POLITICS
06/09/2018 10:04 EDT | Updated 06/09/2018 10:04 EDT

How Did Doug Ford Get Here? It Didn't Happen Overnight

His pitch was simple. The details were scarce. It worked.

Ontario premier-elect Doug Ford speaks to the media after winning the Ontario Provincial election in Toronto, on June 8, 2018.
Nathan Denette/CP
Ontario premier-elect Doug Ford speaks to the media after winning the Ontario Provincial election in Toronto, on June 8, 2018.

In the thick of the late Rob Ford's very public problems, a radio host asked the then-Toronto mayor to consider if he might be an anchor weighing down his ambitious brother.

Doug Ford, at the time a city councillor for Etobicoke, was his troubled younger brother's chief defender and, in the eyes of some, an enabler. He swooped into his brother's seat at city hall in 2010 when Rob Ford made the improbable leap to the mayor's office, but made no secret of his desire to sit instead at Queen's Park.

Doug Ford Sr., the patriarch of the clan, served one term as a Progressive Conservative MPP in the late 1990s.

On that day in 2013, Rob Ford angrily balked at the idea that he might be damaging his brother's brand.

"Doug will be provincial, he will be premier one day," he shot back. "It has nothing to do with me. And no matter, again, how the media wants to spin it, Doug is the hardest working, smartest guy."

Nearly five years later, Ford has won much more than his coveted seat at Queen's Park. He's set to become premier of Canada's largest province with a commanding majority government, the first PC win since 1999.

"I know that my brother Rob is looking down from heaven," Ford told euphoric supporters Thursday night. The line yielded his biggest applause of the night.

"I'm just getting chills talking about him right now. Rob is celebrating with us tonight. We owe so much to Rob's legacy. A legacy of service to the people."

One wonders if Renata Ford was watching.

More coverage of the Ontario election:


In the last days of the campaign, the widow of Rob Ford filed a stunning lawsuit against her brother-in-law. She is accusing him of depriving her children of millions of dollars and "negligently" mismanaging the family business, Deco Companies, while at the same time richly rewarding himself. The allegations have not yet been tested in court.

Ford said he was "floored" by accusations that he deemed totally without merit and questioned Renata Ford's motives. His mother released a statement calling the mom of her grandkids an addict.

And though the ugly family feud didn't seem to hurt him at the polls, it was perhaps the clearest example of the kind of drama that could follow Doug Ford into the premier's office.

While those stunned by the results may be asking how we got here, "Premier Ford" didn't happen overnight. His simple pitch — respect taxpayers, stand up for the Little Guy — has been taken seriously for some time.

For nearly 15 years of Liberal rule, PCs struggled mightily to win in seat-rich Toronto. Even John Tory, now the city's mayor, failed as Tory leader to turn Big Smoke seats blue in 2007.

PCs under former leader Tim Hudak reportedly wooed Doug Ford to run for them in 2011. By 2013, Hudak was speaking openly about having him on his team.

"Here's a guy who has helped derail the gravy train at City Hall in Toronto," Hudak told The Toronto Sun at the time. "We've got a gravy train here under the Liberals that needs to be derailed as well."

But the seemingly endless chaos surrounding the now infamous video of the mayor smoking crack cocaine, not to mention an investigative report from The Globe and Mail alleging Doug Ford sold hashish as a young man, no doubt raised the risk factor.

In the months leading up the 2014 election in Ontario, Ford proclaimed that the timing just wasn't right to run for the Tories. Instead, he would focus on his brother's re-election bid.

"I would have loved to, but you have to put other things ahead of your own political aspirations."

Again, Rob Ford predicted this wouldn't be the end of the story. "One day he's going to be leader of the party," he said.

Jonathan Hayward/CP
Doug Ford, greets Conservative Party supporters at a rally after listening to Conservative Leader Stephen Harper in Toronto on Oct. 17, 2015.

The PCs lost, again, in 2014. They were completely shut out of Toronto as Kathleen Wynne's Liberals rolled to a majority government, spurring Ford to colourfully proclaim the party needed "an enema from top to bottom."

Hudak was a nice enough guy, Ford told reporters, but couldn't connect with the "front-line union folks" and "populists."

After Rob Ford was diagnosed with cancer, Doug Ford stepped in to run for mayor. Despite a dismal attendance record as councillor, a public feud with the chief of police, and a late start, he won 20 of 44 wards in the city. Good enough for a respectable second-place finish.

Ford flirted with seeking the PC leadership then, but ultimately took a pass and returned to the family business. Yet, he had no trouble keeping himself relevant.

He pumped up the crowd at a Toronto rally for Stephen Harper's Conservatives near the end of the 2015 federal election, warning it would be "an absolute disaster if Justin Trudeau and Kathleen Wynne were running this country."

Fred Thornhill / Reuters
Renata Ford her daughter Setephanie and son Doug Ford Junior stand outside St James Cathedral with Doug Ford and his mother as the hearse leaves carrying former mayor Rob Ford, in Toronto on March 30, 2016.

Trudeau, meanwhile, said Harper should have felt embarrassed by the company he was keeping.

"The Ford brothers should have no place on a national stage, much less hosting a prime minister," Trudeau said.

After federal Tories lost, Ford was even briefly floated as a possible contender for Harper's job.

In 2016, he delivered a memorable eulogy at his brother's funeral where he choked up — but also hinted at his political future.

"Don't worry. Ford Nation will continue," he said, referring to their fan base largely outside Toronto's downtown core. "We'll continue respecting the taxpayers."

He also released a memoir that year further cementing him as the keeper of his brother's torch. He called it: Ford Nation: Two Brothers One Vision: The True Story of the People's Mayor.

And despite his return to private life, he also had no trouble getting himself on TV.

During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Ford told CityNews that he "wouldn't waver" in his support for Donald Trump over "Crooked Hillary," even in the wake of that "Access Hollywood" video. The lewd clip re-surfaced during the Ontario campaign as Wynne imperfectly attempted to paint him as just another Trump.

Still, it's worth asking why an ex-Toronto city councillor was being given airtime to talk about the U.S. election in the first place.

Earlier: Ford, Elliott trade shots during leadership debate

Though he had already committed to run for mayor again, Ford felt the time was right to pursue the PC leadership after Patrick Brown stepped down in January amid sexual misconduct allegations.

Doug Ford launched his bid from his mother's basement, a move that seemed to court the kind of mockery that helps a rich man run against "elites" with a straight face.

Ford promised to fight Trudeau's carbon tax, rein in spending, and grow the party's tent. He charmed social conservatives with a promise to reopen the province's sex-ed curriculum.

In the end, he narrowly defeated the more experienced Christine Elliott, a former MPP and widow of late federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, a Ford family friend.

The platform he took to Ontario voters this spring promised hydro relief and mental health spending, but was also loaded with right-flavoured populism: beer and wine in corner stores, a break at the gas pump, tax cuts, and the firing of Hydro One's CEO over his extravagant salary.

The devil was always in the details, though. For instance, removing the "Six Million Dollar Man" at Hydro One will first require replacing the entire board and dishing out an expected severance payout of $10.7 million.

Aaron Lynett/CP
Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford speaks to residents during a campaign stop at Portal Village Retirement Home in Port Colborne, Ont., on May 29, 2018.

He promised to find $6 billion in "efficiencies" in government spending, saving four cents on every dollar — without cuts to public services or anyone losing their jobs. His opponents argued that would be impossible and warned cuts to health care and education are inevitable.

Though he promised a fully costed platform, Ford released only a list of promises with price tags and no information on how he would pay for them. When pressed on the matter, PCs pointed out that since Ontario's auditor general said Liberals were downplaying their own deficits by billions, there'd be no point to including a fiscal framework.

Ford faced questions about his grasp of governing, including if he knew the specifics of how a bill becomes a law. As the NDP caught up to PCs in opinion polls, Ford started featuring his team of "all-star" candidates, including former leadership rivals Elliott and Caroline Mulroney, to show his cabinet would be ready to govern on Day One.

His party ended up winning 76 of a possible 124 seats, keeping reliably safe Tory ridings and dominating the Greater Toronto Area.

'I know my base'

Ford's victory sets up a collision course, of sorts, with Trudeau. The incoming Ontario premier has pledged to scrap the province's cap-and-trade system — something that brought in roughly $2 billion into government coffers last year — and fight a carbon tax from the feds.

In a memorable interview with Terry Milewski on CBC's "Power and Politics" in February, Ford was repeatedly pressed on how he'd pay for his priorities with the revenue that comes with carbon pricing.

"I'll quote Justin Trudeau's dad. Just watch me," he said.

There was one area in the interview where Ford was specific, however, and it came when he was asked if his leadership style might scare off prospective PC voters.

"I know my base," he said. "I'll bring nine seats in Toronto."

In the end, the party won 10.