City Councillor Rob Ford was amalgamated Toronto's third mayor, who in a single term of office transformed city government even as he sharply divided public opinion and through his personal life drew intense and often unwelcome international attention.
He died Tuesday after a long battle with a rare form of cancer.
At the time of his death, Ford, 46, was serving as Ward 2 Councillor (Etobicoke North)—an office he originally assumed in 2000 at the age of just 30. It was the same year he married his high school sweetheart, Renata Brejniak.
Ford, the youngest son of former Progressive Conservative MPP and Etobicoke businessman Doug Ford Sr., grew up in Etobicoke, attending Scarlett Heights Secondary School where he played football, and attended Carleton University to study political science.
He fought for small government in other ways, particularly during the council's annual budget debate, and he became known for his combative style, often going head-to-head with colleagues.
He spent a year there, joining the football squad, but not playing, and returned to Toronto, to work at the family's label-making business, Deco Labels and Tags.
Ford ran for city council twice, and was elected on his second try in Ward 2. He quickly became known as a sharp critic of government spending—particularly of fellow councillors using office budgets for city business and matters that seemed personal.
From the beginning, Ford made a point of submitting annual office budget expenses totalling only $2. It later emerged he was drawing on his personal wealth to subsidize his office, leading to a change in expense rules requiring all office expenses – even those subsidized personally – be publicly declared.
He fought for small government in other ways, particularly during the council's annual budget debate, and he became known for his combative style, often going head-to-head with colleagues. He got into hot water in 2002 when he called Ward 7 (York West) Councillor George Mammoliti a “Gino-boy,” which resulted in a human rights complaint and Mammoliti officially changing his first name to “Giorgio” in honour of his Italian heritage.
He also got into trouble for more general remarks on the floor of council. He once said that he admired Chinese workers because “they worked like dogs” and argued against funding AIDS-prevention programs because he believed that one could only contract the disease as a homosexual or by using injection drugs. He also suggested cyclists killed in traffic had only themselves to blame.
But Ford also became known over his three terms as a city councillor as a politician who returned calls personally and also took steps to assist callers – whether from his own ward or not – in issues they were having with the city or Toronto Community Housing. He became a popular guest on morning drive radio, where he repeatedly called out his colleagues for profligate spending and questionable programs.
• Statement on behalf of the Ford Family
In 2010, Ford kept a promise he'd repeated for three terms and ran for mayor, after then-mayor David Miller announced he would not seek a third term. Ford handily defeated his opponents, chief among them former Liberal cabinet minister George Smitherman, despite several more scandals emerging during the campaign.
Ford's brother, Doug Ford Jr., who also managed the mayoralty campaign, was elected to council in Ward 2 that same year.
Ford ran on a simple slogan, “stop the gravy train,” arguing the city was wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and he knew where to find savings. He also promised to scrap a light rail plan, Transit City, that was unpopular among voters in Scarborough and Etobicoke, and instead build a subway along Sheppard Avenue East.
When he was elected, Ford immediately rallied Toronto council around several new changes. His first act as mayor was to announce that “Transit City is dead” and then-Premier Dalton McGuinty, whose government was funding the project, was quick to comply.
He scrapped a $60 vehicle registration fee that was imposed by Mayor David Miller's council, and supported a plan to have the Toronto Transit Commission declared an essential service, forever removing the spectre of transit strikes in Toronto.
He also instituted a core service review, looking for ways to save money through the cancellation of services. That review, conducted by KPMG for the city, found there were far fewer savings than Ford claimed.
Ford was also able to avoid strikes of inside and outside workers, obtaining concessions in tough rounds of bargaining.
Other plans failed. Ford promised to phase out the municipal land transfer tax but was unable to do so. He attempted to gain approval by Toronto Council for a Sheppard subway, but council didn't go along, although council eventually approved another subway in Scarborough, to replace the aging Scarborough SRT line.
Ford continued to return phone calls and troubleshoot issues constituents brought to his attention—often attending their homes personally. He and his family hosted annual Ford Fests, where he would invite any and all to partake of beer, barbecue and live music. His support remained high among a group of voters that he called Ford Nation.
During his mayoralty, Ford maintained his interest in football, coaching at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School, frequently missing council meetings to attend games. He also operated a football charity, raising money to buy equipment for high school teams.
This latter activity nearly cost him the mayoralty when, in 2012, he spoke against an Integrity Commissioner's report demanding that he repay donations from lobbyists made to the charity while he was a councillor. That action had Ford standing trial for conflict of interest, during which he was nearly removed from office – saved only in appeal court.
The following year, issues of substance abuse overtook the mayoralty. The Toronto Star reported Ford attended a military event inebriated and used city staff to purchase alcohol for him—and then along with the website Gawker, revealed the existence of a video showing Ford smoking crack cocaine.
Ford repeatedly denied having done so, even as Toronto Police commenced an investigation of the allegations, until finally in the fall of that year, Ford reversed his position and admitted it during a scrum on the way to a council meeting.
Because of remarks he made at the time, Toronto Council took the unusual steps of removing all but his statutory powers as mayor and transferring the rest to his deputy mayor Norm Kelly.
During this time Ford's antics attracted international attention, and Ford became a favourite target of late-night American talk shows.
• Mayor Tory's statement about the passing of former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford
Although he publicly claimed he was no longer using alcohol or drugs, Ford nonetheless continued to do so through early 2014, after registering for re-election. When more videos emerged of his behaviour, Ford signed up for a rehab program and took a leave of absence.
He returned in fighting form, but a cancer diagnosis in the summer of 2014 led to his last-minute withdrawal from the mayoral race. With minutes to spare before nominations closed, Ford registered for his old seat in Ward 2, while Doug Ford joined the mayor's race.
Despite undergoing chemotherapy at the time for two tumors in his abdomen, Ford easily won Ward 2, while Doug came in second to former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader and broadcaster John Tory.
Ford spent his final years in municipal politics offering sharp criticism to the policies emerging from Tory's mayoralty, undergoing successful surgery for the initial tumors and attending meetings far sooner than his doctors advised.
In 2015, he announced a second set of tumors had been found, near his bladder, and entered into another round of chemotherapy, which was not successful.
Ford leaves behind his mother Diane, his wife Renata, his daughter Stephanie and his son Doug, brothers Randy and Doug, and sister Kathy.