Rob Ford's death leaves councillors wondering how life at city hall will change

Rob Ford is gone, but councillors say the polarizing and prominent former mayor's presence will live on at Toronto city hall.

'You need guys like Rob Ford,' deputy mayor says of late Ward 2 councillor

Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford has been part of city council since 2000. How will city council change following his death? (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Rob Ford is gone, but councillors say his presence will live on at Toronto city hall. 

Ford, 46, died of cancer in hospital on Tuesday, leaving behind a young family. 

Mayor John Tory said the loss of Ford — who has been on Toronto city council since he was first elected in 2000 — has left the city reeling and made city hall feel "hollow." Tory said both he and other councillors always wanted Ford back in his council seat, something that sadly won't happen now.

So how will city council change without Ford?

Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong, an early Ford ally, said the former mayor always kept councillors on their toes. 

Ford, a brash right-wing populist, was first elected in suburban Ward 2 Etobicoke North and quickly made his name by attacking other councillors for what he saw as wasteful spending. That message found an audience, and in 2010 he shocked many by winning the mayoral election by campaigning on the slogan: "Stop the gravy train."

Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong said Rob Ford always kept councillors on their toes, especially when it came to spending taxpayer money. (John Rieti/CBC)

"You need guys like Rob Ford," Minnan-Wong told CBC News at city hall Monday.

I anticipate that his presence will loom large for a considerable amount of time.- Josh Colle, Toronto city councillor

​Minnan-Wong said Ford had a reputation for not forgetting about the people who elected him, something cemented by his hounding of councillors about how they were spending taxpayer money.

"In terms of councillors' expenses, I don't think that they would be posted now but for Rob Ford," Minnan-Wong said. 

Coun. Josh Colle, who was elected for the first time in the 2010 election that made Ford mayor, said his city hall battles with Ford helped him establish his identity on city council.

Like him of not, Colle called Ford a massive presence on council who "set a certain baseline" that may still guide debates after his death. Colle noted councillors reference Ford even when he's not at meetings, calling certain ideas "Rob Ford policies" or labelling certain politicians "the new Rob Ford."

"I anticipate that his presence will loom large for a considerable amount of time," Colle said. 

Colle, who said he'll remember Ford most fondly as being a loving father of two, said he hasn't thought about who may replace the late councillor. 

Ford's brother, Doug Ford, has previously filled his brother's shoes while his nephew, Michael Ford, is currently a Toronto District School Board trustee. It's unclear when Ford's seat will be filled.

Black and white politician, complex person

Kenny Neville, who identified himself as being a proud member of Ford Nation, cries as he signs a book of condolences at city hall. (John Rieti/CBC)
Coun. Pam McConnell said when it comes to politics, Ford saw issues as black and white and was able to mine the difference between the two sides. 

"He liked a good fight," McConnell, who was once infamously knocked over in council by an irate Ford, told reporters after signing his book of condolences. 

But while they were political rivals, McConnell said Ford was warm in person, often telling her "I love you because I know where you come from."

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      That ability to be both a bitter rival and a friend was something referenced by numerous other councillors and Tory as well. The current mayor fondly recalled Ford telling him mid-debate "Buddy, I'm about to knock you out cold," then smiling and moving on as council wrapped up. 

      Coun. Ana Bailao, another frequent Ford opponent, said she was once celebrating a birthday party with family and friends when she got a phone call saying the mayor was planning to swing by.

      "You're probably surprised to see me here" Bailao remembers the mayor saying of her, "but one of the things that I appreciate is that there's no bullshit with her."

      "He captivated everyone in the room."

      The interest in Ford extended across the city, as well. Bailao said the way Ford governed, which some loved and others found offensive, drove a huge interest in municipal politics. "I think that's one of his biggest legacies."

      Ford enjoyed success at city hall, Norm Kelly says

      Coun. Norm Kelly called Ford's death a tragedy. (John Rieti/CBC)

      Coun. Norm Kelly he will leave the legacy talk to historians.

      I think Rob wasn't through politically.- Doug Holyday, former Toronto councillor

      Kelly, who took over after council stripped Ford of his powers following the crack cocaine scandal, pointed out that Ford did have some major policy successes, including privatizing garbage pickup west of Yonge Street and launching a review of the city's core services. 

      "We tend to think of him as concentrating on the minor stuff — returning phone calls to disgruntled constituents — but in fact he had a strategic view," Kelly said, noting Ford's strong desire for a Scarborough subway.

      The councillor's death, he said, is a tragedy.

      Doug Holyday, the Etobicoke politician who served alongside Ford on city council as deputy mayor before moving to provincial politics, said if Ford could have recovered from cancer he may have taken another shot at the mayor's seat.

      "I think Rob wasn't through politically," Holyday said. 

      "Heaven knows what would have happened."


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