Magazine article Canadian Dimension

The Ford Focus

Magazine article Canadian Dimension

The Ford Focus

Article excerpt

TORONTO MAYOR Rob Ford is a political phenomenon deserving of close attention, but not for the reasons often cited. The mayor's crack smoking, binge drinking and seemingly terminal foot-in-mouth disease grab headlines, but the media coverage seldom serves up anything approaching political analysis. Instead, it relies on simplistic, divisive explanations for Ford's success: suburbs versus downtown, ordinary people versus elites, and the like. Such broad generalizations are overblown, grain of truth notwithstanding. Taking the measure of Toronto's political "Fordism" requires some deeper reflection.

Ford won 47% of the popular vote in the 2010 Toronto civic election, a race that witnessed a 29% increase in voter turnout over the two previous elections and in which 80% of his support came from suburbs amalgamated with the old City of Toronto in 1997. According to census data, Toronto's urban core is richer, better educated, and more likely to use public transit than the recent suburban additions--facts that undergird the conventional media spin about Ford as a catalyst for an angry, economically challenged Ford Nation that loves cars and hates downtown. But these are facile characterizations.

Toronto's suburbs are not politically homogeneous. Ford's suburban bailiwick is more racially diverse than downtown (52% vs. 27%) and boasts more first-generation immigrants (53% vs. 35%). The suburbs also have a complex class reality, combining high levels of home and car ownership with considerable poverty that is racially stratified.

That the rich buy Ford's blunt anti-tax message is easy to understand. But Ford appears to have some support among the less fortunate as well. Purporting to be opposed to the "elites" and on the side of the poor, fighting for the "little guy" against higher taxes and wasteful expenditure, Ford won majorities in city wards comprising large concentrations of lower income workers, recent immigrants and people of colour.

We have to look into the current economic and political context to understand why Ford's rhetoric and his political outsider image find favour in these ranks of Ford Nation. (The offspring of a wealthy suburban family, Ford himself is anything but an outsider. His father, once an MPP under Mike Harris, founded Deco Labels & Tags, a company with estimated annual sales exceeding $100 million. …

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