In Toronto, the Rob Ford show is just getting started

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford admitted crack smoking and drunk driving. Now he's promising war for his political opponents. And in Toronto's suburbs, he's still got an army in 'Ford Nation.'

Chris Young/The Canadian Press/AP
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford speaks in the council chamber as Councillors look to pass motions to limit his powers in Toronto on Monday, Nov. 18, 2013.

Turn on the TV in Toronto. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Canada’s largest city has been transformed into a gigantic set for a well-cast TV show featuring the madcap antics of a man who has stumbled into the post of mayor.

The reason why you'd think that is because that is exactly what’s happening.

Rob Ford, the colorfully-dressed, foul-mouthed, crack-smoking mayor beloved by both the Canadian press corps and late night TV comedians, continued to dominate newscasts and headlines Tuesday, a day after the premiere of his own TV show, “Ford Nation.”

“You’ve heard the criticism. Now I want you to hear me,” Mr. Ford said on the show, which was taped Sunday and debuted Monday night on a small Canadian channel. “I guarantee you’re going to see a change in the next few months.”

“I know in my heart everyone has personal problems,” Ford said later in the broadcast. “I urinated in a parking lot . . . what does that have to do with anything?”

Toronto’s largest daily newspaper, meanwhile, used a blaring headline in its Tuesday’s editions, to say this in response: “Mayor In Name Only.”

Ford, who stunned Toronto’s political establishment by winning the mayoralty in 2010, has continued to stun with his off-color remarks and defiant rhetoric, even as many have assumed his tenure could not continue.

On Monday, the City Council voted to strip yet more powers from Ford, transferring more authority and budget responsibility from him to a deputy mayor.

Ford responded in his trademark belligerent style:

“If you think American-style politics is nasty, you guys have just attacked Kuwait,” he was quoted as saying by the Toronto Star. “This is going to be outright war in the next election.”

Ford later got into a shouting match with audience members heckling him, and in an even more bizarre moment, collided with another councilor as he ran across the floor to yell more. With audience members yelling “Shame! Shame!,” the council’s chairwoman then called a recess.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday in an interview on NBC’s Today Show, Ford again repeated that he could barely remember smoking crack cocaine: “I was very, very inebriated.”

In a separate interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., he vowed that he would stop drinking altogether.

"If you don't see a difference in me in five months, then I'll eat my words," he said in the interview. "I've had a come-to-Jesus moment if you want to call it that. I've let my dad down, I know he's upstairs watching this."

Despite the efforts to curtail his authority and pleas for him to take a leave of absence, Ford is under no obligation to step aside. Neither city laws, nor those of Ontario provincial government, provide for removing an elected official from office, barring a criminal conviction, persistent absence from office, or conflict-of-interest concerns.

The mayoral election is scheduled for October 2014 and Ford has vowed to run again.

For many Torontonians, at the heart of Ford’s staying power is a divide between residents of the city’s downtown, who tend to vote liberal, and those of suburban districts, who tend to be more conservative. A major reorganization of the city’s boundaries in 1998, called “amalgamation,” united the outlying areas with the city’s traditional core, arguably setting up the 2010 vote and the continuing clash over Ford’s suitability for office.

Polls have shown that while a majority of Torontonians disapprove of Ford’s behavior, a bloc of voters continue to stand by him, with his popularity figures remaining largely unchanged in recent months.

The most recent poll, released Monday by Ipsos Reid, found a sharp split over whether the city was “on the right track,” with 48 percent saying it is, and 52 percent  saying it is not. The largest percentage of people saying the city is not headed in the right direction are in the downtown/old section of the city, the poll found. Meanwhile, 62 percent of those polled said they would not vote for Ford “under any circumstance.”

The weighted Ipsos poll, taken on behalf of CTV News/CP24/ Newstalk 1010 Radio, surveyed 665 city residents via the internet between Nov. 8-12. The margin of error was 4.3 percentage points.

Harry Vandekamp, who runs a fish and chips shop in a western part of the city, explained that the sentiment expressed in the sign he has in the window of his restaurant — “I trust Rob Ford with my tax money” — is shared by many in his working class district.

“He has blundered. He has spoken, he’s made some rude comments… but that brings out the common man in him, he’s lacking as a dignitary, but he is someone that we trust with running business,” Vandekamp tells the Monitor.

“I’m not suicidal, I wouldn’t put up a sign for him if there wasn’t so much support for him,” he says.

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