Rob Ford's longest-lasting legacy may be in the minds of voters who felt deeply connected

Long before Donald Trump bragged he could be linked to crime and his loyal followers would still support him, Rob Ford's voter base did exactly that.

Ford Nation crowned their king because of his faults, not despite them

Ford Nation mourns Rob Ford

6 years ago
Duration 1:13
Two Etobicoke who knew Rob Ford share memories of the late councillor and former mayor.

Long before Donald Trump bragged his loyal followers would support him even if he was linked to crime, Rob Ford's voter base did exactly that.

Ford Nation is the nickname for the largely suburban, conservative group who passionately supported former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who died Tuesday at the age of 46.

That group put Rob Ford on a throne, and the crown didn't slip — despite accusations and public meltdowns that would have destroyed other public figures.

Patti Blouin posted this drawing of Rob Ford to a Ford Nation Facebook page, where hundreds have posted tributes and selfies. (Patti Blouin)
Ford Nation accepted their king's apologies for a drug and alcohol addiction that dogged his mayoral tenure and turned Canadian municipal politics into international headlines. They defended him when he was accused of groping a mayoral running mate. And they excused him when he was accused of targetting his former special assistant with crude sexual remarks (and defended himself using explicit language that many found offensive).

Their actual loyalty far surpassed any hypothetical scenarios in Trump's recent boasts. And the reason for it is evident in posts and comments on Ford Nation social media sites: people felt like like they knew him, and forgave his faults because they believed he cared.

'There's so many memories Rob and I had shared'

Rob Ford was notorious for spending more time talking to voters than he did in his office. He snapped countless selfies with constituents who in turn, felt like they knew him. Jakki Warkentin posted this Ford photo to a Ford Nation social media site. "He will be sadly missed - he was a great guy who genuinely wanted to help the people," she wrote. (Jakki Warkentin)
Just hours after the announcement of his death, hundreds of Ford-loving posts appeared on the Facebook page I Hate the War on Rob Ford.'

"There's so many memories Rob and I had shared," wrote Connor Kripas. "I went to get one of his business cards and they had none, and I mentioned he blew all the money on other stuff, and Rob had a massive chuckle over it and basically agreed."

Ford made a point of connecting personally with voters, taking phone calls on his personal cellphone, visiting their homes and inviting them to his own. His long-running annual backyard barbecue at his mother's house (dubbed Ford Fest in recent years) often drew hundreds.

"Everyone in Toronto is welcome," read the invitation in 2012, about two years into his term as mayor. Some reports estimated as many as 5,000 people came to the event that year.

True to life or not, that image of Ford — the popular, available, serves-his-electorate leader who let his flaws show — is the enduring one for many. 

"Rob did a lot of wrong things but I think he had a good heart," said one supporter at a suburban Toronto strip mall near Steak Queen, one of Ford's favourite haunts. "Nobody's perfect — the vice-presidents aren't perfect, CEOs, prime ministers. I don't think anybody's perfect. But I liked him as a person, I thought he was a good person."

Cleaning up the 'NDP mess' and fighting the 'downtown elites'

Ford's popularity rose during a time when the political mood in Canadian noticeably shifted right. He was a voice for suburban conservatives whose discontent simmered for years over the belief their values weren't reflected in Toronto municipal leadership.

"I never got to meet Rob but I cherish the cards, letters and fridge magnets I received from him as a thank you for the get-well cards I sent when he was first diagnosed with cancer... will never be forgotten." - Lorna Draper
Stephen Harper spoke of that shift in a well-publicized speech at Ford Fest 2011. The men described one another as close friends; Harper revealed Ford's endorsement of him "helped a lot" and urged Ontario voters to keep moving the needle to the right by casting a conservative ballot in the provincial election.
Ford Nation member AnnMarie Beaudry posted this selfie Tuesday. "Thank you Mayor Ford for showing us all to stay strong and never give up," she wrote.

"We started cleaning up the left-wing mess federally in this area," Harper said then. "Rob's doing it municipally. And now we've got to complete the hat trick and do it provincially, as well."

Ontarians elected a Liberal minority government a few months later, and a Liberal majority government in the election after that. But at the municipal level, Ford kept his support. He was re-elected as city councillor in 2015 after he withdrew from the mayoral race over health concerns.

And although cancer halted his ambitions for a mayoral bid in 2018, Ford Nation believes even his death was, in one sense, a victory against the "liberal elites" he detested.

"I always hoped he would fight his way back," wrote Ford Nation supporter Ted Davidson on Facebook Tuesday. "There is one consolation, though — Rob's death has upstaged the federal Liberals' first budget," he wrote.

"Rob would be happy."


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