Toronto councillor tries to clarify Atwood comments

One day after saying he doesn't have a clue who Margaret Atwood is, Toronto Coun. Doug Ford now says she's a great writer and he looks forward to her input.

"I think she's a great writer"

A Toronto city councillor moved Wednesday to quell a firestorm of outrage over remarks he made about one of Canada's most celebrated literary figures.

Coun. Doug Ford said Tuesday he wouldn't recognize Margaret Atwood if he saw her and said she needed to get elected to city council before he'd "sit down and talk to her." 

Margaret Atwood, seen in this 2006 photo, asked people to sign an online petition aimed at preventing cuts to Toronto libraries. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press) )

On Wednesday Ford, who is the elder brother of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, said he would in fact recognize her if he saw her — but most people wouldn't.

"Everyone knows who Margaret Atwood is but if she were to come up to 98 per cent of the people, they wouldn't know who she was," said Ford.

Ford and Atwood have been at loggerheads over possible cuts to Toronto's library system as the city tries to deal with a $774 million deficit in next year's budget.

Ford said last week that there were more libraries in his west Toronto riding that Tim Hortons outlets and would close one of the branches "in a heartbeat" if given the chance.

Atwood then stepped into the debate by asking people to sign a petition asking city council not to attempt to balance its budget by cutting library services.

Ford's dismissive comments on Tuesday led to hundreds of comments criticizing the councillor's remarks.

"Well good luck to Margaret Atwood," Ford told reporters who asked about her input into the debate. "I don't even know her. If she walked by me, I wouldn't have a clue who she is."

Ford then said the only way he'd listen to the acclaimed author is if she got elected.

"Tell her to go run in the next election and get democratically elected. And we'd be more than happy to sit down and listen to Margaret Atwood," he said.

By Wednesday Ford had changed his mind about the world renowned novelist and poet.

"I think she's a great writer and I look forward to her input. And saying that, we have to look for $774 million and we have to look at efficiencies right across the board."

As for Atwood, she wrote on July 25 that she is busy writing and will be away from Twitter for a week.

On her Facebook page, which is maintained by her publisher, it said Wednesday that "Toronto city Councillor Doug Ford doesn't know who Margaret Atwood is ... sounds like he needs to expand his library, not reduce Toronto's public libraries."