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Ford focus: Timely page-turner digs into what makes Toronto mayor tick

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/2/2014 (1284 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is the gift that keeps on giving.

So far he has given the citizens of Toronto -- of the world, really -- crack, lies and video.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's antics both in council and among the people of Toronto provided author Robyn Doolittle with plenty of fodder.


Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's antics both in council and among the people of Toronto provided author Robyn Doolittle with plenty of fodder.

As the infomercials say, "But wait! There's more!" Today he fights to tear down the rainbow flag at Toronto city hall; tomorrow, perhaps lawsuits and police investigations will produce more revelations.

Crazy Town, the first book about this Ford of misrule, cannot claim to be the last word on his antics. Rather, it performs the difficult but useful task of explaining the political and family contexts that created this most un-Canadian politician.

Written in a three-month sprint, Crazy Town is even-handed but never boring, sprinkled with plenty of fun Ford facts just like the rainbow doughnuts in the Country Style coffee shops where author Robyn Doolittle met some of her informants.

Despite the rush in which it was written, lawyered and published, Crazy Town is quite well-edited and organized. The only obvious mistake is a small one in a Toronto street name.

The title of the book, though, is a bit puzzling. Presumably it suggests that all Toronto is a "crazy town" for electing Ford. But the phrase does not appear in the book.

Doolittle is a city hall reporter for the Toronto Star, the largest newspaper in Canada, which Ford has collectively denounced as "liars." With colleague Kevin Donovan, she viewed the famous video of Ford apparently smoking crack. Their stories broke the Ford scandal wide open.

Doolittle properly credits her newspaper and its willingness to face blistering criticism and lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in subscription revenue to perform the simple public service of telling the truth about the city's political master.

She also expresses grudging admiration for her subject.

"Rob Ford might be a genius -- if not of the academic variety, certainly of the kind that matters in politics. He arrived at city hall wanting to be mayor, and it wasn't dumb luck that delivered his 2010 win. Ford has a natural gift for reading the public mood."

The book dissects the bloated system of municipal government in Canada's largest city, where 45 councillors play out a suburbs-vs.-downtown struggle. Ford, a suburbs guy, brilliantly exploits this division by targeting "gravy" such as arts grants and other favourite projects of those latte-loving lefties.

"Torontonians knew Ford was flawed, but enough of them were prepared to accept his rough edges because his message of ending city hall waste was clear."

Ford's greatest achievement, Doolittle says, is his administration's renegotiation of public-sector union contracts to save an estimated $139 million.

But on the home front, Ford and his family have failed disastrously.

Doug Sr., Rob's father and a former Conservative member of the Ontario legislature, embellished his rags-to-riches story. But he did start Deco, the family manufacturer of pressure-sensitive labels that grants his offspring the financial security to play politics -- and to wreck their lives with drug addictions.

He once submitted his adult offspring to a lie-detector test after a chunk of household money disappeared.

Doug Jr. is a city councillor and the public protector of baby brother Rob. Sister Kathy battles addiction issues and has had scrapes with the law. Brother Randy has been convicted of assault.

Doolittle suggests the death of the eccentric Doug Sr. in 2006 freed the next generation to cave in to their worst instincts. As for the origin of those instincts, she doesn't know.

"By all accounts, the Ford kids had a happy childhood. No one can really explain what happened next, other than to say it was tragic. As teenagers, both Kathy and Randy started taking drugs... What sons Doug Jr. and Rob were doing at this time is still the subject of considerable gossip."

Chronicling this saga and writing Crazy Town have made Doolittle a glittering public figure, which she does not appear to resent.

The most fawning coverage of her work and personality appears in Flare magazine, adorned with a cheesecake photo of Doolittle perched on a stack of newspapers. Its headline should read Plucky girl reporter looks good while busting ugly, badly dressed politician from the suburbs and some scary druggies.

But that is a sideshow. Doolittle's journalism is solid.

To cap the book, she offers a prediction about the 2014 mayoral race that has already come true.

"I think the only thing that will prevent Rob Ford from putting his name on the ballot will be death or jail time. And if it were possible to run from prison, I think he would."

A month before the book was published, Ford became the first Toronto mayoral candidate, announcing he is looking forward to "Ford more years."

The generous mayor has just presented another valuable gift to the beleaguered book business.


Duncan McMonagle, a former Torontonian, teaches journalism at Red River College.


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Updated on Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 7:58 AM CST: Tweaks formatting.

12:04 AM: Changes photo.

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