Amid Ford Fest row, Olivia Chow vows to cut red tape on park permits

Rob Ford’s upcoming barbecue meet-and-greet in a public park continues to raise questions about how the city issues permits for community groups looking to hold events in public parks.

Candidate softens stance of mayor's barbecue on city propety

Mayor Rob Ford listens to fellow mayoral contender Olivia Chow during an election debate hosted in Scarborough by the Canadian Tamil Congress on July 15, 2014. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Rob Ford’s upcoming barbecue meet-and-greet in a public park continues to raise questions about how the city issues permits for community groups looking to hold events in public parks. 

The mayor and his family are hosting one of their annual Ford Fest parties at Thompson Memorial Park in Scarborough this year and have received a city permit to do so. But Ford's mayoral opponents have protested the permit, complaining the party violates a bylaw prohibiting partisan campaigning on city-run public squares and green spaces during an election cycle.

Mayoral contender Olivia Chow used the controversy to highlight barriers that non-partisan groups face when booking city parks for public events. She spoke just outside a park in East York on Wednesday touting a campaign promise to "cut red tape" for grassroots organizations looking to hold events on city property.

"Parks are for people, for kids to enjoy a movie night, for people to connect with each other," said Chow, who proposed to move the registration process online and to reduce the number of forms organizers have to fill out.

While answering questions, Chow contrasted the Fords’ experience with those of community groups looking to hold events on city property. She gave the example of Sabina Ali, who, according to Chow, received a permit for a community bazaar late on a Friday afternoon for an event that was scheduled for that weekend.

"And she started early, she tried and tried and tried, and it was quite difficult," said Chow.

"Because he is a mayor, maybe it is really easy for him to get the permit," said Ali, who attended the announcement. "For the groups like us — the grassroots organizations — it is a little bit challenging."

'We've done it every year'

On Tuesday, Rob Ford defended his plan to use a city park for Ford Fest, saying his family has been holding a free community celebration for nearly two decades. Up until recently, the party has been held in the backyard of his mother's home. 

"We've done it every year. Not just an election year every year,” said Ford. “So whoever wants to make this into a political issue, obviously that's their intention."

After calling on the city earlier in the week not to grant Ford Fest a permit, Chow took a softer stance on the issue during her Wednesday announcement.

“It sounds like the city folks said he can get the permit because he said he's not going to be campaigning in a park,” said Chow. “I take him at his word for it that he is not going to campaign. We shall see.”

During the 2010 municipal election, Ford declared food and alcohol bills from that year’s Ford Fest as campaign expenses.

This year, the occasion won’t have alcohol, said the mayor, who recently completed a two-month stint in rehab for drug and alcohol abuse.

Ford said there wasn't enough time to organize that portion of the party. "I'm not drinking, I cannot drink," he said, acknowledging his struggles with alcohol abuse. "But I’m not going to be this guy holier than thou and say you can't drink."

New poll suggests tight three-way race

Chow’s announcement comes on the heels of the release of an opinion poll that shows the three front runners in the election race are locked in a virtual tie.  

On Monday, Toronto polling firm Forum Research Inc. surveyed more than 1,000 Toronto residents about whom they would vote for if the election were held this week. Former city councillor and NDP MP Chow won the support of 29 per cent of the respondents, 28 per cent said they would vote for former Ontario PC leader John Tory and 27 per cent said they would support Ford. 

Six per cent of respondents said they would vote for Councillor Karen Stintz and five per cent said they would support former city budget chief David Soknacki.

Forum Research says its poll is accurate within plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20 – meaning the three leading candidates in the elections find themselves in a statistical tie. 

The results also suggest that Ford, who completed a two-month stint in rehab this spring he admitted to having smoked crack cocaine, remains a serious contender in the race.

"It appears that Rob Ford is not going away anytime soon, but neither has he been able to maintain his pre‐rehab levels of popularity, even among the demographic groups we know are sympathetic to him,” said Lorne Bozinoff, president of Forum Research, in a Wednesday statement.