What was Ford Fest really like and why are the Ford's so popular?
Some of you might be aware, but I'm in Toronto. The reason I decided to come to Toronto was because of this Mayoral Election. I am fascinated by this Mayor race. Here is the biggest city in Canada, Toronto, with the most polarizing and possibly embarrassing Mayor in the world. At least, that's the perception anyway. I'm coming at this not from a specific side. Yes, I have a picture with Doug Ford. But, remember, I'm from Calgary. Meeting Doug or Rob Ford is a one of those once in a life time opportunities.
I am coming at this as an observer. An observer of the candidates, their policies and who would be the best Mayor for Toronto.
So, for this one, we are specifically going to focus in Ford Fest. The reason is this event was so controversial going into today. As well as what happened at the event.
First, some background. This us the 19th annual Ford Fest. This used to be an event they held in the Ford Family backyard. However, the event became so popular, that the now use a park in Scarborough. It averages between 10,000-15,000 people a year now.
The big controversy going into today about this event was that it was a subtle.....check that.... not so subtle way to campaign. There is a bylaw in Toronto that says election literature cannot be handed out in city or public.City Councillors and the other Mayor Candidates were insistent that the bylaw officers were watching that this would not happen.
However, this did not stop two Mayoral candidates from attempting to crash the festivities.
First,it was Karen Stintz. She walked into Ford Fest with someone with her campaign team wearing a "Karen Stintz for Mayor" T-Shirt. There were reports she was booed by the crowd. I didn't see that. When she was asked by a member of the media about if the t-shirt infringes on the rules, her answer was,
"It's just a t-shirt".
Second was Sarah Thomson. She came in on a white horse,her campaign team wearing "Sarah Thomson for Mayor T-Shirts"
When she was asked by the media about this her answer was,
"No candidate wants to engage Ford head on. I like circuses. If Ford wants a circus, I'll give him a circus."
She was also booed. As well as told by a bylaw officer to leave.
Next was a group called #queeruption. There is a dispute of how many showed up, but there were confrontations between them and Ford Nation Supporters. There were reports of comments of "It's Adam and Eve,not Adam and Steve"
There is also a picture of a man choking a #queeruption member.
These incidents certainly didn't dampen the festivities.The park was filled with long lineups. Lineups for actual tickets to get food. Lineups for food.Lineups for Ice Cream. And of course,the lineup for the Fords.
I was walking around when suddenly, there was a loud shout!
"Four more years, Four more years, Four more years!"
It was Doug Ford.
Now, it was not easy to get that picture of that picture. He was surrounded with many people that wanted to get a picture with him. It wasn't aggressive, but people were assertive. There was lots of people, but I have to day Doug was very patient with everyone. Yes, I know it's an election year and he has too. But it's worth saying that. He was dealing with both crowds and reporters at the same time.
Next, I tried to get a photo of Rob Ford. It was tough even to see Rob Ford, let alone take a picture. From what I saw, he looked happy. Certainly, the crowd was happy to see him.
Speaking of the crowd, there was a lot of conversation on Twitter about the crowd.I saw words like scumbag, unintelligent, homophobic, and embarrassing for Toronto. The crowd I saw was peaceful. Other then the excitement of seeing the Fords, the crowd was listening to music, patiently waiting in lines, and having polite conversations. It was a diverse crowd. Lots of families. Lots of seniors. Some younger people. I would say it seems like more of a traditional crowd.Were they all Ford Nation supporters? Probably not. There were onlookers and some there for a burger. But they were not rowdy or out of control at all.
I also had the opportunity to speak to some people about the campaign. There was one non-supporter of the Fords She had a sign calling out the "Ford Gravy Train" as she called it.
Her point was that, yes Ford Fest was not a "campaign". And the Fords are claiming they are footing the bill for this. But are they? Are they using campaign donations as they are claiming, or is this a taxpayer expense? This also happened in 2010.
What she also said is although the candidates are better than the campaign of 2010, there is no one that she felt was really an option.
I also spoke to a couple of Ford supporters. One had a Ford for Mayor sign. I said to him, I'm from out of town and I'm curious why.
He pointed out that under the previous administration, his property taxes went up total of 15 % over 4 years. Being a senior, he simply cannot afford that. He has health problems and a tax increase simply something he cannot handle.
It's important to note as well, he said he loves the NDP. However, he has serious concerns about Olivia Chow's economic policy.
He also pointed out that in spite of his vote for Ford in 2010, because as he pointed out" council didn't want him", they basically removed him from office. So, he asked what happens if he votes for Ford and Council won't work with him?
He also shared with me a story about City Council. The neighbourhood he lives in is a seniors neighbourhood. He called the city to get the street cleaned.It couldn't happen because "they could not afford it".
"But yet they could have a $12,000 party?" He asked.
The Council comment was echoed by someone filming a documentary on the election.
"When Ford was Councillor, he would respond to concerns. No other Councillors did.
As far as his past indiscretions and issues, like using drugs and reports of crime involvement, there two responses from supporters were,
"We all have skeletons in our closet"
"What he does in his personal time is his personal time"
It seems that people love Ford's just one of us approach. He goes to as many openings and events as possible. Time or travel so not an issue. He just does it.
Two things struck me observing this event If you remove the political perspective and personal issues of the Fords, it is impressive how well they engage the city. Think about it. This is an event that started in a back yard is now in a park closely observed, and crashed by opponents. Like them or not, they are doing something right.
The second thing that struck me is my Rob Ford news feed. While I see lots of anti-Rob Ford online, I find it quite interesting that there isn't one candidate that has caught the imagination of the voter. This is proven by the current three way tie between Ford, Olivia Chow and John Tory.
Heading back home, I heard lots of feedback about the lack of organization of the event. They ran out of food and ice cream. It was not clear which line up was for tickets, food, or ice cream. But overall,the Ford Fest did not strike me as a group of "scumbags, unintelligent, homophobic, and an embarrassment to Toronto"
It struck me as a valuable lesson in showing that the value of actually engaging the city and taking time for people is always a good place to start winning elections.