Immigration conflagration: we talk to the five front-runners about Rob Ford’s “enough’s enough” stand on newcomers

Immigration conflagration: we talk to the five front-runners about Rob Ford’s “enough’s enough” stand on newcomers

In case you missed it, at Tuesday night’s CP24 mayoral debate, Rob Ford said:

Right now we can’t even deal with the 2.5 million people in this city. I think it is more important to take care of people now before we start bringing in more people. There’s going to be a million more people, according to the official plan, which I did not support, over the next ten years coming into the city. We can’t even deal with the 2.5 million people. How are we going to welcome another million people in? It is going to be chaotic. We can’t even deal with the chaos we have now. I think we have to say enough’s enough.

There’s some argument about the numbers that Ford uses here, but nobody cares about that part. What we have on our hands is a full-blown campaign cluster bomb, with candidates scrambling to take advantage of Ford’s latest gaffe. We talked to the other four front-runners and to Ford’s campaign to find out how they really feel.

All of the candidates condemned Ford, with Rocco Rossi and Sarah Thomson sharing a rally at Nathan Phillips Square yesterday. Thomson used some of the harshest language while speaking at the rally, asking, “How many times will we let him show his prejudice and lack of tolerance?” When asked later if she truly believed Ford is a prejudiced person, she said yes:

“When he had to answer questions under pressure, rapid-fire, he answered from the heart. I think we saw the real Rob Ford. Yes, I think there’s prejudice there.” She added that as candidates for mayor, she and Ford have to set good examples, and “he’s obviously shown his true colours.”

Rossi distanced himself from Thomson’s remarks faster than Mike Myers ditched Kanye, saying there’s no reason to believe that Ford is prejudiced. Instead, Rossi sees the issue as one of economic competence: “It’s an appalling lack of insight, of understanding how cities grow.” He also confronted Ford about his comments in front of city hall (see video, left), but Ford quickly moved away, repeating, “It’s a political game.”

Joe Pantalone struck at Ford at least as hard as Thomson, saying of Ford’s words, “Some people would call them bigoted.” When pressed on whether he personally thinks Ford is a bigot, Pantalone responded, “I am beginning to reach that conclusion.” Pantalone is calling for Ford to apologize and says he wouldn’t raise the issue again if Ford did so.

George Smitherman says, “We’re way beyond apologies,” and that this latest gaffe is “an exclamation point on everything else Mr. Ford has said in the rest of his career in politics.” Smitherman says this latest outburst shows, “If you don’t look like Rob Ford and don’t talk like Rob Ford, you don’t fit in his Toronto.”

The Ford campaign, for its part, is calling the attacks spin and “political gamesmanship,” according to Fraser MacDonald, a Ford spokesperson. Unsurprisingly, MacDonald categorically denied any accusations of bigotry on Ford’s part, saying that a plain reading of Ford’s comments shows he was talking about all people, not just immigrants. As far as the flying accusations are concerned, MacDonald says, “It’s a little bit insulting, but you just look at the source.”

There’s surprisingly little action in the newspapers of the city; none of the dailies jumped in with an editorial on Ford or his comments (perhaps they are all distracted by the revelations of Ford’s 1999 marijuana incident). In the Star, Royson James says this whole thing is Ford’s own fault: “Ford could have deflected the question… But he got snagged because the issue is part of a matrix of hot-button issues conservatives love to grouse about. He couldn’t resist.” The Sun runs a comment from a legal immigrant who found Ford’s comments hurtful. And on a Toronto Star blog, David Rider warns, “There are cynics who say the immigrant uproar could actually gain Ford votes. In this odd election, don’t bet against it.”

• Opponents rally against Ford for comments on immigration [Globe and Mail]
• Mayoral candidate Rob Ford defends controversial immigration comments [National Post]
• Ford goes on defensive as opponents attack [Toronto Star]
• Rob Ford: No more immigrants to Toronto [Rocco Rossi for Mayor]
• Allegations about ‘no immigration’ are “nothing but spin”: Ford [Rob Ford for Mayor]
• Ethnic origin and visible minorities [City of Toronto]
• George Smitherman – Responds to Rob Ford’s comments on Immigration [Youtube]
• James: Ford’s irresistible hot button
Ford hurtful to legal immigrants [Toronto Sun]
Behind the Ford immigration uproar [Toronto Star]