Albert Wong is in his garage, loading the trunk of his car and paying cursory attention to the questions about the “Ford Mayor” sign standing above the first fall leaves on his front lawn.
His first words, spoken with his back still turned, are as on-message as those you might expect from the volunteer who originally hammered in the sign.
“He’s going to stop the gravy train.”
A little more questioning yields little more than a matter-of-fact, “What more do you need to know?”
WHERE HE STANDS ...
On subways: “If you’ve ever been in Hong Kong or been in some part of China before – all subway. In Hong Kong, there are so many subway lines that people can just walk to the subway station. Lots of them. Stops everywhere. I know you have to spend lots of money, but I think they can invest.”
On streetcars: “Streetcars are one of the worst things downtown ... You cannot go nowhere.”
On cyclists: “Forget it. If they want to [ride], they should have a license first. Second, they should obey the traffic.”
On the scandals: “I don’t think it’s a problem, that’s a news reporter for you. Part of their job is to go find something. But let’s say it’s something good, then they never report it!”
On the difference between Rob and Doug: “He and his brother are similar. Not 100%. Maybe Doug talks to people a little more nicely. He’s older, maybe he’s better.”
He’s not being rude, it’s just that to Wong, opting to support the mayoral campaigns of Rob – and now Doug – Ford isn’t a difficult decision. And while his “stop the gravy train” sloganeering might fit with the common perception of Ford Nation, the perception that supporters have cast their lot with the mayor and his brother and will defend that position to the death with mantras about cutting spending and building subways, it’s unfairly reductive.
Where many in Ford Nation seem to sing the mayor’s praises with an almost religious fervour, Wong seems to have as much passion for his political allegiance as he does for his faith. (Catholic, but when asked if he’s practicing, he responds, “Eh ... my son goes to church every week.”) He doesn’t subscribe to the theory that the media is conspiring to take the Fords down, either, though he says he’d prefer if they’d spend more time reporting the mayor’s political accomplishments and less on his personal foibles.
Standing on the front porch of his brown-brick Etobicoke bungalow, a short walk from Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School where Rob Ford was a football coach for over a decade, it becomes apparent that Wong isn’t moved by the Fords’ cult of personality. He merely believes they represent the clearest manifestation of his own principles, chief among them being that city hall is wasteful and in need of reform.
He pulls no punches when describing what needs to change.
His first priority for improving Toronto? “Get rid of all these politicians right now,” says the 58-year-old building maintenance mechanic with conviction. “Change all of them ... they’re all looking out for themselves.”
Despite his easygoing demeanor, he seems fairly pessimistic about government in general, suggesting that corruption and wasteful spending is endemic. “If I’m a politician, I’d do the same thing!” he says with a laugh. “I’d be taking all the money, putting it in my pocket!”
(His complaint that “they’re going to be spending, spending, spending” echoes one of the mayor’s most amusing methods of driving a point home.)
The Fords appear to be the exception to his cynicism. An Etobicoke resident for over 25 years, Wong has followed the Fords for a “long, long time,” and says they don’t spend money like rival politicians. “The city is a business; if [Doug] can build it like his own business, the city will [improve.]”
He reserves most of his ire for Olivia Chow, who, like Wong, immigrated from Hong Kong in the early 1970s. The mere mention of her name causes his expression to turn rigid and he shakes his head.
“Her goal is taking money for herself, that’s it!” he says. “Believe me or not, I can bet anything, if she’s in power, everything [referring to taxes, fees] will increase. Everything. And we will not see improvement, just more lazy people in the city.”
He accuses the former NDP MP of “taking credit” for others’ accomplishments and points to the 1990 co-op housing scandal involving her and late husband Jack Layton as an example of why she can’t be trusted.
His disdain for Chow and inefficient government belies the fact that, somewhat surprisingly, he’s not a dyed-in-the-wool, capital-C Conservative. In fact, he says he “100 per cent supported the [provincial] Liberals for over 30 years. But they made me sick of it.”
When asked what happened, he shakes his head again, sighs, and in a tone dripping with bitterness, says, “Our premier, before,” referring to Dalton McGuinty, whose tenure was marked by the sort of spending scandals that Wong hates. For this member of Ford Nation, there’s no quicker way to lose his trust than fiscal irresponsibility.
Of course, trust is a tricky subject when it comes to the Fords, given the mayor’s struggles with drugs and both brothers’ somewhat flimsy relationship with the truth, but Wong is fairly unmoved by either.
“Oh, I know he smoked drugs, whatever, that’s his life,” he says, fairly nonchalant. “I cannot stop it. But we are not looking for someone to marry or anything, we are looking for someone to manage the city.”
That seems to be the refrain you hear from a lot of Ford Nation; the circus and city hall are distinctly separate. (An elderly Italian neighbour of Wong’s put it fairly plainly: “The drugs? It’s bad, but that’s his life. For the city? He’s good.”)
Wong takes a fairly indifferent stance towards the mayor’s dishonesty about the crack scandal, too. “Everybody lies! If I did [drugs], I would not say, ‘Yeah yeah yeah, I did it.’ No, I would deny it up to the end. That’s normal.”
More Inside Ford Nation:
So if efficient city management is a priority, why not John Tory, an ostensibly conservative candidate with a lengthy business record and less of a circus surrounding him? Wong certainly doesn’t bristle at the name the way he does with Chow, but after thinking for a moment he raises concerns about Tory’s business and political record.
“He’s a businessman, but he didn’t run the business [Rogers Media, where he was a top executive] good enough,” says Wong. “And he was in provincial politics before, but it didn’t work out so well,” he adds with a chuckle, referring to Tory’s failure to win his riding as the Ontario PC leader in 2007.
“I don’t think we should give him a chance.”
Again, the appeal of Doug Ford to Albert Wong is not about the bluster, the rhetoric or the “common folks vs. ‘elites’” narrative; it’s about the perception that he’s a businessman with the key goal of cutting spending. And because Wong believes Ford “has done business better” than Tory, he’s the clear choice.
That being said, Wong doesn’t see this election as an apocalyptic battle for the soul of Toronto. He may think the Fords are the best bet, but they’re no guarantee.
“Maybe we can get change, maybe we cannot,” he says with a shrug. Then we’ll look for another one.
“Only four years, anyway.”
(Photos by Andrew Evans/Yahoo News)