Norm Kelly emerges as more than Rob Ford's deputy

A few months ago, Kelly was a city councillor representing Scarborough—Agincourt. Today he has many of the legislative powers of mayor, formally acting as deputy mayor. How did he get here?

Scarborough councillor takes the spotlight in recent weeks

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (left) walks past Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly after stopping briefly to speak to him as he leaves an executive committee meeting at Toronto's City Hall on Thursday December 5 2013. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

A few months ago, Norm Kelly was a city councillor representing Scarborough—Agincourt. Today he has many of the legislative powers of mayor, formally acting as deputy mayor.

Will he restore faith in City Hall? Is he bringing calm to the clam shell? What will he accomplish?

With less than a year left until a municipal election, Kelly is more than a placeholder for the next mayor of Toronto. Though he has only been deputy for three months - named so when Ford’s longtime deputy Doug Holyday made the jump to provincial politics in August - Kelly takes over backlogged committees and a city council still distracted by the international attention put on the mayor.

As the crack video scandal began to envelop Ford, Kelly was  one of the embattled mayor’s few defenders, even while other members of the executive committee called him to resign.

Before council shifted mayoral powers to Kelly, he had an hour meeting with Ford directly before the announcement. He emerged from the mayor’s office stating what was becoming obvious, "This is not a happy time for anybody." Since then, Kelly has parted with the mayor on key decisions like the debate to extend the runways at Billy Bishop Airport and whether or not Ford should step aside.

One of the deputy mayor’s first visible move since the transfer of powers was to replace Ford’s fish tank with a portrait of Fred Gardiner.

Gardiner was a conservative politician in the 1930-1960s, and control Toronto’s Metro Council for a decade. He was famous for running an authoritarian council - demanding councillors speak up, racing through motions without time for dissent.

Gardiner is also the namesake of the expressway. He commissioned the Lake Shore and Don Valley highways, with the Lake Shore later renamed Gardiner, and spent an average of $100-million a year on capital projects in the city throughout his 10 years as chairman.

The portrait could be a sign of what’s to come under Kelly, but more probably signifies his interest in the past.

Kelly began his career as a historian. He studied political history in postgraduate studies at Queen’s University, and worked as a researcher on two Pierre Berton books, The Last Spike and The National Dream. He also taught history at Toronto’s Upper Canada College.

He began his political life as a Scarborough Alderman.  He won three successive terms in political office on the Municipal Council of the then Borough of Scarborough between 1974 and 1980.

Kelly ran and was elected for the federal Liberals in Scarborough Centre in 1980, and served under the late Pierre Trudeau. He was named to a number of cabinet positions, but lost his seat four years later to a Progressive Conservative.

During his time in Liberal government, he chaired multiculturalism reports aimed at helping minorities. He would later completely reverse his positions on multiculturalism, becoming one of its fiercest critics.

He would run again for the Liberal candidacy, but was not selected to run.

In 1985, he ran for mayor of Scarborough, but did not win.

In a break from politics, Kelly was in real estate in the early 1990. He became a Metro Councillor in Metropolitan Toronto, as it was known at the time, and then returned to City Hall as a councillor in the amalgamated Toronto.

He has not been without controversy, either.

In what would surely irk the anti-expense crusader in Ford, Kelly spent $26,306 on trips with his wife to various conferences to international locations while with the Harbour Commission. He was ruled not to have broken any rules.

Toronto Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly and Mayor Rob Ford. (Canadian Press)

Kelly was also exonerated from hiring his partner, Charlotte, to work in his office in the 1990s. Family members are prohibited from being hired by councillors, but since she was not yet his wife, Kelly again did not break any formal rules.

In the late-2000s, Kelly raised eyebrows as a climate change skeptic, saying there was “no consensus” on global warming being human-induced.

His controversies have not been on par with Fords, and neither are his politics. Over the years he has been on executive committees for mayors Mel Lastman, David Miller and Ford - which swings across the political spectrum.

Kelly is 72-years-old, nearly 30 years older than Ford, who is 44.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?