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The ‘worst thing for democracy,’ according to the Ford brothers

No one does high dudgeon quite like Fords in defeat, and the brothers were in the stratosphere of indignation after city council voted on Monday to choose a replacement for former councillor Doug Holyday by appointment. Mayor Rob and councillor Doug wanted a by-election in his Etobicoke ward instead, so when council voted against the idea, Doug Ford called it the "worst thing for democracy this city's ever seen." Yes, the worst.

"Council voted against the people again," he said, just as it did when it defeated the mayor's "subways, subways, subways" plan or voted against expanding the gambling floor at Woodbine. He called it a plot by council's left-wing to put one of their own in Mr. Holyday's seat.

"Council is going to force their will against the people of Etobicoke Centre and find a left-leaning, tax-and-spend councillor" for the ward, he said, predicting a season of heavy lobbying and politicking before the appointment in October and condemning "the sense of arrogance and entitlement that these councillors have down here."

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He and the mayor – they are different. "We believe that the people are in charge, not these politicians that connive and sneak and make their backroom deals," Doug Ford said. "That's what we're against. We're for the people." No pointy-headed professor could have defined populism so succinctly.

Speaking a few minutes later, his brother took up the cry. He accused his opponents of thwarting the will of the people of Ward 3, who, according to the mayor, overwhelmingly desire a by-election. How does he know this? He held a community meeting last week and asked people to fill out ballots for appointment or by-election. Seventy of 83 voted by-election. Nine opted for appointment. Four, in this grand democratic exercise, spoiled their ballots, the mayor says. Result: 84 per cent for by-election.

He called council's decision to instead go for appointment a blatant attempt to keep him from campaigning in the ward. If he did, you see, it might prevent the left from putting "one of their tax-and-spend lefties in there."

Well, it isn't going to work. No, siree. "I'm not going to be handcuffed," he said.

The trouble with the Fords' conspiracy theory is that some of the alleged conspirators were on their side. Two of the pinkest "lefties" on council, Gord Perks and Mike Layton, voted with the mayor for a by-election. On the other side, two conservative-minded members of Mr. Ford's executive committee, Paul Ainslie and Denzil Minnan-Wong, voted against it. So the idea that this was a pile-on doesn't hold up.

Conscientious people could go either way on the issue. There was obvious merit in the mayor's argument that a by-election is more democratic. But given that the next general election is just a year or so away, spending an estimated $225,000 to hold a by-election this fall struck many councillors as wasteful. In the end, they voted it down.

That isn't the end of democracy as we know it. The appointed councillor will be chosen by free votes of two democratic bodies: Etobicoke York community council and city council itself. It isn't likely they will appoint Karl Marx in place of Doug Holyday. Most councillors say that, to respect voters, it would be best to choose someone with views roughly similar to those of the departed former deputy mayor and newly elected MPP.

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As for the vast left-wing conspiracy to silence the mayor, it seems safe to say that he will find a way to campaign regardless.

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About the Author
Toronto columnist

Marcus Gee is Toronto columnist for the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper.Born in Toronto, he graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1979 with a degree in modern European history, then worked as a reporter for The Province, Vancouver's morning newspaper. More

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