Toronto Mayor Rob Ford plunged back into a polarized city on Canada Day, jeered by some and applauded by others, one day after his return from rehab, making his way from east to west on what was effectively a new Day One for his mayoral campaign.
After two months at a Muskoka rehabilitation centre receiving treatment for alcohol and drug abuse, a smiling and energetic Mr. Ford made a positive impression on some.
"He's lost a lot of weight," Paul Bury said at the Scotiabank CHIN Picnic at the Canadian National Exhibition, where hundreds cheered the mayor. "He's looking good, like a mayor should, to be honest."
Mr. Ford's team refused to tell The Globe and Mail where he was heading after the CHIN event – and Mr. Ford did not take questions from reporters. "Today's about Canada Day," he said, deflecting queries at a morning parade in East York. He did, however, assert that he now weighs less than his brother, Councillor Doug Ford. Councillor Ford said the mayor has been doing three workouts daily.
A day earlier, Mr. Ford told a news conference at which he also did not take questions that he was "ashamed, embarrassed and humiliated" over the behaviour that prompted him to take a medical leave. He said he was to blame for all his problems. He made those statements in a 20-minute address before a hand-picked group of reporters who were barred from asking questions, prompting one local columnist to say the media should have boycotted that event.
But many people who attended the CHIN picnic said they found his statement encouraging.
"I felt it was very honest," Mr. Bury said after having his picture taken with the mayor. "He did an amazing job running the city the past four years and hopefully he's going to get another four years."
"People love him," Stephen Evans said. "His return is triumphant; it's what the people really want to see."
By early evening, Mr. Ford was among supporters in Etobicoke at Centennial Park's Ribfest.
The day started off with more mixed reviews when Mr. Ford ran into several hecklers at the East York parade, of all ages.
Joe Killoran, who teaches politics, law and history at Malvern Collegiate Institute, confronted Mr. Ford, accusing him of using public office for personal gain by lobbying city officials on behalf of Apollo Health and Beauty Care, a client of his family's labelling business. Those lobbying efforts were first revealed by The Globe.
"People have a million questions about you," he shouted.
"A disgrace, an absolute disgrace – to have him in our parade is just a travesty," a grey-haired woman shouted as Mr. Ford passed with his brother and an entourage carrying a large "Ford Nation" flag.
Councillor Ford said seven out of every 10 people at the East York parade were supportive of his brother. "He needs four out of 10 so seven out of 10 is not bad."
He also accused the mayor's opponents of sending hecklers. "The other campaigns, they send these guys over, they chase us all the way down the side roads. We don't do that. We never have. We don't play dirty like they do."
Jamey Heath, a spokesman for Olivia Chow, said the allegation was false. "Olivia's campaign in no way sent hecklers. I think what we saw was a spontaneous response from a city that wants a new mayor." A spokesman for John Tory's campaign also said it "absolutely did not" send hecklers. A spokesperson for Karen Stintz said the campaign had "no comment at this time."