Rob Ford a reluctant topic for once-eager federal Conservatives

Federal Conservatives who have been eager to line up with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in the past had little to say about the Toronto mayor's predicament Thursday after police said they have a video showing him allegedly smoking crack cocaine.

Toronto mayor, once credited by the prime minister for GTA success, facing damaging allegations

Prime Minister Stephen Harper appeared with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in September to announce the federal government would make a contribution to the Scarborough subway extension. Toronto police confirmed Thursday they are now in possession of a video allegedly showing Ford appearing to smoke crack cocaine. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Federal Conservatives who have been eager to line up with Rob Ford in the past had little to say about the Toronto mayor's predicament Thursday after police said they have a video showing him allegedly smoking crack cocaine.

A scheduled photo-op with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Calgary was suddenly cancelled "due to a change in schedule" on the first day of the party's Calgary convention after Toronto police Chief Bill Blair stunned Torontonians with the announcement.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty had no comment when his office was contacted for a reaction to the dramatic development.

Both Harper and Flaherty — two of the most powerful men in federal politics — haven't shied away from appearing in public with Ford in the past, despite allegations of drug use swirling around the controversial mayor.

Many of Ford's supporters worked for the federal Conservatives during the 2011 federal election campaign. Ford's strength in the Toronto suburbs has been credited with helping his federal cousins win several hard-fought three-way races in those ridings.

Last month, Harper travelled to Toronto to announce that Ottawa would help fund the pricey expansion of the city's subway system with Ford by his side.

The mayor welcomed the news saying "this is exactly what the doctor ordered."

Flaherty was also present at the meeting with Harper and Ford prior to the announcement. Flaherty, an old friend of the embattled mayor, served as a provincial minister with Ford's father during the Mike Harris years and has been close to the Ford family for decades.

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has said he is very close to Rob Ford's family. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Flaherty told CBC News Network's Power & Politics in June that he has had personal conversations with Ford for some time.

"I’ve spoken with the mayor and I’ve spoken with members of his family. I’m very close to the family, and I won’t comment further on that," Flaherty said.

In 2011, Harper and Ford became fishing buddies after the prime minister invited the mayor to his residence at Harrington Lake.

A few weeks later, during the 2011 Ontario campaign, Ford introduced Harper at a barbecue as his new "fishing partner."
Harper spoke about the Fords being "a great Conservative political dynasty."

"Rob endorsed us in the election. That helped a lot. And Rob is doing something very important that needs to be done here, he is cleaning up the NDP mess in Toronto. That's great," Harper said to roaring cheers from those in attendance.

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

Toronto-area MP offers support

While most Conservatives stayed mum on the subject of Ford, one Conservative MP from Brampton-Springdale told reporters in Ottawa that he supported the Toronto mayor.

"Rob Ford is a great mayor, I support him," Parm Gill told reporters after question period on Thursday. "I think he's doing a wonderful job. I know people in Toronto are very happy with the way he's running the city. I look forward to working with him."

Conservative MP James Rajotte, who was already at his party's convention in Calgary, chose his words carefully when asked about the allegations against Ford.

"I think we should at least see the video that the chief of police is talking about," Rajotte said during an appearance on Power & Politics Thursday. "Obviously we have to take very seriously what Chief Blair is saying. But I think we should at least see the video to see what the evidence is that the police chief is referring to."

News of the Ford video in Toronto came just as Opposition MPs in Ottawa had more pointed questions for the ruling Conservatives in the Commons about an alleged cover-up to repay the ineligible expenses of former Conservative Senator Mike Duffy whom Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed to the upper chamber.

While Harper has found himself on the defensive for months over a Senate expenses controversy and a $90,000 cheque he said he knew nothing about, Ford has been dogged for months by the crack cocaine allegations and questions about his associates.

On Thursday, Ford said he had no reason to resign as mayor.

"I wish I could come out and defend myself," Ford said outside his office. "Unfortunately I can't because it's before the courts. That's all I can say."


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