Olivia Chow takes clean shot at Rob Ford’s impending return to mayoral campaign

Olivia Chow and Rob Ford ahead of the Toronto Mayoral Candidate's debate on March 26, 2014. (Reuters)Olivia Chow and Rob Ford ahead of the Toronto Mayoral Candidate's debate on March 26, 2014. (Reuters)

Everyone within a 1,000-kilometre radius of Toronto knows that troubled Mayor Rob Ford will return to the city at the end of June, officially ending a stint in rehab and returning to his re-election campaign.

And pretty much everyone inside and outside of that radius knows about Ford's trouble with drugs and alcohol, and his history of offensive, racist and sexist comments. And we all know to brace for more distractions once he is back in town.

So why pretend otherwise?

Leading mayoral candidate Olivia Chow launched an ad blitz on Tuesday, releasing two radio commercials preparing the city for the chaos of Ford's return.

The first radio commercial consists of several residents preparing for Ford's return: A mother covers her child's ears, a man anticipates mocking phone calls from overseas relatives.

The second commercial sounds like an ad for a monster truck rally, addressing Ford's errors in judgement and calling him "the most distracting show on earth."

The ads will run through Ford's June 30 return date on Toronto radio stations 680 News and Boom 97.3 FM.

"I don’t think his beliefs have changed one little bit," Chow said in a statement. "He’s disrespected women and our city’s ethnic, racial and sexual diversity one too many times. All that’s changed is he doesn’t even apologize anymore."

But Sun News Network's David Akin asks a valid question in regards to these commercials, questioning whether it is fair to launch attack ads against an opponent who is in rehab.

Akin doesn't answer that question himself, though asking the question to begin with suggests it is considered a matter of debate. And it is. There is a line not to cross when weighing personal matters against political ambitions, but these ads don't cross it.

The Chow campaign has been constant in hoping for Ford improved health while maintaining it opposition to the way he comports himself and the chaos he has brought to the city. The ads, don't discuss Ford's rehab stint, only his inevitable return.

Jamey Heath, communications director for Chow's campaign, says the commercials are entirely above board, considering Ford intends to stay in the race and hasn't stopped campaigning during his time away.

"You can't have it both ways. The Ford campaign is campaigning. Doug Ford is speaking to the media, Rob has spoken to the media," Heath told Yahoo Canada News. "Rehab or not, Rob Ford is still a bad mayor for this city. We still want to defeat him."

The specific circumstances of Ford's absence from the campaign trail makes this a no-question issue. The commercials are fair game, they may have even come later than courtesy would have required opponents to wait.

If Ford had been on an actual hiatus during his time away, perhaps it is another story. But since he disappeared in May, he has conducted interviews with the media, made several public appearances during which he posed for campaign-style photo ops, and his campaign manager has maintained his presence in the race.

Cover of the Toronto Sun featuring Joe Warmington's rehab interview with Rob Ford.Cover of the Toronto Sun featuring Joe Warmington's rehab interview with Rob Ford.

Even his campaign's Twitter account has made the date of his return a spectacle, issuing a near-daily countdown leading up to his arrival. If they can campaign around his return, it is certainly fair game for others to do so as well.

Ford's behaviour, and the embarrassment it brings, are still major issues to consider on October 27. Going to rehab and claiming a clean slate doesn't negate that.

Ford has made this promise in the past, and failed to deliver in spectacular fashion. His integrity as mayor is still a matter of concern and investigation. The Globe and Mail reported today that Toronto's integrity commissioner is being urged to expand an investigation into Ford's alleged abuse of mayoral powers for personal benefit.

And none of this even addresses the serious warning bells that suggest Ford's rehab stint didn't go a smoothly as one might hope.

For better or worse, Rob Ford will return to Toronto at the end of the month. The productive, policy-based campaign born during his absence will surely suffer an early demise. The circus tents will be back.

Of course it's fair for his opponents to address the storm clouds.

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