After pledging to stay out of Toronto mayor election, Doug Ford jumps in (again)

Premier Doug Ford has yet again weighed in on the Toronto mayoral race with his most pointed endorsement to date of Mark Saunders, despite previously saying he was staying out of the byelection.

Premier's comments show Mark Saunders is his preferred candidate, rivals claim

Premier Doug Ford stands behind a podium that reads 'Building Ontario'
'We need someone that has experience dealing with crime,' Premier Doug Ford said Friday when asked about Toronto's mayoral byelection. 'We need someone that knows all of Toronto, not a little ward that they've been representing.' (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

Premier Doug Ford has yet again weighed in on the Toronto mayoral race, despite previously saying he was staying out of the election. 

Ford delivered his most pointed endorsement to date for the candidacy of Mark Saunders, the former Toronto police chief and failed 2022 provincial Progressive Conservative candidate.

"We need someone that has experience dealing with crime," Ford said Friday when asked about the city's mayoral byelection during an unrelated news conference in Oshawa.

"I believe we need someone that has actually run an operation with a number of employees," Ford added. 

He went on to make a statement that appeared to target some of Saunders' chief rivals in the race, including former councillors Ana Bailão and Olivia Chow, as well as current councillors Brad Bradford and Josh Matlow. 

"We need someone that knows all of Toronto, not a little ward that they've been representing, but all of Toronto." 

WATCH | Doug Ford says he's 'staying out' of mayoral election, then steps into it:

From 'staying out' to weighing in: What Doug Ford's saying about the Toronto mayoral race

5 months ago
Duration 1:16
Featured VideoOntario's premier, who was formerly a Toronto city councillor, is ramping up his comments about the byelection to replace John Tory as mayor

This is not the first time Ford has spoken out to tell Toronto voters what kind of mayor he wants them to choose, although just a few weeks ago, the premier professed neutrality in the race.

"I'm staying out of that election," Ford said on March 22, when asked by a reporter about the growing number of candidates in the race. 

"It doesn't matter who gets elected," Ford added. "Good luck to all of them."

Less than a week later, Ford was taking sides.

'Don't vote for them'

On March 28, Ford took aim at candidates who he described as "sitting councillors that voted to defund the police."

Although he didn't name names, Ford appeared to be targeting Matlow, who had moved an unsuccessful motion in 2020 for a 10 per cent funding cut to the Toronto police budget, and Bradford, who voted in favour of it. 

"The people that voted for defunding the police, don't vote for them, simple as that," Ford said, adding that the next mayor should be someone who understands policing.

"There's only maybe one or two people that I think could actually run the city,"  Ford said. 

Photo of Mark Saunders.
Mark Saunders, the former chief of the Toronto Police Service, is running for mayor. (CBC)

In early March, before Saunders declared his candidacy for mayor, Ford said he "did a great job as police chief" and said it would be great if he ran. 

'Lefty mayor ... we're toast'

Ford has also been clear about what he doesn't want the next mayor's political leanings to be     

"If a lefty mayor gets in there, God help the people of Toronto," Ford said on Feb. 15. "If a left-wing mayor gets in there, we're toast." 

Asked Friday for his reaction to Ford's tacit endorsement, Saunders downplayed the premier's comments. 

"The endorsements I really care about are from the thousands of people who live in parts of the city that the downtown politicians don't like to go to," Saunders said in an email to CBC News.

"When parents go to sleep at night, they're not worried about endorsements of candidates. They're worried about the safety of their kids at school, or family members on the TTC. They're wondering if their car will be stolen. They're worried about the cost of rent and food." 

Photo of Ana Bailão at a podium with the Ontario Legislature in the background.
Ana Bailão called a news conference with Queen's Park in the background, to respond to Ford's latest comments on the Toronto mayoral race. (Pelin Sidki/CBC)

In the same email, Saunders criticized two rival candidates by name. 

"I'm surprised that Olivia Chow and Josh Matlow think that Torontonians would be better off in constant conflict with the provincial or federal governments," he said. "It is absolutely essential that Toronto's mayor is able to sit at the table and have productive discussions with all levels of government."

Saunders was chief of police in Toronto Police Service from 2015 to 2020. In 2021, he became Ford's hand-picked adviser on Ontario Place, appointed by cabinet to the $700-a-day job. Last year, he was selected as the Ontario PC Party candidate in Don Valley West, but lost to Liberal Stephanie Bowman.   

Several mayoral candidates slammed Ford on Friday for appearing to endorse Saunders:   

  • Ana Bailão: The former councillor said that Ford "indicated Mark Saunders is his preferred candidate. What that means is that Doug Ford intends to run City Hall." Bailão also took a swipe at Ford for his "little ward" comment. "Someone who only represented a little ward became premier," she said. (Until Ford led the PCs to victory in 2018, his only time in elected office was as a one-term city councillor.) 
  • Mitzie Hunter: "I don't believe that it is appropriate for the premier to be meddling in the city election," Hunter said in an interview. "He said he would not do that."  Hunter rejected Ford's statement that the city needs a mayor who has experience dealing with crime. "I believe that the mayor should be someone with a vision for the city," she said.   
  • Josh Matlow: "Premier Ford falsely said he wouldn't interfere in our city's mayoral election," Matlow said in an email to CBC News. "Since then, he's gone back on his word, supported Mark Saunders and attacked my campaign. Mark Saunders may want to be an agent for Doug Ford. As mayor, I'll be taking a stand for Toronto." 
  • Olivia Chow: "Doug Ford is obviously worried that his preferred candidate is falling behind, but he needs to let the people of Toronto have their say and to stop meddling in our local democracy," said a statement from Chow's campaign. On Twitter, Chow said: "Doug Ford doesn't get to choose your new Mayor, YOU do." 
  • Brad Bradford: Less direct in his criticism of Ford, Bradford referenced an 86 per cent non-confidence vote in 2018 by members of the Toronto Police Association, the union that represents officers, when Saunders led the force. "They voted non-confidence in chief Saunders for his failed track record of as police chief. So I'm surprised the premier doesn't see that," Bradford told reporters outside city hall. 

Asked whether it's appropriate for the premier to take sides in a mayoral election, Ford's spokesperson Caitlin Clark provided a one-line statement: "The premier said he will work with anyone and that's what he intends to do."


Mike Crawley

Senior reporter

Mike Crawley covers provincial affairs in Ontario for CBC News. He began his career as a newspaper reporter in B.C., filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist, then joined the CBC in 2005. Mike was born and raised in Saint John, N.B.