Rob Ford – Toronto’s Next Mayor?

It’s Saturday at noon in the Rob Ford campaign headquarters in Scarborough and the background noise from the activity that surrounds me is chaotic.

However, the noise is incongruent to the scene around me. A well-oiled machine is in place and judging by recent polls, it appears that the unlikely candidate, the boorish, unpolished, yet small c-conservative and grassroots candidate is about to become the 64th mayor of Canada’s largest city. Internal nightly poll summaries of the Ford campaign are also showing the same; Ford leading by about 9 points and growing over the past couple of days.

The geography encompasses 22 federal and 22 provincial ridings, the population exceeding 5 million, in a jurisdiction that represents more people than the entire province of British Columbia. The fight for Toronto is by no means a small operation. Ford has two fully staffed offices, this one in the east end and the other in Rexdale. The Rexdale office used to be an old Swiss Chalet counter that had grease infused into the walls when I toured it a few short months ago, before I was offered and accepted work on the campaign. Thankfully, the building is all cleaned up and serves as Ford’s campaign hub west of Yonge. At the start of the campaign, when they cleaned the ducts, the office was so rank that campaign volunteers set up outdoors for a day. Ford’s label factory in Etobicoke has even served to house some campaign workers including Nick Kouvalis, Ford’s deputy campaign manager, who slept in the office and had access to a shower just off of the factory floor. The scope of any competitive campaign in the city is complex, rounds of tele-townhalls and robo-calls have been conducted by both the Ford campaign and that of his main competitor, former McGuinty cabinet minister George Smitherman. The technology is fairly new in the Canadian context. Indeed many process stories have been written about the tactics during this campaign. On the topic of tactics, a campaign volunteer told me that earlier this week, there was an amusing opportunity to acquire a huge hot air balloon shaped like a train for election day. The campaign planned to put a banner on it with “Stop the Gravy Train. Vote Rob Ford”, however, the balloon was in the Netherlands at the time and the Toronto-based owner couldn’t get it back to the city by Monday.

The “Gravy Train” has become the mainline message of the Rob Ford campaign. A huge swath of voters — prior to the municipal campaign — were found to respond strongly to messages that acknowledged waste and mismanagement at city hall. Lucky for Ford, as a city councillor he had a strong reputation as a combative figure at city hall on these same topics.

It is also no wonder that Rob Ford has become the topic of conversation around the cabinet table in Ottawa. The implications of a Toronto mayor, a conservative mayor, and an unpredictable factor in Rob Ford has the Conservatives wondering about the shifting electoral landscape in Toronto. If Rob Ford represents the populist anger of the exploited yet neglected taxpayer in Toronto, will Ford provide a safety valve to vent pressure against incumbent governments? Will he blaze a path in the Toronto wilderness for Conservatives? How anchored to Ford are federal and provincial fortunes in Toronto?

For Conservatives, their advance scout in Toronto and the evolving demographic landscape has been Jason Kenney. The Minister of “curry in a hurry” was in also in Toronto this week speaking about the Conservative government’s new human smuggling legislation. This bill is the other half of the government’s earlier and successful efforts on refugee reform, legislation that became law just a few months ago. Liberals are still scratching their heads on the Conservative pivot vis-a-vis connecting with new Canadians. Waves of immigration came to Canada under Liberal governments in the preceding decades and many by default found their allegiance with the Liberal Party. Painted as anti-immigrant and anti-ethnic by their opponents, Conservatives are finding that appealing to the values instead of the identities of new Canadians is winning them over. In religion, as in politics, the most faithful are often the converts.

A campaign worker looks up from a phone call and asks if anyone in the busy office speaks Mandarin or Cantonese, the phone is passed to Bo Chen, another worker and the call is answered without missing a beat. “She’s voting for Rob,” the mandarin-speaking Bo explains after finishing the call. Ford’s fortunes among New Canadians has been another unwritten and snidely dismissed story of this campaign. Polling among voters born outside of Canada has been favourable to Ford according to an Ekos report that was released earlier this week showing a 20 point lead among people whom have been traditionally treated as a block and as one to be pandered to by the former political establishment. Ford famously said that “Oriental people work like dogs”. Bo admits that this statement by Ford was his first exposure to the uncouth councillor. His interest was peaked and he signed up for the campaign shortly after, “We do work hard”.

For Rob Ford, the political establishment cannot fathom how the plain-talking, politically incorrect Ford is winning over ethnic voters. “Ethnic voters, like anyone else, are concerned about wasteful spending at City Hall. Where the left panders to ethnic communities, Ford has treated these constituents like anyone else. And, he provides great service,” said Richard Ciano, Ford’s pollster.

Every good campaign is won by hard work, innovation of new techniques, successful execution of previously learned strategies, understanding your voters, seamlessly passing the torch from one tired group of workers to another, and by managing the chaos of the maddening exercise of mass persuasion into an effective machine. We’ve got about 48 hours until the polls close here in Toronto. We are on our way to seeing a conservative mayor in the city of Toronto.

Comments

comments

  • http://canadiansense.blogspot.com/ Canadiansense

    My family in Toronto (2) will be voting for Rob Ford. Everyone they have spoken to is on the same wavelength. This is a message to end the gravy train.

    I hope the Federal Conservatives will step up with the reviews under Stockwell Day and find more savings. Kevin Page is providing cover for smaller growth in spending in the major programs.

  • David

    Excellent piece but I’d be a little more muted about success. It ain’t Monday yet.

    If Ford wins it will be a tremendous story. Perhaps worthy of a book.

    He will have systematically defeated the establishment.

    It includes the media. The To Star had fabricated stories and distorted others in order to cripple his campaign. They among others which slurred insults have been unable to stop him.

    It also includes the Liberal party. We have learned that Liberal hacks in Queen’s park will be given the afternoon off in a shameless move to help Smitherman win. They fought amongst themselves and finally settled on one candidate. They chose Smitherman not because of his record nor because of his policies. They chose him because they thought he could win. That’s all that matters.

    Conventional wisdom has been tossed aside. As you suggested the platitudes about how immigrants think (or should think) might finally be put to rest.

    Good luck.

  • Liz J

    Nothing empties wallets like wasteful spending by Municipal governments and this is one year when it seems to be hitting many communities and the big word is “change”.

    When it comes to patronizing, it’s the ultimate insult and it appears Rob Ford does none of it. It’s been the Liberal way and there has been an awakening to that fact in the city of Toronto.

    Hopefully we catch the wave, the Rob Ford Wave right across the province and indeed across the country.

    The city of Ottawa has not awakened, they are at this point hopeless and are about to elect one of McGuinty’s CabMins, Jim Watson who has never finished a term in elected office including his last stint as Mayor of Ottawa. IMO this points to an opportunist who’s in it for himself.

  • Beer and Popcorn

    Every dirty trick in the book has come out on this one and the left is none too pleased that the uncouth, straight talking Ford has run as solid of a campaign as he has.

    Its really interesting to see – the hard core lefties and Liberal$ have literally been beaten back to the core of downtown Toronto where it is still majority Smitherman and a few Pantaolne signs. On the ourskirts of town it is all FORD signs.

    The most joyus sound is that of how absolutely disgusted that the Toronto elite is that Mr Ford is as close to winning as he is. Barbara Hall and Max Beck’s e-mail is one example but I’ve also heard several more. They are absolutely appalled and it is such sweet music I just can’t do it justice.

    Keep up the great work Stephen!

  • Anonymous

    This has been one of the most fascinating mayoralty races that I can remember. But on Tuesday someone is going to have to bring the two sides together. I think Rob Ford can do it.

  • batb

    Anyone who works hard in Toronto to make an honest living is going to vote for Rob Ford. I am, and that definition applies to me and my family.

    We’re tired of being taken for a ride by the union-loving, entitled, left-liberal boobs who always say they’re “for the working man/the working family.”

    Bullsh**.

    They’re using us and our tax dollars to forward their “progressive” (sic) agenda which benefits only them and their cronies. There are a lot of “cronies” here in Toronto (some of them called “Crombie,” the tiny, perfect former mayor — shame on him for endorsing George Smitherman). A vote for “Slitherman” (perfect moniker) is a vote for the same-old, same-old status quo here in Toronto, a Toronto, BTW, which is a total disaster, not just politically but physically. I grew up here, when Toronto was a beautiful city. Now Toronto is like a woman past her prime: hair a mess, mascara running, slip showing, dress torn, runs in her stocking, shoes down at the heels. Rob Ford’s blowing the whistle on the cronies. He’s saying enough is too much.

    I love Rob Ford for being himself –not “the perfect, tiny mayor,” thank God — for calling a spade a spade, for always spending far less than he’s “entitled” to, for promising to lower taxes, for understanding what hardworking, over-taxed Torontonians face every day in order to take care of their families, for understanding that frivolous Moron-Miller-type, thuggish, unionist, opportunists are taking Toronto down.

    Ford cares for the working wo/man and knows that the multi-culti, all-recent-immigrants-are-superior-to-the-rest-of-us garbage is just that: not true, out-to-lunch, leftist crap.

    Am I mad? Yup. Toronto needs a change, and Rob Ford’s the only mayoral candidate who can bring change to this city. If he loses, we’re up S**t Creek without a paddle.

  • batb

    Anyone who works hard in Toronto to make an honest living is going to vote for Rob Ford. I am, and that definition applies to me and my family.

    We’re tired of being taken for a ride by the union-loving, entitled, left-liberal boobs who always say they’re “for the working man/the working family.”

    Bullsh**.

    They’re using us and our tax dollars to forward their “progressive” (sic) agenda which benefits only them and their cronies. There are a lot of “cronies” here in Toronto (some of them called “Crombie,” the tiny, perfect former mayor — shame on him for endorsing George Smitherman). A vote for “Slitherman” (perfect moniker) is a vote for the same-old, same-old status quo here in Toronto, a Toronto, BTW, which is a total disaster, not just politically but physically. I grew up here, when Toronto was a beautiful city. Now Toronto is like a woman past her prime: hair a mess, mascara running, slip showing, dress torn, runs in her stocking, shoes down at the heels. Rob Ford’s blowing the whistle on the cronies. He’s saying enough is too much.

    I love Rob Ford for being himself –not “the perfect, tiny mayor,” thank God — for calling a spade a spade, for always spending far less than he’s “entitled” to, for promising to lower taxes, for understanding what hardworking, over-taxed Torontonians face every day in order to take care of their families, for understanding that frivolous Moron-Miller-type, thuggish, unionist, opportunists are taking Toronto down.

    Ford cares for the working wo/man and knows that the multi-culti, all-recent-immigrants-are-superior-to-the-rest-of-us garbage is just that: not true, out-to-lunch, leftist crap.

    Am I mad? Yup. Toronto needs a change, and Rob Ford’s the only mayoral candidate who can bring change to this city. If he loses, we’re up S**t Creek without a paddle.

  • http://twitter.com/PeggyTupper Peggy Tupper

    A thorough, well thought out and insightful article. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    …the uncouth, straight talking Ford has run as solid of a campaign as he has.

    Let’s be fair. Mr Ford is NOT running his campaign; the powerful conservative machine jumped in early, and he’s getting the best help available in his bid for mayor. Including the very capable Stephen Taylor.

    The above is not a criticism; if anything it’s my grudging admiration for the effectiveness of the conservative machinery. It also hints strongly that a Mayor Ford won’t be left to his own devices; there will be viziers and sages just a BlackBerry message away. I suppose that’s a good thing.

    Mr Ford has had the tactical advantage of being alone on the right, leaving the rest of the contenders to squabble over the left and whatever remains of the mostly vacant political center.

    But, hey, how about that Naheed Nenshi! Didja see THAT coming? Awesome.

  • Anonymous

    Stephen – if this was the US, you’d have to end your post with

    “I’m Rob Ford and I approve this message”

    ;-)

    Nice piece, anyhow. I used to eat at that Swiss Chalet, back when there were more decent jobs in Rexdale.

  • Enkidu2

    Here’s hoping he doesn’t pull a Ric McCiver!

  • real conservative

    I was out at the Rexdale office today and it was people in and out on sign crews and GOTV work hitting neighbourhoods. Several people were calling on phones and while the office didn’t seem that full it was hectic. There is confidence that Rob can win but nobody is taking it for granted and it is full steam ahead. We heard that George has the resources of 500 people on Monday from the Liberal machine to get his vote out so no matter what, Liberals bring their ‘A game’ when it comes election day. So once again for all conservatives reading this, do what you can for Rob in the next few days, but most of all go out and vote for the guy on Monday October 25th, 2010. (real conservative)

  • Bec

    I know, I’m still in shock over last weeks results but in that case, THAT was a split vote on the right. Barb and Rick (+the 8 other candidates that pulled out but were still on the ballot) more than outnumbered Nenshi’s.

    I’m trying to keep an open mind but “balancing the budget” and “eliminating the deficit” from a left leaning mind means TAX increases. That’s the buzz I’m hearing, daily.

    Toronto, get back on track and elect this guy and we will absolutely, Respect you in the Morning!

  • Liz J

    It’s gotta be pretty stressful for Smitherman these days, he gave up his seat on the McGuinty wrecking crew of the province confident he would win the Mayoralty of Toronto. He may be wise to actually wear a Depend for real this time as a precaution as the election results flow in.

  • Anonymous

    Face it, Torontonians: Miller time was good.

    [ sits back, grabs popcorn]

    I expect you’ll have a reply. Any chance of numbers to counter the arguments made in this article, or do you think another hissy rant will suffice?

  • Beer and Popcorn

    True enough – any smart politician brings the best to the floor when it is time to dance.

    But Ford started years ago in Toronto on a local radio station once a week where he would bring some transparency to how money was being spent and how the left made decisions. I would argue that his rise is more attributable to the grassroots movement and frusturation of what Torontonians heard (he’s always had the same message of waste – even when there were times when he was the only one who was saying it) more than any slick conservative campaign machine.

    It has been my experience that the average Torontonians who go to work every day and fight to make ends meet absolutely grimace each time they see a new city of Toronto $50,000 Hybrid vehicle, see some sign advertising public services that they don’t want and will never use or see Adam Vahghan, Adam Giambrone and David Miller smiling for a picture at a $12,000 going away party for Kyle Rae.

    I hope, if anything, this get’s the attention of the federal conservative party and get’s them to do some work next election in Toronto.

    I hope Mr Harper also notices how straight talk translates into votes.

  • Beer and Popcorn

    True enough – any smart politician brings the best to the floor when it is time to dance.

    But Ford started years ago in Toronto on a local radio station once a week where he would bring some transparency to how money was being spent and how the left made decisions. I would argue that his rise is more attributable to the grassroots movement and frusturation of what Torontonians heard (he’s always had the same message of waste – even when there were times when he was the only one who was saying it) more than any slick conservative campaign machine.

    It has been my experience that the average Torontonians who go to work every day and fight to make ends meet absolutely grimace each time they see a new city of Toronto $50,000 Hybrid vehicle, see some sign advertising public services that they don’t want and will never use or see Adam Vahghan, Adam Giambrone and David Miller smiling for a picture at a $12,000 going away party for Kyle Rae.

    I hope, if anything, this get’s the attention of the federal conservative party and get’s them to do some work next election in Toronto.

    I hope Mr Harper also notices how straight talk translates into votes.

  • batb

    Who’s Janet Webb?

  • batb

    Keep Smitherman’s Fist Out Of The Tax Payer Pumpkin @

    http://blazingcatfur.blogspot.com/

  • Mthielen

    I am sure you are aware of the problem re a warning when trying to access this site. Firefox has the message, Internet Explorer lets one in with no problem.

  • Liz J

    Question mark can now be removed!!!!

  • http://www.stephentaylor.ca Stephen Taylor

    Woohoo!

  • dukebasketball

    Congrats – it is just me or does the air smell a little fresher outside in the big smoke tonight!?

  • Anonymous

    [facepalm]

    I’ll be in the bar.

    Try not to stay up all night partying, tomorrow’s still a workday.

  • batb

    EE-HAW!!!!

  • batb

    ‘Crying in your beer, kenn2?

  • Anonymous

    That would be a waste of beer. No, just a face-palm.

    (I’ll get even by riding my bike more, especially around Rob’s place, just as the limo picks him up each day.)

    You and Rob are entitled to a honeymoon. Have fun.

  • Liz J

    Have to admire how some handle extreme disappointment eh? Sometimes civility breaks out, even a bit of humour, as if to say ‘be nice to me, I’ve been badly bruised and can’t take any gloating’.

    The hangover after celebrating a win is more tolerable one after drowning your sorrows.

  • batb

    Thanks, kenn2, I don’t mind if I do! ;-)