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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford speaks to the Canadian Club of Toronto on Thursday March 3, 2011, in Toronto.

FRANK GUNN

Doug Ford wants you to know this about his younger brother: Rob Ford is a social liberal at heart. So when the younger Ford kicks off his improbable run for mayor on talk radio Thursday morning, expect more than his usual red-in-the-face squealing about councillors' snouts in the trough.

"Rob has this so-called reputation with the media that he's a slash-and-burn guy," said Doug Ford, who is managing his brother's campaign. "I'll tell you, the people who know Rob will tell you, he's the biggest social liberal there is and he's the biggest fiscal conservative there is."

"Another social liberal side of Rob," his brother continues, "Rob wants to reallocate all the wasted funds and all the bureaucracy that happens at city hall and reallocate it to child care, reallocate it to parks, in keeping the swimming pools open. That's what Rob wants to do."

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If there is, in fact, more to Councillor Ford than he has demonstrated in 10 years at city hall, where he opposed much but launched little, he now has seven months under the spotlight to prove it. Doug Ford promises his brother would lower or scrap taxes, including the vehicle registration and land-transfer taxes, and cut red tape for businesses.

But no matter where those pledges land Mr. Ford on election night, his entry radically rewrites the narrative of the 2010 mayor's race.

Mr. Ford is a genuine right-winger in a field that already leans that way, with Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, former Liberal fundraiser Rocco Rossi and, to a lesser extent, former deputy premier George Smitherman, all positioning themselves to the right of David Miller.

Only Joe Pantalone is running as a keeper of Mr. Miller's legacy. For Mr. Pantalone, who relaunched his own campaign Wednesday night, Mr. Ford's candidacy is a godsend that further splinters the right-of-centre vote in a city where that constituency tends to be limited in size and power.

However, Toronto voters did elect one right-of-centre mayor to whom Mr. Ford is occasionally compared. "He's Mel Lastman without the sense of humour or his high ethical standards," said Councillor Adam Vaughan, one of many councillors who'd be happy to see the back of Mr. Ford if he sacrifices his seat in a bid for the mayor's chain.

It's true Mr. Ford has been in trouble for drunkenly berating seatmates at a Maple Leafs game, lying about it, then admitting it and apologizing. He caused a stir when he referred to Asians as "Orientals." He once called Mr. Mammoliti "Gino Boy," on the floor of council - one of several clashes foreshadow more fights now that both are running for mayor.

Yet despite these troubles, Mr. Ford has everyman appeal. First elected in 2000, the Etobicoke populist won re-election with 80 per cent of the vote in 2003 and 66 per cent in 2006. He coaches football at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School in Etobicoke and created a foundation to raise money for football equipment at other schools in the city. He is a 40-year-old father of two young children who talks openly about struggles with his weight. He gives out his cellphone number to anyone who asks. And when his constituents have a problem, he calls them back personally or shows up at their doors.

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In fact, he often shows up at doors outside Ward 2 Etobicoke North. He is unpopular with his colleagues in part because he swoops into other wards when people complain they've been snubbed by the city and their own councillor.

"Mr. Ford is known to be a maker of big splashes," said Myer Siemiatycki, a municipal politics expert at Ryerson University. "He is a loud, forceful presence and he will make himself heard on the campaign trail."

Mr. Ford has cemented his reputation by attacking how his colleagues spend public money, particularly from their $53,100 office budgets. His railing helped make a difference: The city rewrote its expense policy in 2008 and began posting to the web every receipt and invoice for which councillors are reimbursed. The budget committee has recommended councillors' office budgets be reduced by 5 per cent, a proposal council votes on next month.

But even Mr. Ford's fiscally conservative allies admit his tightwad bona fides won't necessarily make him a good mayor.

"Well ..." Councillor Doug Holyday said, weighing his words carefully, "I have reservations. Rob's been a critic but it takes more than just being a critic to be the mayor. I'm not sure we've seen that side of him yet."

Mr. Holyday usually finishes second to Mr. Ford in the contest to spend as little of the office budget as possible. Mr. Ford pays for supplies out of his own pocket, which prompted the city's integrity commissioner and auditor-general to chastise him in 2007 for doing so without submitting receipts. The city's rules are designed to keep third parties, such as developers, from bankrolling councillors who submit no expenses.

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There's no mystery around where Mr. Ford obtains his supplies and his money. He, Doug, 45, and their brother Randy, 48, own Deco Labels and Tags, a printing company that Graphic Monthly Canada ranked 32nd in Canada with sales of $25.6-million in 2007, the most recent year for which the industry magazine published figures. The brothers inherited the company from their father, Doug Ford, a Progressive Conservative backbencher in Mike Harris's first government.

His pedigree and council performance aside, maybe Mayor Rob Ford could be the social liberal his brother says he is. Asked about his brother's goals for Toronto, Doug Ford replies with a line that David Miller watchers would recognize instantly. "The three largest priorities Rob has is to make Toronto a better place to live, a better place to work and a better place to play."

With a report from Rick Cash

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