Cross Country Checkup

With Doug Ford, Ontario is in for 'rough and wild ride': Toronto councillor

Toronto city councillor John Filion says that Doug Ford's years in City Hall point to an 'unpredictable' leadership — and a reshaping of politics as we know it.

'He'd just go for your throat if you were threatening what he wanted in any way'

Ontario premier-elect Doug Ford walks out onto the front lawn of the Ontario Legislature at Queen's Park in Toronto on Friday, June 8, 2018. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Doug Ford was one of John Filion's favourite people to have lunch with back in the days when both were city councillors at Toronto City Hall.

"He's very affable, very funny. He can be extremely charming," said Filion, a longtime municipal politician who currently represents Ward 23 in Toronto.

But once lunch was over, Ford was back to brawling in city council chambers.

"He'd just go for your throat if you were threatening what he wanted in any way," Filion said. "He needs to be dominant and he's very good at that."

Filion reacted with a mixture of fascination and horror this week as he watched Ontario voters elect Ford as their next premier.

"Doug is a very unusual guy. I've never met anyone like him and certainly not a political leader like him. I think we're in for a rough and wild ride."

John Filion, shown during a scrum at Toronto city hall, is city councillor for Ward 23. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Similar, but not quite Trump-ism

Filion is the author of a book about the tumultuous years of Rob Ford's mayoralty from 2010 to 2014 entitled The Only Average Guy: Inside the Uncommon World of Rob Ford.

According to Filion, Doug Ford, like his brother Rob and U.S. President Donald Trump, is brilliant at appealing to voters who feel they haven't had a fair chance in society.

I always think of him [Doug Ford] as having a crocodile brain, sort-of survival instinct, and being guided by that.- John Filion

Unlike Trump, Doug Ford is extremely self-confident, says Filion. But he sees many similarities between the two populist politicians: a need for attention, an us-versus-them style that divides the world into friends and foes, and a reliance on gut instinct instead of advice from experts.

"Doug would have a conversation in his office with somebody who thought we should build the world's largest ferris wheel on the Port Lands," said Filion.

"The next thing you knew, he'd be setting up a podium in front of the mayor's office to announce it."

Distrust of mainstream media

What Ford also shares with Trump is a distrust of mainstream media, which worries freelance investigative journalist Justin Ling.

"We expect our leaders … to tell the truth generally and not lie to the faces of reporters or voters," Ling said. "The fact that we couldn't hold him to account on what he was promising to do — because frankly he wouldn't answer questions — is problematic."

"He lied about his record."

During the chaotic 2013 meeting to limit his younger brother, Rob Ford, right, powers as mayor, then-councillor Doug Ford traded barbs with onlookers in the packed council chambers and snapped at a fellow councillor. (CBC Toronto)

Ling suggests Ford's oft-repeated claim that he and his brother Rob saved the city of Toronto $1.1 billion dollars during their tenure at City Hall is a "mystifyingly resilient lie."

After running the numbers, Ling concluded that when Rob Ford was elected mayor the City of Toronto, and all of its agencies and utilities, spent $9.3 billion a year. In 2014, when he left office, that number was nearly $9.7 billion. Higher property taxes were needed to fill the gap.

Ling is frustrated that Ford was elected premier without addressing how he planned to find the spending efficiencies he promises.

"This is as clear sign as you can ever possibly imagine to every other would-be conservative leader in the country that they can run a populist campaign devoid of policies, devoid of costed spending, and devoid of specifics, all while ignoring questions from the media and still win." 

"That's really troubling," he said.

Ontario PC leader Doug Ford greets supporters as he arrives for a breakfast meet and greet in Ottawa on Saturday, June 2, 2018. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

An unpredictable premier

Both Ling and Filion agree Doug Ford has smashed political norms in Ontario, by appealing to voters fed up with politics-as-usual.

"We know the public is frustrated and cynical about the state of politics and we need to fix that," said Ling.

"But these populists are not actually trying to fix it. They're trying to tap into it and exploit it and it is exploitable."

For Filion, Ford's populist approach to running the province will be every bit as unpredictable as his approach to municipal politics.

"I always think of him as having a crocodile brain, sort-of survival instinct, and being guided by that," he said.

"It's worked very well for him."


A previous version of this story misattributed a quote to John Filion. The quote has now been removed.

Join Duncan McCue on Sunday when we open the phone lines to ask what Doug Ford's win means for all of Canada. 


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