Doug Ford’s power play
Back in 2008, when David Miller was mayor, Toronto Life published a sweeping critique of the municipal government. The feature alleged mismanagement, waste and even corruption. On the cover was an image of city hall, but in place of the iconic clamshell that houses the council chamber, there was a toilet bowl, lid up, with the provocative headline: “Where Your Money Goes.” It was not the magazine’s subtlest moment.
In subsequent years, I heard from people who worked at city hall, or reported on it, that Rob Ford, then a councillor, loved the issue. He’d carry it around with him, yanking it out occasionally to make his case about the gravy train. He even said the story was one of the reasons he decided to run for mayor in 2010. (If true, it is surely Toronto Life’s most dubious achievement.)
Rob Ford’s enthusiasm for this magazine didn’t last. Two years into his scandal-plagued mayoralty, Toronto Life published an in-depth profile by Marci McDonald that was fair, but not flattering. As Ford’s personal life imploded, and his public behaviour became increasingly erratic, we continued to chronicle his epic decline with many more stories.
Then, it seemed, the Ford era was over. After Doug Ford lost the 2014 mayoralty to John Tory, and Rob died in 2016, I assumed that Toronto Life would never run stories about the first family of Etobicoke again. But here we are. Doug Ford’s surprise PC leadership win was a triumph for Ford Nation. Now he holds one of most important jobs in the country, far exceeding the power his brother ever had.
Even before Ford slashed the number of city councillors and tossed the municipal election into chaos, the editors here knew he would be Toronto Life’s pick for this year’s most influential person. We asked Jason McBride, one of our most accomplished writers, to learn as much as he could about how Ford runs Queen’s Park and what motivates his decision-making. The story Jason produced is a fascinating portrait of a complicated, fiery guy with a clear sense of purpose.
Ford declined Jason’s multiple interview requests, but he did agree to be photographed for the cover. The talented Markian Lozowchuk took the portraits at Queen’s Park. Ford was friendly and folksy at the shoot, in his signature style, but with an edge. He made it clear that he was participating reluctantly. “I didn’t want to do this,” he told the crew. “I don’t know why, but Toronto Life has been awful to my family.”
His comments struck everyone in the room as strange, not only because they were false but because they sounded like something a mob boss might say. The premier of the province—a man who oversees a budget of $150 billion, who controls our hospitals and schools, who represents 14 million constituents—wasn’t complaining about how this magazine characterized his platform or his party. His interest, first and foremost, seemed to be in how Toronto Life has treated the Ford family.
Like Donald Trump, who frequently puts his family ahead of matters of state, Ford sees himself, primarily, as the chief guardian of his immediate clan. Jason’s story illustrates how Ford’s family-first attitude has already had a big impact on Queen’s Park and city hall, and how it will likely continue to change the face of Ontario in the months and years to come.
Sarah Fulford is the editor of Toronto Life. She can be found on Twitter @sarah_fulford.