How Doug Ford's political skills and baggage will affect his mayoral candidacy
Doug Ford doesn't have the personal problems, but doesn't connect as well to voters, analysts say
He's been Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's No. 1 defender, standing by his side, championing his policies, rationalizing or apologizing for his controversial behaviour.
But now, as his brother has dropped out of the mayoral race, Doug Ford will try to take his place, carry the banner, and see whether his own political skills and baggage will make him a viable or unsuccessful candidate.
"In some ways, Doug Ford's best hope and best positioning is that he's like his brother in politics and personality, but without the scandal and without the unquestionably poor judgment of a man who hasn't been in control of his life," Daniel Tisch, president of the Toronto-based public relations firm Argyle Communications, told CBC News
"The challenge though, is that he really is not the same as Rob Ford. He hasn't shown the same populist instincts, certainly. He certainly comes across as a bit of a pit bull in the way he communicates and I think that's going to be a challenge."
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Before his brother dropped out of the race to deal with an abdominal tumour, Doug Ford had sworn off municipal politics, having no intention to run as a councillor in this year's Toronto election. But now, with roughly six weeks left, Doug Ford is back in the ring, going for the top job against mayoral candidates John Tory and Olivia Chow.
If political support is transferable through family, then Doug Ford, according to most polls, enters the race in second place, behind Tory who has a sizable lead, but slightly ahead of Chow. However, he also comes in with some built-in advantages over his brother.
'A Rob Ford with no personal baggage'
"We have a Rob Ford with no personal baggage," said Lorne Bozinoff, president of Forum Research, which has conducted regular polls of the mayoral race.
And that should allow him to draw much of the support among the so-called Ford Nation, and possibly attract those undecided voters who may have liked the mayor's policies but couldn't get past his personal behaviour.
"I think with Doug Ford, like him or hate him, you kind of have a sense on the policy, what you're going to get is still some bitter battles at council, but still a dogged determination to pursue the same policies," Mark Towhey, Rob Ford's former chief of staff, said on the Toronto news channel CP24.
When he entered municipal politics, Doug Ford was considered by some to be the more thoughtful of the two brothers, who would offer sage advice and exert a calming influence.
"In his favour, he seems like the more mature of the two. He comes across as a guy who can keep his temper a little bit better than his brother," said Dennis Pilon, an associate professor of political science at York University.
But Doug Ford also gained a reputation for being heavy handed, clashing with other councillors, and running into trouble for some comments he'd made. And although nothing reached the level of crack cocaine, he has been involved in his own share of controversies.
Last year, the Globe and Mail published a story accusing the councillor of dealing drugs as a teen. (Ford adamantly denied the charge.) He also came under fire when he suggested that a home which helps developmentally disabled youth in Etobicoke had “ruined” a neighbourhood.
Confrontation with police chief
And most recently, he was threatened with a defamation lawsuit by Toronto police Chief Bill Blair after Ford accused the chief of leaking information about Rob Ford's possible testimony in an extortion trial of the mayor's friend. (Doug Ford later apologized.)
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"Doug looks better than Rob, he dresses better than rob, he's got a million-dollar smile," Towhey said. "He comes across much more polished than Rob. But the fact of the matter is, and I think you have to cut him a little slack, he's a rookie politician.
"He walked into city hall four years ago as if he had been in in politics all his life. He played a role next to the mayor but he was a brand-new councillor. He made a lot of rookie mistakes and I think he's still learning the ropes."
Doug Ford may also lack the mayor's folksy charm, and may not connect with voters like his brother.
"Part of the populist brand, the kind of cultural revolution that people like Rob Ford represent — I don’t know that Doug Ford embodies that in the same way that Rob Ford lived it, breathed it, was the poster boy for it," Pilon said.
But if the contest comes down to a race between Doug Ford and Tory, the eldest Ford may have an advantage over his sibling, Bozinoff said. Tory got a huge bump in the polls after the Board of Trade debate, in part, Bozinoff surmises, because Rob Ford didn't perform well among the corporate audience.
"I think that Doug would do better in a big business audience. I think he would counteract John Tory's big business, good administrator, get-things-done image," Bozinoff said.
And that might be significant when considering issues like transit.
"[There's] been a knock on whether Rob Ford can actually get things built and Doug may be more convincing at that."