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The widow of Toronto’s bombastic former mayor Rob Ford is running in a diverse Etobicoke riding as a candidate for a far-right fringe party. Affection for Rob Ford has helped her to win hearts and minds – but will that translate into votes?

Renata Ford, the People's Party candidate in Etobicoke North, stands outside her campaign office on Dixon Road. Etobicoke was once the political home base of her husband, Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who died of cancer in 2016.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

On a sunny afternoon, Renata Ford goes door to door making her pitch to prospective voters with no mention of the party she represents.

Several people recognize her last name, however, and ask if she’s related to Rob Ford, the deceased former mayor of Toronto.

“I speak to the people in my riding … they’ll come up to me and they’ll say we don’t have the representation we had with your husband. And I hear it over and over again and I want to restore my husband’s name in the riding,” she said during an interview.

Ms. Ford is trying to tap into the Ford family dynasty in Etobicoke North, a diverse, northwest Toronto constituency. Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who is her brother-in-law, holds the same riding provincially and nephew Councillor Michael Ford represents it at city hall.

Ms. Ford, who is a candidate for the fringe, far-right People’s Party of Canada, is trying to unseat incumbent Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan, who has held the riding for the past 11 years.

At top, Ms. Ford kisses Rob Ford at his swearing-in as mayor of Toronto in 2010. At bottom, she kisses his coffin at his funeral in 2016.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail; Mark Blinch/Reuters

Ms. Ford’s unexpected foray into politics comes after a turbulent few years: the 2016 death of her husband after a mayoral term marred by a crack cocaine scandal, her own history of substance abuse and her lawsuit against Doug Ford.

According to a recent poll, Ms. Ford has a chance of winning. The poll, which was sponsored by the independent Leaders’ Debates Commission, found that 29.9 per cent of the 409 respondents surveyed in the constituency would be possible, likely or certain to vote for Ms. Ford. The poll was conducted by EKOS Research Associates using robocalls between Aug. 26 and Sept. 9. Respondents were asked: “How likely are you to vote for Renata Ford, the People’s Party of Canada candidate in your riding in the next federal election?” The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20. (The full results can be found here.)

Ms. Ford’s showing in the poll was, in part, behind the recent decision by the commission to allow People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier to participate in the official leaders’ debates next month.

Ms. Ford has a complicated relationship with her husband’s family.

Just days before last year’s provincial election, she launched a $16.25-million lawsuit against Doug Ford, alleging he was negligent in managing the family’s business and depriving her and her two children of the money left behind to support them. The Premier has denied the allegations. Ms. Ford said the dispute is now in mediation. Ivana Yelich, Mr. Ford’s spokeswoman, declined comment on the lawsuit, saying it is a private matter.

March 28, 2016: Ms. Ford and her children, Doug and Stephanie, arrive at Toronto City Hall with future Ontario premier Doug Ford behind them. Here, Rob Ford's casket would lie in repose for two days while Torontonians paid their respects before the funeral.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Today, newspaper clippings of Rob Ford hang on the wall of Ms. Ford's Etobicoke campaign office.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

In addition to her husband’s drug and alcohol use, Ms. Ford has her own history of substance abuse.

After she filed the lawsuit in June of 2018, the Progressive Conservative campaign released a statement from Rob and Doug’s mother, Diane Ford, saying: “Renata has serious struggles with addiction, and our hope is that she will accept help for the sake of herself and my grandchildren.”

Ms. Ford says she has been clean and sober since she was arrested for drunk driving in December, 2016.

“Time heals and I’ve been working with my [addictions] counsellor to get myself back being healthy and ready to take on and to be able to represent my area properly,” she said.

Shortly after last year’s provincial election, Ms. Ford was given a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to impaired driving in relation to the 2016 incident.

Ms. Ford said she still speaks to Doug, but not about politics, and said they did not discuss her plans to run federally before she approached the People’s Party earlier this year.

People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier signs a message board in Ms. Ford's office on Sept. 11.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Despite her in-laws’ Tory roots, Ms. Ford said she chose the People’s Party because it aligns with her views, saying she and Rob supported Mr. Bernier’s unsuccessful bid for the leadership of the federal Conservatives.

The one-year-old party advocates gutting foreign aid, slashing immigration and refugee numbers, and building fences to block asylum seekers at the border.

Ms. Ford, who had virtually no public profile during her husband’s time at city hall, says she has always been a political junkie and was active behind the scenes.

Ms. Ford walks past the closed Don Bosco Secondary School, whose football team Rob Ford used to coach.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

As she knocked on doors on the quiet street where her husband once coached high-school football, mention of her name led to looks of recognition and stories about Rob. Clive Newman, a contractor who was working outside his house, greeted Ms. Ford warmly. However, after she moved onto the next house, he was asked which party she represented. “Conservative, isn’t it?” he said. His smile faded when told she was a candidate for the People’s Party and their policies, including on immigration. “That’s not good because this country is run by immigrants,” he said.

Ms. Duncan, the incumbent Liberal who was recently minister of science and sport, said Ms. Ford hasn’t had a presence in the riding. “I’ve never met her and I’ve not seen her in our community."

Other Etobicoke North candidates include Conservative Sarabjit Kaur, Naiima Farah for the NDP and Nancy Ghuman for the Green Party.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail


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