It was my first major writing project since starting a magazine publishing program at Ryerson. Our assignment was to profile someone with an exciting story to tell—an up and coming musician, athlete or social activist, as examples. One person immediately came to mind. Rob Ford was the councillor for Ward 2 Etobicoke North at the time.
A political outsider, he was known for getting into heated confrontations at city hall and for making wild accusations about his colleagues on talk radio. Most recently, he had called everyone on council corrupt. It was also around this time that Ford started publicly musing about running for mayor.
I met with Ford in his office at city hall, which was located right beside Mayor David Miller’s (Ford was so revved up I’m sure Miller could hear us through the walls). We spoke for about 45 minutes, and the councillor spent much of the time making some serious allegations against the mayor.
Awkwardly, when our interview was over and we left Ford’s office we ran into Miller. To my surprise, the councillor excitedly introduced me to his rival, despite having just made several serious assertions about the man, bordering on personal attacks.
As well as interviewing Ford, I spoke with some of his colleagues and local journalists to get their views on if the bombastic councillor represented a serious challenge for the mayor’s chair. No one gave him a chance at the time, deeming him a bizarre fringe candidate.
Nearly 10 years later, my parents were clearing off their old computer and found my interview notes. I thought given everything that’s happened it would be interesting to look back on these discussions, starting with my interview of Ford. I’ll be rolling out other interesting discussions I had about him in the coming weeks.
In our talk, Ford tackles corruption, women’s voting habits, the Miller administration’s attitude towards police and even crack! So here it is: my first ever interview. Being a newbie, my questions weren’t exactly hard-hitting. That said, he gives some interesting and, as always, controversial answers. Full disclosure: Ford was my high school football coach.
Ruffell: First, I’d like to start with a little bit about your background.
Ford: I was born May 28, 1969 in Etobicoke. I studied political science at Carlton University and have a business background working for Deco Labels and Tags. My father started that out in 1962. I was always a political junkie. I was always intrigued by how government worked. Outside of that, a little bit of the personal side. I’m married. I have a baby girl named Stephanie. I love sports. I played football and I love hockey.
Ruffell: What is your ultimate political goal?
Ford: My goal is to be mayor, then premier, then prime minister. I believe that Canada is the best country in the world, but it’s just not being used to its full potential. We have the most natural resources but the debt; the corruption; the scandals of government just completely turn people off.
Municipally, for example, only three out of 10 people vote. Thirty per cent vote! There’s something severely wrong. Municipal politics affects your daily life more than another other level of government does. So you have to ask the question, why aren’t people voting? From what I hear, people just think all politicians are the same—they’re all weasels; they’re all scammers—and they have no trust.
Ruffell: How can politicians gain people’s trust?
Ford: Well now that’s what I want to do. I want to put trust back into people and say listen, we have to start running this country like a business. We’re going to get this city cleaned up. We’re going to hold the line on taxes—believe it or not, we can actually give taxes back.
When 88% of the budget is made up of administration then obviously there’s too many people around here—too many bureaucrats making $100,000 a year sitting behind a desk pushing paper. We’re two billion dollars in debt. If this were your house or business, would you survive? No, you wouldn’t. No one would. So that’s what drives me.
I know I can make a difference. In five years, I have made a difference. I’ve cleaned up Rexdale. I’ve created over 3,000 jobs. If I can do it in Ward 2 I can do it in all 44 Wards in the city of Toronto.
I’ve run a multimillion dollar company by myself. I’ve taught my brothers how to run the business
Ruffell: Canadian Business recently named Toronto one of the worst places in the country to do business. What do you think needs to be done to make the city more business friendly?
Ford: Number one, you just look at Toronto. It’s dirty. It’s filthy dirty. When you come in from Montreal or Hamilton, the first thing you notice is crap and litter all along the train tracks. When you fly in, one of your first impressions is Toronto is filthy dirty. There’s nothing clean about it. People love to be clean. You take a shower in the morning. You vacuum your carpets. We have to make the city spotless. Our roads have to be done. You have to have clean and tidy roads. Ours are terrible. They have potholes. They look dirty. They look old and grungy.
The homeless, it’s completely illegal that we have people lying in the streets. We have homeless shelters for them. We should take those people and say, if you need help, if you’re addicted to drugs or alcohol we’ll put you into a rehab centre. It is illegal to lie on the street and block people from going to and from work. If you or I were to go out there right now and lay on Queen Street the police would say get up. Why aren’t they telling these homeless people to get up? Again, it does not attract tourists. We have people—squeegee kids—it’s illegal to come up and harass people. The province made legislation for that but the police aren’t following it. Why? Because they don’t get support from this council.
Business taxes are the highest they’ve ever been. We’re losing all of our businesses to the 905. Why? When you hand out $50 million in grants a year, which is unheard of in any city in North America, how can you encourage any businesses to stay here? When I say grants—grants are free money. Then councillors turn around and say, we didn’t have any money last year. Let’s increase taxes 5%. How can you ask the taxpayers to pay an extra $50 million in taxes when you’re giving out free money to special interest groups? If you don’t have money, how can you give away $50 million? So there’s hypocrisy happening here.
Do people feel safe in this city? No, it’s not like it used to be. Why? We’re 500 officers short. We don’t have a police helicopter. We have a mayor that’s anti-police. We have councillors that accuse cops of being racist. How can you be a police officer and really take pride in your job when you don’t have any support from the councillors?
How do you turn it around? You have to have investment. You have to clean up the Gardiner—you paint the Gardiner, put flowers up and you beautify it. You have piers going out into Lake Ontario. You have family events. Right now this city’s dead. We’re not progressing. We’re staying still, and when you stay still in life you fall behind because the competition moves forward.
If you or I were to go out there right now and lay on Queen Street the police would say get up. Why aren’t they telling these homeless people to get up?
Ruffell: You talk a lot about your business background. Why is that important?
Ford: It’s absolutely important. I actually feel sorry for these councillors who know nothing about business. If they’d listen to me, I do have the experience. I’ve run a multimillion dollar company by myself. I’ve taught my brothers how to run the business. We’ve been in business for 40 some odd years, and you have to know the value of a dollar. If you take care of the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves. I know the taxpayers come first.
There are two rules in selling. The first rule is the customer is always right. The second rule: re-read the first rule. Here, you’ve called the city. You’re on hold for hours. You’re bounced around from pillar to post. It takes weeks for people to come out and see look at your problem. It takes six to 12 months just for a tree to get trimmed. It takes a year for your sidewalk to get fixed. This is asinine! It’s not the way the city should be run.
The taxpayers out there are our customers. They put food on our tables. We should serve them. When they say jump, we should say how high? It’s not being run like that and that’s why people are thinking, “Ah, forget it. You’re all the same.” Well, we’re not all the same. I’m not the same and Doug Holiday’s not the same.
There are a few other councillors who are not the same. But, yes, unfortunately the majority of them are in it for themselves, and they haven’t even a clue, not even a concept, of how a business runs. I could go on and on and on, buddy.
Ruffell: Do you feel it’s a struggle to have your voice heard?
Ford: Absolutely. It’s actually a dictatorship, what’s going on here. I use that word because it’s true. The mayor’s in the chair and he’ll literally cut your mic off if he doesn’t like what you’re saying. He’ll rule you out of order. We have motions that I put forward to reduce spending or cut costs or streamline or find efficiencies—whatever terminology you want to use—and if he doesn’t like it he will rule it out of order.
Our only option is to challenge the chair. So we challenge the chair, but he knows he has 30 of his trained seals to vote against us no matter what we say. So on a good day, the best day possible, we might get 14 votes. Thirty of them he has in his pocket. They’re trained seals! They don’t even think for themselves. The mayor says vote and they vote the way he tells them to.
I feel sorry for the taxpayers. I feel sorry for the constituents that they represent, because they’re here to represent their views, not their views or the views of the mayor. It is frustrating. You can’t get anything through to him.
Again, all the free perks and passes—I use stuff that people can relate to day in and day out. No one else gets them, so why should politicians? But, again, that’s the way it always is. And the broom—the so-called broom. He’s exactly the same as Lastman and Barbara Hall. They’re all lifetime politicians.
We have to get rid of these people and get folks who are down to earth. Normal individuals like you and I who have gone through the system and who can appreciate hard work and customer service. But Miller doesn’t care. He’s the worst of the worst.
Ruffell: So you have a customer service approach to politics?
Ford: Absolutely, I return every single call every day personally, and I get about 30 to 50 calls in here. And not just my ward. I serve people right across the city. The integrity commissioner ruled the other week that I can do that. People are calling me, saying, “My councilor doesn’t return my calls.” “My councilor doesn’t see me.” So I go to East York. I go to Scarborough. I go to North York. I go anywhere just to take care of people. They say, “Thank you so much,” and I feel so sorry for them. They don’t know who to turn to. It’s really sad, some of the stuff I see.
And you look at these councilors. They make $85,000 a year. They get an expense account of $53,000 to do whatever they want with (they call it an office budget, which is an outright lie). And then they get $200,000 to hire staff. Number one, all you need is two staff in here. As you can see I have one right now. We have all of our computers paid for, our phones paid for—everything’s paid for. But yet these people have four or five staff, sometimes it’s nepotism and their relatives are here. And then they spend $53,000 tax-free. They get their gas paid for. They can go out to a restaurant, they can rent a hotel—what does that have to do with your office? Nothing. And it just burns me up when you see this stuff.
To me, we don’t need 44 councilors down here. We have 22 MPs and 22 MPPs in Toronto. Why not have 22 councillors? It’s sickening, the abuse down here and the waste of money.
When I go to talk shows, I get the feedback. I’ve got two file folders full of people calling me, emailing me saying you should be mayor. This is what we need. We need an honest, down to earth person. I’ll go into social housing.
They may nail me as a right-winger, but why am I doing the work that the so-called NDPers do? Why am I taking care of the people who are down and out? Why am I the one who’s going into social housing down in Riverdale and Region Park helping these people out? They have holes in the wall. They have rats. They have cockroaches. I’m the one going down there getting it cleaned up. These people aren’t doing it. They’re just a bunch of hypocrites and liars and I tell them that straight to their face. One day it’s all going to change. Mark my word it’s going to change.
They may nail me as a right-winger, but why am I doing the work that the so-called NDPers do? Why am I taking care of the people who are down and out?
Ruffell: How can conservatives steer council to the right?
Ford: Number one, we have to run a slate of councilors. We have to get people, and I’m going to use myself as an example, who don’t necessarily have a business degree but who are personable, approachable and hardworking. We need people who aren’t here for a job, they’re here to do a job. It’s great if I run for mayor, and I have no doubt in my mind I can beat David Miller. But if I win I have to deal with all these lazy councilors down there, so I won’t get anything done even if I’m elected.
So what you have to do is, number one, clean out all the councilors. What I’m doing now is going around and talking to individuals who are interested in politics. All you have to do is pay $100. It’s not like provincial or federal, where you go through a nomination process. You don’t have to run under a party banner. All you have to do is pay $100, put your name on the ballot and put some signs up.
People don’t know how easy it is to get involved in municipal politics. I recruited Mike Del Grande and he won. I recruited Karen Stintz and she won. I can’t wait to take out Howard Moscoe next term. I have a councilor, Ron Singer, who’s probably out right now knocking on doors. We have a lot of good people. They just need some information. So I’m definitely getting ready for a mayor’s race, either this term or next term, and I’m running a slate of councilors.
Ruffell: What factors will determine whether or not you run for mayor?
Ford: There are just a couple of things I have to iron out, and physically I have to get in better shape. I was 250 pounds of solid muscle 10 years ago. Now, I’m 300 pounds with some flab. I have to lose 50 pounds and turn it back into muscle. I have to iron out a few things with my sister. I have to make sure my parents are taken care of. And outside of that, everything’s lined up and ready to go. I’m probably 70% sure I’m going to run. The only people I won’t go against if they decide to run are Doug Holday and Julian Fantino. There’s no sense in running two or three right of centre candidates. We have to run one against Miller and he’s done. He’s done like dinner.
Ruffell: Name one positive thing David Miller has accomplished.
Ford: There’s absolutely nothing. Someone asked me that yesterday. Anybody tell me what he’s done and I’d be more than happy to grad it. I have to give him an F. That’s not just being unfair to him—he hasn’t done anything! He’s only made the situation worse. He said he was going to clean up the homeless, but there’s more homeless than there was two years ago.
He said he was going to clean up the city, but there’s more graffiti and litter than there’s ever been. Tourism’s down. Taxes are up. We’ve lost over 1,300 businesses in the last two years. Crime is out of control. We have fewer police officers. We have a mayor who hates police officers—a mayor who was actually quoted last year as saying half of our police officers are in jail.
So what has he done? I don’t know what he’s done. You show me one thing that he’s done and I’ll give him a fair grade on something. All Miller’s done is spend money and condone corruption and scandals down here. He’s well aware of those issues because I brought them to his attention but he chose to ignore it.
All Miller’s done is spend money and condone corruption and scandals down here
Ruffell: An article in Toronto Life said the one issue that’s going to make or break his career is whether he’s able to get more money from the federal government.
Ford: You know what I say, people are sick and tired of the blaming. They can blame Mike Harris. You can blame amalgamation. This was 10 years ago! Why isn’t Kingston complaining? Why isn’t Ottawa complaining? Why isn’t Hamilton complaining? Toronto’s the only one bitching and complaining because we’re completely mismanaged. The other cities don’t hand out $50 million to special interest groups, which are obviously all of Miller’s NDP friends. It’s completely ass backwards. It’s so dysfunctional, this city, and it hurts me so bad because we’re a leader when you look around the world. But people aren’t coming here anymore.
Everyone knows it’s a socialist regime running the city—some people say it’s a dictatorship or communist government. Pesticides, there’s weeds growing everywhere. We can’t even cut on the side of Eglinton. Look at all the weeds that are growing! They say that’s naturalized; that’s beautiful. Or take the private tree bylaw.
Say you want to put an addition onto your house or you want to build a deck—you have to pay an inspector $100 to come and say, no, you can’t cut down this tree. It’s your property—your tree! And yet you can’t cut it down. This is how stupid and immature the mayor and these councilors are. It’s all going to come to a crashing halt and I’m going to sit there and laugh. And when we turn it around, and it’s not just me, when we turn it around this place will be thriving.
Now Miller’s proposing crack houses and heroin houses. It’s going from the sublime to the ridiculous. What, we’re going to have addicts running around shooting each other? It’s so frustrating, Brett. Nobody understands what I have to deal with day in and day out.
They sit there and laugh and call me names. Then they get really desperate and say, well, I’m a fat slob. Oh, wow, I’m fat! Tell me something I don’t know. So that’s how stupid and immature they get.
Now Miller’s proposing crack houses and heroin houses. What, we’re going to have addicts running around shooting each other?
I was elected the first time with 46% of the vote. They said I’m getting defeated. I’m not doing my job. Well, I got the second highest vote percentage in the city last time. I got 81% of the vote! So I must be doing something right. I’m not tooting my own horn, but it’s just through customer service. That’s all people want. If you can’t help them, fine, but at least respect them. The people are not getting any respect from these councilors down here.
Ruffell: What did you mean when you said your council colleagues were all on the take?
Ford: How it works is… When I say corruption—corruption means morally depraved. And these councillors are morally depraved. I’ll give you an example. ABC Company donates to your campaign. Then they come into the city of Toronto and say we’re doing work for the city. We want to build an office tower over here. I need your vote. Well of course you’re going to get his vote because you’ve already donated to his campaign, or you’ve been out wining and dining the guy. Isn’t that a conflict of interest? Shouldn’t you get up and say, hold on a minute guys. ABC Company just donated to my campaign, therefore I feel obligated to support him on his building. If that’s not a conflict of interest—if that’s not corrupt or unethical, how else do you define it?
When you’re going out and getting gifts from people or getting hockey tickets and then say okay, tomorrow you have to vote on my clause or the amendment to the clause to help me build this tower…it’s wrong. Everyone on council jumped up and down. They said they’d sue me. So sue me! I’m still waiting for someone to sue me, because I’ll pin these guys down. I’ve got all their audited financial statements—blatant. It’s just wrong.
How can someone compete if you’re already in the door with your money? Money’s the root of all evils, and this is what’s happening. I see right through these councillors. If you want their vote give money to their campaign and you’ve got them hook, line and sinker. You look at the contracts, you look at the voting records, you look at the donations, you just go dot, dot dot. Every time!
Ruffell: Do you have a lot of files linking councillors to these kinds of activities?
Ford: Tons! I’m just starting it. It’s so much work. You’ve got so many voting records; so many contracts; so many donations. But it’s blatant. After a while it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. All I’m asking them to do—I’m not saying don’t take a donation. I’m just saying get up and don’t vote on your contributors’ issues. Say, listen, I’ve got a conflict of interest. And that’s it. There should be a law past that companies who are doing work for the city shouldn’t be able to donate to a councillor’s campaign. Or council shouldn’t be allowed to accept donations from people who are doing work for the city.
Ruffell: Has a company or lobbyist ever offered you something in exchange for support?
Ford: Absolutely. I get people who donate to my campaign. I tell people, I don’t mind if you donate to my campaign. I appreciate it. But don’t think that’s going to hold me hostage to you or make me vote the way you want me to vote. They get all upset. I say there’s a conflict. Ah, there’s no conflict, they say. But I tell them to me there’s a conflict.
Ruffell: How do the other councillors treat you?
Ford: Outside of council, they don’t even talk to me. They ridicule me and make fun of me. What can you do? I say hi and they walk right by me. What can I do? That’s their problem. There’s no secret I’m out to get these people. When I say get them I mean run somebody against them. I’ll do everything in my power to knock them out. And I’ll expose every single possible scam that these people are a part of. They don’t like it, but I don’t care. I just worry about the taxpayers want, not what my colleagues want.
Ruffell: Have you been able to link Mayor Miller to corruption?
Ford: There’s stuff coming out. I’ll leave it at that. There’s stuff coming out. I’m going to wait until my campaign starts. I’m just going to lay the facts on the table. I don’t really want to let my platform out yet. But to answer your question, there is stuff out there and we’ll just leave it at that. It’s going to be interesting when it happens.
Ruffell: You’ve worked with both mayors—compare David Miller to Mel Lastman.
Ford: Actually, I think David Miller is worse than Mel Lastman for a number of reasons. Mel, whatever you want to say about the guy, at least you sort of knew where you stood with him. David is phony. He comes out and says one thing and he’ll do another thing. He’s anti-business. He’s anti-police.
The people didn’t really know John Tory and they didn’t know Mayor Miller, so some of the women said, “Oh, that one’s cute,” and they voted for Miller. They didn’t know what they were getting. Now they say, “Ah, I didn’t know he was a hardline NDPer.” He ran in Bob Rae’s seat as the NDP. He makes Bob Rae look like a conservative.
Bob Rae ruined this province and declared bankruptcy. Now, David Miller’s 10 times worse than Rae ever was. So, he’s not honest. I think he’s phony. I think he does deals behind closed doors and he caters to unions too much. He’s married to the unions.
Brett Ruffell is a Toronto-based writer, editor and videographer.