Ford FO­CUS

Timely page-turner digs into what makes Toronto mayor tick

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Dun­can McMona­gle

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. 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 sub­urb­svs.-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.

CHRIS YOUNG / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

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

Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story

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