How Doug Ford's dad lost his seat when Ontario's legislature shrank 2 decades ago

Two decades ago, a decision to shrink the number of seats at Queen's Park forced Doug Ford's dad to enter a nomination contest to hang onto his job as an MPP. He lost.

A move by Premier Doug Ford to shrink Toronto’s city council has echoes of a past reduction

Ontario premier Mike Harris shrinks the seat count in Queen's Park, forcing Ford to go up against Chris Stockwell. 4:37

Twenty years ago, Doug Ford Sr. had a fight on his hands, and it was all because someone thought Ontario needed fewer politicians.

The Etobicoke, Ont., businessman became a Member of Provincial Parliament in 1995, part of the so-called Common Sense Revolution that swept the Progressive Conservatives into office and made Mike Harris premier.

Ford Sr. wouldn't be there for long, however, as the government cut the number of seats in the legislature — including his own. In some ways, the situation was similar to what his namesake son would do as premier two decades later, when he moved to cut the number of council seats in Toronto by half.

From 130 seats to 103

"Damn the guns, damn the newspapers, damn everybody," said Doug Ford Sr. on his determination to win the PC nomination in 1998. (CBC Archives/CBC News)

When the Harris government passed a 1996 bill that would reduce the number of seats at Queen's Park from 130 to 103 — culling the legislative ranks by about 20 per cent — in the next election, Ford had a choice to make.

He was determined to stay at Queen's Park as a nomination battle loomed in 1998.

"You have to be a team player today," Ford told CBC reporter Hamlin Grange in 1998. "I'm a supporter of the Harris government."

Ford's riding of ​Etobicoke—Humber was being eliminated. So was the neighbouring riding of Etobicoke West, held by Chris Stockwell, another member of the PC caucus and the Speaker. The MPPs would have to face off in the new riding that took their place, Etobicoke Centre.  

Grange's report painted Ontario as a kingdom of sorts, ruled by a king — Harris — and dukes and duchesses who were jousting for the right to represent the PCs in Etobicoke Centre and several other new ridings.

Stockwell was known within the party as a maverick, and according to Grange's report, Harris would be happy to see him lose the nomination.

Son was by his side

Doug Ford speaks for his father's nomination campaign for Etobicoke Centre in November 1998. (CBC Archives/CBC News)

And Ford Sr. was doing his utmost to win it: knocking on doors with his son Doug, the future premier of Ontario, by his side, making T-shirts, posters and stickers splashed with his name, and casting doubt on Stockwell's Etobicoke credentials.

"He lives down at Queen's Park, he's not in the riding. His family lives with him," the younger Doug Ford said. "To represent the people in the riding, you have to live here."

Stockwell, who protested with a list of his Etobicoke connections, had his own accusations about Doug Ford Sr.'s tactics.

"He buys memberships for them and then puts them on the list," he said, referring to his nomination rival. "We found people on the list who are dead, who are teachers and really don't have any interest in joining the Conservative party, who are Liberals."

But the elder Ford was undeterred.

'Damn everybody'

Ford's opponent, Chris Stockwell, said the Ford campaign was buying party memberships for people to boost its supporter count. (CBC Archives/CBC News)

"We just look at it this way; damn the guns, damn the newspapers, damn everybody, because we're dedicated people," he said.

In the end, Stockwell won the nomination and the subsequent election. He died earlier this year.

But the Ford family name would endure in Etobicoke with the election of Rob Ford — the son of Doug Sr. and the brother of the younger Doug Ford — to Toronto City Council in 2000.

Sons carry on legacy

The elder Doug Ford died in 2006, meaning he did not get to see his two sons win leadership roles in government in the years to come.

After winning Toronto's mayoral election in 2010, Rob Ford served a tumultuous single term as the city's chief magistrate, before a cancer diagnosis forced him to withdraw from a re-election effort. His brother Doug ran for mayor in his place in 2014, but lost to John Tory, the incumbent now seeking re-election this fall.

The younger Doug Ford sprung back into politics when he won the Ontario PC leadership this past March. That put him in line to be premier when the party won at the provincial election in June.