down there to represent the downtown elites," throwing in "the lobbyists" and "political insiders" for good measure.
"Every man a king, but no one wears a crown," said Long when he ran for governor of Louisiana in 1928. "I am campaigning to be the mayor of all people, not the mayor of the privileged few," says Doug Ford running for mayor of Toronto.
Will it work? Not likely. Toronto is not Louisiana in the 1920s. Most voters will recognize the silly soak-the-rich rhetoric that Mr. Ford is spouting as what it is – a last desperate ploy to hang on to power.
There are divides in this city, no doubt – between downtown and suburbs, rich and poor, newcomers and more established groups. But class warfare is not Toronto's way.
The Toronto way is to climb up, not tear down. It is what the Fords did themselves, when their father rose from a poor background to create a thriving family business. Doug built on his Dad's hard work by taking the labelling company to greater success. The Fords of all people should know that Torontonians respond best to a message of optimism, not resentment.
Mr. Ford is drawing a cartoon, with rich guys in silk top hats against the heroic, toiling masses who "work their back off" just trying to get by.
Most will see the caricature of Mr. Tory as absurd, especially coming from a wealthy businessman like Mr. Ford. Mr. Tory may have a privileged background – he freely admits it – but he has spent much of his career giving back, as a leader of civic causes and charities. The most recent polls shows him leading even in the usual Ford Nation strongholds, Scarborough and Etobicoke.
The Ford campaign says that Mr. Ford "is committed to running a campaign based on connecting with the average hard-working people of Toronto." Fortunately, the average hard-working people of Toronto know when they are being patronized and pandered to. (This is the man, remember, who was caught handing out $20 bills at a public housing complex.) Patting them on the head while trying to stir them up against the rich won't work, no matter how hard Doug Ford pitches his populist sludge.