Inside Doug Ford’s rule-breaking, foundation-shaking government

Raging Bull

As a councillor, the only thing he wanted was to run the city of Toronto. Now he has the power to exert his will, and he’s torpedoing everything his enemies hold dear. Inside the rule-breaking, foundation-shaking world of Doug Ford

By Jason McBride| Photograph by Markian Lozowchuk
| November 15, 2018

In the weeks after Doug Ford became Ontario’s 26th premier, there seemed to be two men governing the province. If you were one of the 3.4 million Ontarians who had voted against him, you got exactly what you expected: a hostile, bull-headed, slash-and-burn Tory bent on destroying any progress—on the environment, on gender equality, on workers’ rights—the previous government might have made over the last few years. “Promise made, promise kept” became, to liberals, a headache-inducing, gut-churning drumbeat.

But if you were a conservative supporter, you were pleasantly surprised to see a leader of uncommon intention and efficiency. Few Tories expected the inexperienced, volatile Ford to make so many decisions so quickly. Fewer still expected him to put together such an experienced cabinet, one that included his foes from the leadership fight, Caroline Mulroney and ­­­­­Christine Elliott.

Once Ford arrived at Queen’s Park, he continued building the brand that got him there. As premier, he could finally reclaim the Ford legacy, make voters forget the humiliation and scandal that had long tarnished the family name. He was still oafish, with a freewheeling, hard-charging style. But authority seemed to temper frustrations that had previously governed his political life. And unlike at city hall, he didn’t need to build consensus. He had the power, and he seized it with zeal.

Then, in late July, after throwing fastball after fastball, Ford suddenly came up with a spitter. The two Doug Fords—the steamroller and the scalpel—fused into one. The new boss let everyone know, with characteristic bombast, that he was the boss. He told his staff that he was going to cut Toronto city council in half. And he was going to do it immediately. It may not have been a campaign promise, but shrewd Ford-watchers shouldn’t have been surprised. “If I ever get to the provincial level of politics,” he wrote in his 2016 book, Ford Nation, “municipal affairs is the first thing I would want to change.”

Rob Ford had wanted to cut council as soon as he became mayor, but he lacked support, both from the provincial government and council itself. And that was the problem, according to Doug. You couldn’t get anything done at city hall. It was bloated, dysfunctional, ineffectual. If there were fewer squabbling councillors, the new premier believed, maybe the Scarborough subway would be built by now. Maybe there wouldn’t be so much traffic when he drove in to Queen’s Park. Plus, he said, it would save money—about $25 million in councillor salaries and staff over four years.

But many people believe that Ford’s real motive was to settle scores. For years, other councillors had routinely, publicly mocked the Ford brothers’ ideas, accused them of racism and homophobia and incompetence, and eventually stripped Rob of his mayoral powers. Who was laughing now? One city staffer explained it to me thusly: “He’s saying, ‘You walked all over my brother and were unkind to him and now I’m going to get you.’ ”

According to multiple sources, a turf battle emerged over the decision. Jenni Byrne, Ford’s principal secretary and a former Harper campaign manager, objected. Toronto’s in the middle of a campaign, she said. It’s not right. They could do this later, when it wouldn’t be so disruptive. Kory Teneycke, who had been Ford’s campaign manager, thought it was bad for the brand. There were reasons people liked him, he suggested, and there were reasons people didn’t. This fit into the reasons-people-didn’t bucket, so why were they doing it? (Teneycke declined to comment on this, except to say, “The advice I gave the premier is the advice I gave the premier.”)

But Ford was undeterred. On July 30, the government tabled the Better Local Government Act, cutting Toronto’s wards from 47 to 25. In Toronto, there were howls of outrage. Many left-leaning councillors decried Ford’s meddling, calling it reckless and anti-democratic. They (accurately) predicted that the election would become a municipal Hunger Games, pitting long-time incumbents against one another. Ford’s allies on council—­Giorgio Mammoliti, Vincent Crisanti, Ford’s nephew, Michael—were, unsurprisingly, in favour of the move. Mayor John Tory, with whom Ford has long had a combative, if mutually useful, relationship, condemned the legislation, albeit too weakly for some.

When Ford threatened to invoke, for the first time in Ontario’s history, the notwithstanding clause of the Charter, the resistance extended to surprising corners. Amnesty International condemned the use of the clause. Conservative elders like Brian Mulroney and Bill Davis followed. Nick Kouvalis, the political strategist who helped run campaigns for John Tory and Rob Ford, had told me Doug was going to be a great premier. During the council crisis, he called me and, with an exasperated, disbelieving laugh, asked if he could amend his quote. He went on to say that Ford was blowing his chance to clean up his family name, to show everybody that he was strong and competent. But Ford does not back down, and by the end of September, Toronto had 25 wards.

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During his leadership campaign, Ford borrowed Rob’s former theme song, “Eye of the Tiger,” to use at rallies. After he won, he had an original song composed, something more explicitly on-message: “For the People.” And yet it was clear, even in victory, even with a strong majority and a party united behind him, that he still loved the thrill of the fight.

Inside Doug Ford’s rule-breaking, foundation-shaking government
When Doug Ford won the PC leadership, he brought his family up on stage with him, including, from left, his mother, Diane; his wife, Karla; and his four daughters, Kayla, Krista, Kyla and Kara. Photograph by Getty Images

Ford has always been a big guy, never shy about physically intimidating people, be they council colleagues, staffers or journalists. At 54, he is both bigger and softer than he used to be, his physique more offensive coordinator than offensive linebacker. Like Tony Soprano, he leads with his belly. His golden hair, which he wore in a feathered mullet in high school, is now a couple of shades closer to platinum. His face is lined, and when he smiles, which he does with great frequency, deep grooves etch his jowls, making it appear as if he’s wearing a Doug Ford mask over a Rob Ford mask. During Question Period and public announcements, he employs an evangelical oratorical style that doesn’t so much hide his characteristic verbal fumbling as turn it into a soporific drone. His favoured form of address during the campaign—“Folks”—has been replaced by the more familiar, if equally cloying, “Friends.”

“Family” is another of Ford’s favourite f-words. Family means Doug and his own family—Karla, his wife of 30 years, an animal lover, fitness buff and former cheerleader; their four blond daughters, Krista, Kayla, Kara and Kyla; and their four cats. It also means, perhaps more importantly, the extended Ford family. The late patriarch, Doug Sr., of course, was a bootstrapping businessman who made millions with the company he co-founded, Deco Labels. His wife, Diane, was doting and demanding. Ford likes to refer to his father, whom he reveres, as a “straight shooter.” Doug Sr.’s children, to varying degrees, were not. From the beginning, Doug Jr. was the survivor. Rob might have built Ford Nation, pothole by pothole, phone call by phone call, but Doug knew how to exploit it. “Doug somehow emerged out of that family and became a successful businessman,” says John Filion, a city councillor and the author of The Only Average Guy, a biography of the Fords. “I think you can plunk him down anywhere in the world, and he would figure out not only how to survive, but how to thrive.”

If you ask Doug, he never wanted to be a politician. It’s a paradox that lies at the heart of the Ford family—which is an undeniable political dynasty. Doug Sr., who served as a backbencher in Mike Harris’s government between 1995 and 1999, had to be strong-armed into running for office. (Doug did the strong-arming after listening to his dad complain about Bob Rae.) Rob only ever equated politics with waste and mismanagement. Doug felt the same, and his single term as a councillor only intensified his contempt for the profession. “I can’t stand politicians,” he once said. “It’s crazy. We’re anti-politician. But that’s just the way it is. It’s weird. I can’t figure it out.”

To make politics palatable, then, the Fords compulsively cast the job in the business terms they understand best: customer service and competition. Doug Sr. set the tone. He was loving but eccentric, tough and impossible to please. It made the boys hypercompetitive—with others but also with each other. When they played football or hockey, they played to win, and when they won, they rubbed it in your face. After amalgamation, Doug Sr. lost the nomination for his parliamentary seat to Chris Stockwell, a political veteran and member of the establishment that the Fords despised. From then on, no matter how much power they accrued, the Fords always identified as political outsiders.

Two key elements of the Ford political strategy are accessibility and accountability. As a councillor, Rob was known for his attention to his constituents. That strenuous transparency did not extend to the media, and much of his life was deliberately hidden from the public. Doug has continued both traditions. While campaigning this year, he handed out his card to every plant worker and rink rat he met. In September, he received 8,750 calls from constituents. He continues to make public appearances, sometimes several a week. But, like Rob, he also refuses to share his schedule with the media. His preferred network is Ontario News Now, a faux news channel that triumphantly broadcasts highlights from Ford pressers and events, funded with taxpayer dollars and produced by Lyndsey Vanstone, a PC deputy communications director who once entered a contest to become Charlie Sheen’s assistant. This fall, Ford’s team packed press conferences with young staffers who would drown out reporters’ questions with their applause. Before I started reporting this story, I met with Laryssa Waler, Ford’s director of communications. She wasn’t sure if she’d let me interview him, explaining she was torn between wanting the public to know the “real” Doug and protecting him from the Toronto media, which had been unkind to him. My subsequent interview requests were declined, and cabinet ministers and staffers were equally unresponsive.

When you do get him alone, Ford is a tireless extrovert who oscillates between disarming charisma and calculated menace. At the photo shoot for this story, he said, with a tight smile, that if he didn’t like the pictures, he would take the photographer “out like a cheap date.” As a kid, Diane has said, he was a schmoozer who could talk his way out of anything. At Deco, he kept a man cave, outfitted with a full bar (though Doug doesn’t drink), sports memorabilia and a pool table, where he would routinely host buddies like Justice of the Peace Bobby Hundal and Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner. On the campaign trail, he held rallies with 600 people in attendance and posed for pictures with every fan. One acquaintance recounted a story of Ford, heading in an OPP cruiser to a meeting at Jane and Finch, stopping the car when he saw a couple of teenagers hanging out on a street corner. He jumped out, asked the kids what they were doing, if they had jobs. What sounded paternalistic to me was, to this person’s mind, evidence of Ford’s ease with just about everybody he meets. “He feels that he can persuade anybody to get on the right track.”

Inside Doug Ford’s rule-breaking, foundation-shaking government
After the election, Ford took a victory bow at Queen’s Park during Question Period. Photograph by CP Images

Onstage, his folksiness can be ham-fisted and excessive. Where other conservatives might tout Ayn Rand as an inspiration, his philosophical lodestar is Dale Carnegie. But one-­on-­one, Ford is appealingly jocular and congenial. “He’s a born salesman, so he has that persona—the big smile, the glad-handing, the backslapping,” says Peter Milczyn, the former city councillor and Liberal minister of housing. As with any salesman, once he gets what he wants, he can turn off that charm abruptly. John Filion, who calls Ford the second most complicated person he’s ever met (number one was Rob) says, “He can be a very pleasant guy to have lunch with, and then another time the big fist will come down in your face.” He can be infantile, thin-skinned, a man who holds a grudge forever and also a man who loves, who needs, to be liked. He came out of his first meeting with Trudeau furious at the prime minister’s condescension: “That son-of-a-bitch got up and said, ‘Do you know about the Geneva Convention?’ That son-of-a-bitch lecturing me?”

And yet this curious combination of qualities is almost exactly what so many people seem to want in a politician—lovable sometimes, a tough guy at others. A scrapper who tells it like it is. Doug has said that Rob’s undoing was that he was “too real.” As far as voters are concerned, Doug is just real enough.

The Fords have occasionally been called the Kennedys of Etobicoke, a fatuous comparison that Doug himself scorns not so much for its inaccuracy as for its whiff of elitism. But if you want to compare him to anyone in American politics, imagine a figure equal parts former U.S. president George W. Bush, pugnacious Providence mayor Buddy Cianci and, sure, why not, Donald Trump. The Trump comparisons are a little too easy, but they’re not off-base. In fact, Ford likened himself and his brother to the American president in 2015. “Donald Trump is borrowing from us,” he told the National Post. Both Ford and Trump are larger-than-life demagogues who hijacked political parties that didn’t want them. Both have been, more or less, successful businessmen, with silver spoons jammed into their mouths ­by domineering fathers. Both are aggressively narcissistic yet perplexingly insecure. Both have a love-hate relationship with the media. And both possess a fluid, sometimes contradictory, ideology that shifts between conservatism, populism and libertarianism.

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If Ford bears some resemblance to Trump, what’s far more important is how little he resembles Patrick Brown. This time last year, Brown was leader of the Ontario PC Party and almost certainly the next premier of Ontario. But he wasn’t quite who the Tories thought they were getting. Once he became leader, he tried to move the party closer to the centre. He was in favour of revenue-neutral carbon pricing, came to support Wynne’s updated sex-ed curriculum, marched in Toronto’s Pride parade. “Coming out of the Patrick Brown experience,” Kory Teneycke says, “there was a feeling among a lot of party members that they had been part of a giant bait-and-switch.”

Brown viewed Ford as a buffoonish irritant, someone to appease to keep Ford Nation on side. (Every time Brown appeared in a photo with Ford, John Tory would text him to say, “What are you doing?”) Seeking to capture the large voting bloc that the Fords represented, he backed Doug’s flirtation with an MPP run in Etobicoke North. But when Ford publicly praised Trump, Brown was livid. He pulled his support.

When Brown was accused of sexual misconduct and forced to resign, he insisted that the allegations were false and that he was the target of a smear campaign orchestrated by his adversaries. By that time, Ford had announced his intention to run against John Tory for mayor again, but after Brown’s resignation, a bigger market opportunity emerged. He could run for leader, accomplish something that neither his father nor brother could. Shrewdly, Ford immediately branded himself as the anti-Brown. While Caroline Mulroney and Christine Elliott struck more moderate positions, Ford tacked right, doubling down on issues closer to the hearts of social conservatives. For a large part of Ford’s coalition—which includes both old-school, white conservatives and a religious, multi-ethnic, ­lower-income population—this was red meat.

Brown had banished far-right figures like Tanya Granic Allen and the evangelical leader Charles McVety; Ford brought them back into the fold. Granic Allen, a Catholic, the president of Parents as First Educators and an outspoken social conservative, was the top choice of the Campaign Life Coalition, a national group that works to nominate and elect candidates who oppose abortion at all levels of government. The group claims he assured them that he supported their various demands to defund abortion, require parental consent before a minor receives an abortion, and scrap Wynne’s sex-ed curriculum. He appeared at several church rallies with McVety, whose positions on cap-and-trade (hated it) and the sex-ed curriculum (likewise) Ford took as his own. At a rally at a Howard Johnson in Lindsay, he told supporters, “I believe education should start at home. It shouldn’t start with the Liberal ideology breathing down our backs day in and day out….The government thinks they’re smarter than us.” In February, he was anointed by a pastor at the Prayer Palace, an evangelical megachurch in North York.

Ford’s chumminess with the religious right was both opportunistic and convenient. While his opposition to cap-and-trade and sex ed might have been by-products of his knee-jerk distaste for taxes and government encroachment, the consensus, among those who know him, is that he’s not a social conservative. He’s never been publicly religious, and he will forever be associated with his family’s well-documented history of lawlessness. “It was a political calculation, without question, to embrace people like McVety because that’s a huge voting bloc,” says one Tory insider.

In the end, the leadership race was a squeaker. Elliott won both the popular vote and more ridings, but Ford had more electoral votes, which decided the contest. Eighty-three per cent of Granic Allen’s supporters went to Ford on the second ballot. At his acceptance speech, Ford asked her to join him on the podium. He shook her hand, thanked her. She was pleased to see the issues that drove her being seriously taken up by Ford, she told me, whatever his personal beliefs. Afterward, he urged her to run as a candidate. When he became premier, he said, he’d give her a job in cabinet.

In late March, Kathleen Wynne was the most unpopular premier in the country. The Tories could have run a toy poodle and beaten her. But with an extremely short campaign—just three months—and an unusually volatile candidate, they played it safe. The party surrounded Ford with Harperites like Teneycke and Melissa Lantsman, both with loads of experience in government and deep Tory roots. Lantsman had worked for Ford’s rival Caroline Mulroney during the leadership race and long before that had served as spokesperson for former federal finance minister Joe Oliver. Teneycke had been a policy advisor to both Mike Harris and Stephen Harper, had worked as Harper’s director of communications, and served as vice-president of the short-lived Sun News Network. He brought in an old ally: the aggressive, tight-lipped Jenni Byrne, whom the Globe and Mail once called “the most powerful woman in Ottawa” for her role as Harper’s campaign manager and advisor. “Byrne’s attitude toward the media was that they should sit down and shut the fuck up,” one person told me. “She wanted a rigid, authoritarian system where nobody said a goddamn word.”

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Ford’s team built a platform of populist planks but refused to cost it (their fiscal plan was something along the lines of “just trust us”). They had no media bus on the campaign, preferring instead to reach voters directly through carefully controlled social media, including an online channel called Ford Nation Live, which later morphed into Ontario News Now. Ford relentlessly extolled and exploited his outsider status, casting himself as champion of the little guy, the anti-elite. “He’s an effective communicator,” one city staffer told me. “People are being bombarded with information these days, and if you can penetrate through with a short, crisp, effective message, it’s going to resonate. He’s no dummy. He correctly gauges the public mood.”

Scandal and chaos still followed Ford like a shadow. In early May, after a video of Granic Allen making homophobic remarks surfaced, Ford dumped her as a candidate in Mississauga Centre. Then, in the final days of the campaign, Rob’s widow, Renata, filed a $16.5-million lawsuit against Ford, his brother Randy and Deco, alleging that they had deprived her and her children of millions of dollars.

But the facts—that he was inexperienced, turbulent, shady—didn’t seem to matter. Ford won a majority with 76 seats and 41 per cent of the popular vote. He’d broadened the traditional Tory coalition, adding to its older, white, affluent voters the large, diverse and disenfranchised members of Ford Nation. Downtown Toronto was now an island of orange in a sea of blue. Rob Ford had pitted suburbanites against downtowners for political gain. Doug had divided the province.

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When Ford was at city hall, he was known for coming into meetings bursting with new, sometimes bizarre, often underdeveloped ideas: putting a Ferris wheel on the waterfront, bringing an NFL franchise to the city. Over time, Rob Ford’s advisors, Mark Towhey and Nick Kouvalis, realized that after hours, Doug was consulting with a bunch of unseen, unelected friends, who were helping him concoct these schemes. Towhey dubbed the group the Night Shift.

One member of the Night Shift was the tall, silver-haired Dean French, a long-time friend of Ford’s who later served as his campaign chair. He was a hard-nosed Etobicoke business executive and lacrosse enthusiast whose last significant role in politics was helping Stockwell Day in his Ontario campaigns. After Ford arrived at Queen’s Park, he brought in French as his chief of staff. At the photo shoot for this story, Ford said, “Dean should be here, too. He’s the second most influential person in Toronto.”

French shares a lot with Jenni Byrne: both are tough, argumentative and, à la Ford, proud of their direct line to the conservative grassroots base. But Byrne knows how government works. Ford and French, for better or worse, don’t. Ford wants to do everything all at once, and when Byrne tries to put on the brakes, he relies on French to move things forward for him. And moving things forward often means forcing things forward. “Dean has zero government experience,” says one PC insider, “and now he’s in one of the most powerful positions in the government. He rules by fiat. He doesn’t know how to get things done, so he just bellows and screams at the end of the table. He has a simplistic, either- you’re-with-me-or-against-me attitude.”

French was Ford’s main ally during his crusade to cut city council. And when they won that fight, Ford told his staff that, six months from now, no one would even remember it. He was probably right. Especially as he turned his attention to the other even more controversial matters. To thunderous applause in the legislature, he rolled back Liberal labour reforms that would have raised the minimum wage in January. He cancelled funding for the expansion of universities in Milton, Markham and Brampton.

The government has been great at killing things, but it has had a hard time successfully building anything of its own. The debut of Ford’s Ontario Cannabis Store in October was marred by slow delivery, misshipments and complaints. While he had loudly promised, in July, the “largest-ever” consultation on a redrafted sex-ed curriculum, by October that consultation only consisted of the quiet rollout of a website late on a Friday afternoon. And a hundred days into its mandate, the Ford government had yet to release any kind of emissions plan to replace the cap-and-trade legislation it had repealed, focusing instead on taking Trudeau to court over the federal carbon tax while also dismissing the $3-billion loss that winding down cap-and-trade represented.

The big question hanging over Queen’s Park is how exactly Ford plans to balance the books. He repeatedly, unbelievably, insisted that he could fix a deficit the Tories claimed was far larger than expected—$15 billion—without slashing service or job cuts. And yet it wasn’t clear how he’d square that particular circle—even to his own caucus. “The province of Ontario is seriously in debt,” Victor Harding, the president of the Provincial University Rosedale PC Association, says. “We have the largest debt of any sub-national government in the world right now. How is Doug Ford going to deal with this debt without either cutting programs or heads?”

When Rob Ford was a councillor and, to a certain extent, when he was mayor, if a constituent had a problem and city staff couldn’t fix it, Rob would fix it himself. Doug liked to joke that even if it was just a cat stuck in a tree, Rob would try to climb up and get the cat. Doug takes a different approach: he’ll cut down the tree. And if the cat doesn’t survive, well, there are a lot more cats out there. Both approaches deliberately disregard what our government is designed to do. You can’t climb up to get all cats out and you can’t just cut down all the trees. At some point, you have to plant new ones.

In late September, I drove to the Veneto Centre in Vaughan to attend Ford Fest. It was the first time the massive annual barbecue was held outside of Etobicoke. When I turned onto Kipling, the designated parking had spilled into the neighbouring streets. Seven thousand people were there, or so said Ford’s staff. I found one last spot and walked several blocks, where there was another half-hour line to get into the festival itself.

Inside, it was a sea of red, white and blue. People wore Doug Ford buttons, Stop the Gravy Train buttons, Michael Ford buttons. Boomer music pierced the cool air, courtesy of DJ Dan Jacobs, Steve Clark’s chief of staff: Lighthouse’s “Sunny Days,” Boston’s “More Than a Feeling.” The party was ethnically and demographically diverse, with an average age, I guessed, of around 50. A couple of cabinet ministers—Christine Elliott, Rod Phillips—worked the crowd. I skipped the ridiculously long lineup for free burgers and grabbed a bag of chips.

Ford took to the stage, beaming as he always beams, dressed in his weekend uniform: white shirt, navy blazer, dark jeans. He wore only one expression: Can you believe this shit? He expressed concern for two police officers shot the day before at a Burlington gas station, then the victims of the tornadoes in Ottawa. In perpetual campaign mode, he rhymed off a few of the things his government had accomplished: ending the York strike, Buck-a-Beer, and, to the greatest applause, cancelling cap-and-trade. “We got Kathleen Wynne’s hand out of your pocket,” he said, “and now we’re going to get Justin Trudeau’s hand out of your pocket.” He talked about the deficit the Liberals left behind, how there would be consequences. “We’ll show them,” he said, “that you don’t just get to walk away.”

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“Lock her up!” several people chanted. “Liars,” a woman beside me muttered. “Scrap Trudeau!” a guy behind me yelled. A woman at the front of the crowd waved a black T-shirt that read “Next Stop Ottawa.” When Ford finished his speech, he stayed on stage and people lined up again, this time to have their pictures taken with him. It was hard to tell how many people were there over the course of the next couple of hours—500, a thousand. He was definitely more popular than the burgers.

I went to the bathroom and there, in a hallway between the stage and the washrooms, was the core of the Ford family—Randy, Diane, Karla and a couple of the daughters—just hanging out. It was startling, like running into the Kardashians at Old Navy. It was the Fords’ event, I knew, and being one with the people was the whole point of the thing, but it was still weirdly refreshing. Few political families, I thought, would subject themselves to such casual exposure in such a dingy location. As green rooms go, it wasn’t glamorous or comfortable. There was no food or drink, nowhere to sit down, no security, no privacy. You could smell the washrooms. They were waiting, it seemed, for Doug to wrap up, but they were also, obviously, holding court. Friends and fans stopped to say hi, hug them, tell stories. Randy stood about a head taller than the crowd, in his trademark cowboy hat and boots and a grey corduroy jacket. Diane was wearing Skechers and a soft, blue-and-grey coat with a pattern of a wolf’s head on the back. Karla was smiling and congenial, in a dark T-shirt and a Michael Ford button.

This was likely the closest I was ever going to get to the premier, so I hung around for a long time. People kept coming, kept saying hello. Finally, I saw Karla was alone for a minute and introduced myself. She grimaced. I said, “Can I ask you a question or two?” She said no. I asked anyway: “Has Doug changed at all since he became premier?”

“Not at all. Doug is the same. A gem. One of a kind. We’re lucky to have him.”

“What’s he like when he’s not working?”

“He’s always working.”

“He never takes a break? Plays golf? Goes for a swim?”

“He’s always working. Always brainstorming. He treats everyone with respect and that’s what everyone needs. Especially these days.”

The former Rebel Media commentator Faith Goldy, then a mayoral candidate, walked in and threw her arms around Randy. I thanked Karla and went back outside. People were still lined up to the back of the hall, still waiting for Ford. (Later, to great controversy, Goldy and her all-male entourage would also pose with him.) A large man caught my eye and, in response to the endless selfies, said, “Wow.” We talked a bit. His name was Binder Singh, and he was a 48-year-old entrepreneur from Brampton. I asked him if he had been to any previous Ford Fests. Singh said, sure, that he’d known the Fords for about 20 years. He was sanguine about Doug’s election. “How often do you change your car?” he asked me. “Every five, 10 years? Same thing with government. You need a change.”

I asked Singh the same question I asked Karla, if Doug had changed. He smiled, knowingly. “Yeah, bro,” he said, “he’s losing his freedom.” Singh explained: he’s surrounded now by conservatives, lobbyists, corporations. He needs to please other people. Doug looked after his guys, he had that loyalty. But that meant that those guys, guys who hadn’t been elected, also wanted to tell him what to do.

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Singh pointed at Dean French, who was standing onstage, helping to usher people into position or offstage. I wasn’t so sure that Doug had lost his freedom, exactly, but a metaphor started to form before my eyes. On one side of the stage were the people, the people that Ford couldn’t stop talking about, the people that he needed and who needed him, who would line up for hours just for the brief chance to shake his hand, to put their arm around him, to bathe in the radiance of that smile. And then, there was French, shuffling them off the stage, sending them back to their lives, where they would wait for Ford to do something for them, to save them some money, to make things simpler. Even if the people felt, for a minute, part of it, it was still a political machine. “Every politician elected to govern is eventually made a hypocrite by government,” the strategist Chad Rogers said to me. How long would it be before the anti-politician, the anti-Brown, the anti-Wynne was made a hypocrite? Doug never stopped smiling.

 


The Inner Circle

Doug Ford’s most influential aides, advisors and allies


Inside Doug Ford’s rule-breaking, foundation-shaking government

Dean French, chief of staff A business exec and lacrosse player, French served as an unofficial advisor to Ford during his years at city hall and later chaired the provincial campaign. He’s pushed through some of Ford’s bolder and more controversial ideas, including the cut to city council.


Inside Doug Ford’s rule-breaking, foundation-shaking government

Kory Teneycke, campaign manager Teneycke is the former VP of Sun News Network and previously worked as Stephen Harper’s director of communications. He was instrumental in the creation of Ontario News Now, the pseudo–news network touting Fordist triumphs.

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Inside Doug Ford’s rule-breaking, foundation-shaking government

Jenni Byrne, principal secretary As Harper’s deputy chief of staff, Byrne was known as a skilled operations manager, executing projects with razor efficiency. She brings the same discipline to the premier’s office, though she opposed Ford’s decision to cut council during an election year.


Inside Doug Ford’s rule-breaking, foundation-shaking government

Tanya Granic Allen, campaign ally An outspoken social conservative, Granic Allen helped Ford court the far-right vote in exchange for a promise to repeal Kathleen Wynne’s sex-ed curriculum. He ousted her as an MPP candidate when video surfaced of her making homophobic comments.


Inside Doug Ford’s rule-breaking, foundation-shaking government

Rueben Devlin, advisor The former CEO of Humber River Hospital was frequently by the Fords’ sides during Rob’s health crisis. He’s now serving as special advisor to the premier on health policy—and he reports directly to Ford, not Health Minister Christine Elliott.

 


 

This story originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe, for just $29.95 a year, click here.

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