Why Rob Ford should run for provincial politics

Matt Coutts
Daily Brew

Embattled Rob Ford faces a stiff, herculean task as he fights multiple battles in a bid to retain his seat as Toronto mayor, and all the while former allies distance themselves and plot quietly on how to replace him.

Regardless of his personal controversies, the strong support base he has named Ford Nation rallies, at least according to Ford's brother, ready to be called on to battle on his behalf the moment Rob is allowed to run again.

A judge has ruled that Ford can run in a potential byelection. But even if he does run and win it will never be the same for Mayor Rob Ford. His space on the local political scene will be forever tarred by the legal decision that threw him from office. His allies will not be as close; his adversaries will not be as quiet.

That is why Rob Ford should give up returning to municipal politics and run for the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.

The idea has already been considered by his camp. Reports suggest that the Ford brothers and their closest advisers gathered to come up with a strategy going forward from the conflict of interest ruling. Plan A and B focus on getting Rob back into office. Plan C would see his brother Doug take his place and have Rob run provincially.

Scrap A and B, Rob — pride be damned. Plan C is the way to go.

[ Special section: Rob Ford fights to stay on as mayor of Toronto ]

It wouldn't just be a fresh start. It would be a refocusing of what made Rob Ford a political force in the first place. Rob Ford could return his attention to his key strength, his connection to the people. His combative style is ill-suited for the grays of municipal politics, but it would make him a force on the black-and-white battlefield of provincial partisanship. And, let's be honest, he would be a powerful weapon for the Ontario PCs.

Twelve years ago, Rob Ford followed his father into politics when he was elected to city council as the representative for Etobicoke North. He built a reputation as a penny-pinching councillor who fought for individuals, regardless of whether they lived in the city.

It was a reputation that served him well, and eventually helped him win the 2010 mayoral election. Supporters saw him as one of their own, a good old boy who didn't play politics. That allegiance helped them overlook gaffe after gaffe. Middle fingers, public intoxication, lying, cheating, skipping work. No matter how self-inflicted the wound, his support base saw his mistakes as endearing — more proof that Ford was human. His toughest opponents concede his "folk hero" status. That status has not helped him become a successful mayor.

While he continues to spend his time returning phone calls, Rome burns. Council is deadlocked and spinning its tires. He picks petty fights on plastic bags and bike lanes when he should be focused on big ideas. He is supposed to speak for the entire city, but he doesn't know the language.

Becoming a Member of Provincial Parliament would allow Ford to speak directly for his suburban constituents again. He could reassert his command over Etobicoke, rally his home base by taking their fight to the next level. He could punch, berate and attack the Liberals over improper spending, wasted tax dollars and, just maybe, he will find the gravy train he thought had been parked at city hall.

That combative style — the style that served him well as a fringe councillor railing against former mayor David Miller's administration — could be set free again. The complexities of "building bridges" with centrist councillors can be left behind. By the end of his time at city hall, where council does not subscribe to political affiliations, he had trouble even relying on support from right-of-centre councillors. In provincial politics, it will be so much easier for Ford. His allies will be wearing the same colour, sitting on the same benches. He can be pointed at the Liberals and the NDP, switched on and set loose. Like a friendlier John Baird.

Imagine Rob Ford at Queen's Park demanding gas plant documents from Energy Minister Chris Bentley. Or furiously storming after Premier Dalton McGuinty because he wouldn't give a straight answer on public sector wage freezes.

Even the Queen's Park media corps would be forced to give Ford a break once in a while. With so many threads to pull at, bigger fish to fry and metaphors to mix, Ford couldn't possibly make for daily headlines.

Finally, there's Rob's father. Doug Ford Sr. held Etobicoke Humber until it was meshed with another riding to form Etobicoke Centre in 1999. Four years later, the McGuinty government formed a majority and swept the Conservatives out of several ridings in that area of the city.

If Rob Ford were to run in Etobicoke Centre, he would be taking on a Liberal incumbent in Donna Cansfield who has expanded her support of the past three elections. She has dispatched three PC opponents, but none of them had the level of support that Ford holds. Or the legacy.

If the reach of the Ford name is as wide as believed, he should even be able to hold some influence in nearby ridings, most held by long-time Liberals. His joining the party might hurt its image in urban Toronto, but the PCs are also-rans in most of those ridings, anyway.

Rob Ford's inclusion in the Ontario PC campaign would change the face of the party, and maybe its fate. Leader Tim Hudak, who lost an election that once looked like a slam-dunk for the Tories, would eventually need to fear that Ford would make a leadership bid, but not immediately.

Hudak's legacy rests on the next election, not the one after that. Bringing Ford onside is the political equivalent of the Toronto Blue Jays signing a grizzly bear to play first base.  He may eat you eventually, but he'll scare the hell out of the opponents in the meantime.

And Ford, he has nothing to lose by turning his back on city hall. He can always claim he would have won the byelection and he can blame the city's troubles on his opponents. If the Ontario PCs form government he could exact his final revenge, and his mandate, from on high.

Ontario Transportation Minister Rob Ford says it is all about subways, Toronto. And he's building one to Brantford.

Think about it, Rob.