“Plenty of people don’t love the Fords”: This woman from Etobicoke is fighting to rename Rob Ford Stadium
Nicole Rajakovic’s petition pushes back against the city’s recent decision to do away with the name Centennial Park Stadium in honour of the late former mayor
Last week, city council voted to rename the football stadium in Etobicoke’s Centennial Park in honour of one of the area’s most polarizing political figures. Rob Ford, who died from cancer in 2016, was Toronto’s mayor from 2010 to 2014, elected on a promise to “stop the gravy train” and made infamous when a leaked video showed him smoking crack (one of various scandalous sideshows). “We are calling on Toronto Council to REJECT this motion. Rob Ford was a harmful and problematic councillor and mayor,” reads a petition started by Nicole Rajakovic, a 46-year-old audio executive producer who grew up in Etobicoke and believes council is displaying incredibly poor judgment. Here, she tells us why she thinks the timing of council’s vote is suspect and why her objections to the renaming have nothing to do with Ford’s drug use.
This is not the first time the idea to rename this particular landmark after Rob Ford has been floated. Did you protest last time around?
In 2016, there was a proposal to rename the entire Centennial Park after Ford, and at that time there was a petition that got over 19,000 signatures. I don’t remember if I signed it, but I certainly agreed with the idea that this was not a person we should be memorializing. That proposal was voted down by council, including by Scarborough-Guildwood councillor Paul Ainsley, who actually put forward the motion this time around.
What moved you to launch a petition? Do you have a particular connection to Ford?
I grew up in Etobicoke, and I was a student at Michael Power / St. Joseph High School, which is located in Centennial Park. The stadium they’re renaming is where our football team played. I spent a lot of time at the park: skiing, tobogganing, attending Ribfest. My dad would always bring me and the other kids to watch the Toronto Lynx or the Toronto Blizzard. I have a lot of good memories there, so when I heard about the plan to rename it, I was shocked.
I thought the Fords were a fairly popular family in that part of the city.
I think there is a misconception that everybody in Etobicoke loves the Fords. I’m not saying that nobody does, but there are also plenty of people in the area advocating for walkable suburbs, bike lanes—all of the things Ford was against. These people definitely don’t want his name on their stadium.
I’m sure you’ve seen the argument that Ford’s dedication to helping his constituents shouldn’t be overshadowed by “personal” problems. You don’t agree?
I know that a lot of people on Twitter were talking about how he smoked crack, but that is not what my petition is highlighting. Substance abuse is a serious problem and not something I would fault someone for. What I am focused on is Rob Ford’s well-documented history of sexism, racism, homophobia. Look at the comments he made about women—and even his wife—when he was accused of sexual harassment, or the way he skipped out on Pride and the raising of the rainbow flag every year. He turned Toronto into a global mockery on American late-night shows, he constantly lied to taxpayers about how much he was saving the city, and he set transit back ten years and $65 million dollars when he cancelled Transit City.
Cheri DiNovo is one of many political insiders hypothesizing a connection between the renaming of the stadium and Toronto’s new deal with the province. Does this make it better or worse?
There has been a lot of talk that there is a connection between the green-lighting of Rob Ford Stadium and the billions of dollars that the city got from the province as part of the new deal—even if it wasn’t explicit. The mayor has denied this, but the timing is certainly interesting. People are saying, Yeah, it sucks, but at least we’re getting the money to fix transit and housing. Meanwhile, Ford’s policies played a large role in creating the mess we need the money to fix.
Were you surprised that Olivia Chow was one of the votes in favour of Rob Ford Stadium?
I was disappointed by her response, which was that she knows the pain of losing someone young, referring to her late husband. That shouldn’t mean we have to put the name of a problematic individual on a municipal landmark. And the vote happened in the same meeting where they voted to rename Yonge-Dundas Square because of the pro-slavery legacy of Henry Dundas. We don’t need to wait 100 years to decide that Rob Ford doesn’t deserve this honour.
Your petition got more than 5,500 signatures, but the vote went through anyway. Any plans to crank up the pressure? Maybe a protest? Or you could chain yourself to the bleachers?
I don’t think I’d go that far, but I may reach out to some activists from the neighbourhood to see if there is anything left to do.
If you could rename the stadium, who would you name it after?
Nobody. I think recent history has taught us that naming public institutions after people can really blow up in your face. They’re already having issues with the new names being considered for Yonge-Dundas Square. Before it was Rob Ford Stadium, it was known as Centennial Park Stadium. I don’t see how anyone could find fault with that.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.