Rob Ford: Who will be the next voice of 'the little guy'?

The death of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford has been a tragic loss to his friends and family, and it has also left a political void for a large swatch of municipal voters who fear the voice of "the little guy" is not being heard.

Many Torontonians seem to assume brother Doug will step up again to lead Ford Nation, but will he?

The obvious heir apparent for those who counted themselves among the die-hard Ford Nation supporters, or those who just backed the former mayor's tax-cutting agenda, Doug Ford, who was elected as councillor of Rob Ford's Etobicoke ward when Rob became mayor in 2010. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Downtown Toronto resident Pat Clarke says she doesn't know who will champion the cause of the underdog and fill the political void left by the death of former mayor Rob Ford.

"The things he had done, I don't see another politician doing what he has done for the good of the people of Toronto," said Clarke, one of hundreds who stood in line at City Hall Wednesday to sign a book of condolences for the often polarizing former mayor and councillor, who died Tuesday.

"Unless his brother steps in — but two people are not alike," Clarke added. Rob Ford "is gone and who's going to be there for us?"

Natalie LaRouche, who also came to City Hall to pay her respects, suggested there aren't a lot of politicians out there like Ford, who "worked hard for the little guy."

"He was really a people's politician," she said. "I don't see any politician right now that was hands-on as Rob Ford was — going door to door, visiting his constituents."

Of particular concern, said Julia Lee, is that there's no one like Ford who will defend the taxpayer.

Politicians "think there's bottomless pockets out there," she said.

Brother Doug

The obvious heir apparent for those who counted themselves among the die-hard Ford Nation supporters, or those who just backed the former mayor's tax-cutting agenda, is his brother Doug, who was elected as councillor of Rob's Etobicoke ward when Rob became mayor in 2010.

"That would probably satisfy a large portion of the voters that supported Rob," said former city councillor and deputy mayor Doug Holyday.

People line up to sign a book of condolence at Toronto's City Hall in memory of former mayor Rob Ford. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

But while political support for Rob Ford came from all over the city, including downtown, the proportion of support was much higher in the suburbs, says Dennis Pilon, an associate professor of political science at York University.

It was also among the mostly white, lower-middle class residents where Ford attracted his votes.

"I think the most immediate place [his supporters] will go is back to Doug," said Pilon. "We have to see what's going to happen with Rob's ward but I would imagine that council is going to appoint somebody. Doug was the previous holder of it, so he could probably make a play for saying that he's the most logical person to get it, and I could see them going for that."

As for older brother Doug, says Pilon, he was "in many ways ... a milder version of Rob. Not so out there, in your face, a better performing version of Rob."

However, Doug Ford's political future is unclear. Before his brother dropped out of the mayoral race, Doug Ford, had sworn off municipal politics. He only came back to take Rob's place against the current mayor, John Tory, when Rob's cancer diagnosis forced him out of the contest in 2014.

There has also been some speculation that Doug Ford could run for the federal Conservative leadership. Plus there is another Ford who has made his way into Toronto's political arena — Michael Ford, Rob Ford's nephew, who is a trustee with the Toronto District School Board. 

"I think that the Fords will continue whether it's Doug Ford or his nephew," said North York resident Tim Lambrinos, who met Rob Ford at one of the family's barbecues. "I think the Fords are there. They set the tone and there's a lot  a lot of energy left in that family."

Politically incorrect

Many Torontonians, it seems, see Doug Ford as a more polished version of his brother while carrying the mantle of his agenda — a disdain for council's spending habits, a pledge to keep taxes low and a commitment to "subways subways subways."

"Rob had a larger following initially, but I think a lot of people fell away from Rob because of his problems but still liked the agenda," said Holyday. "And maybe some portion of those people would have felt comfortable voting for Doug for the agenda without the problems."

In the mayoral race, Doug Ford was able to capture about 34 per cent of the vote, a strong second place finish to Tory, who won with 40 per cent. But even his brother, who had hoped to run for mayor again in 2018, suggested that had he been in the race against Tory he would have won. 

For his part, Doug Ford doesn't seem to have the same ability to connect emotionally with voters as Rob, who had a reputation for personally calling back residents, or showing up at their doorsteps to address their concerns.

His plain-spoken style, and disregard for the politically correct, also endeared him to many voters, as did his well-publicized personal problems with drugs and alcohol. 

"Part of Rob's charm was his foibles. In the real world, people make mistakes," Pillon said. "To have someone like  Rob Ford who was just an ongoing disaster, they could relate to a guy who wanted to do good, at least his version of good, but could never quite pull it off. People could identify with him or knew someone like him."

Whether or not the Ford Nation mantle passes to Doug Ford or someone else, Pilon said the political void left by the former mayor will eventually be filled.

"The market says we won't go long. If this appears to be selling — Trump and Rob — some would say it won't be long before we see somebody else step up."