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Canada: Toronto's Tea Party mayor

Rob Ford was convicted of drunk driving and has an ambivalent relationship with the truth.

People enter a polling station, June 28, 2004, in Toronto, Canada. (Donald Weber/Getty Images)

TORONTO, Canada — If there’s a Tea Party-type politician in Canada, it’s Toronto’s newly elected mayor, Rob Ford.

He bulldozed to victory in late October’s municipal election with a simple slogan: “Stop the gravy train.” By that he meant taking an axe to perks enjoyed by the city’s 44 city councilors, and to a $9.2 billion operating budget he describes as dripping in waste.

The mantra worked. He swept to power with 47 percent of the vote. His closest rival — George Smitherman, a former deputy premier of the province who was considered the early favorite — got 36 percent.

Analysts were unanimous in crediting Ford with tapping into voter anger, of the kind that saw Tea Partyers and Republicans win big in U.S. midterm elections. What voters had to be angry about, however, isn’t clear. (Unlike U.S. banks, those in Canada remained solvent, housing prices didn’t collapse — in Toronto, they continue to rise — and the economy has regained the jobs it lost during the recession.)

In any event, Ford delighted in stressing during his inauguration on Dec. 6 that a new day had dawned. He invited former Boston Bruins hockey coach, Don Cherry, to put the chain of office around his neck.

Cherry, a well-known reactionary and commentator on Hockey Night in Canada TV broadcasts, showed up in a shiny pink blazer. In an address to the newly elected council he lambasted people he alternately called “left-wing pinkos” and “left-wing kooks.” The handful of councilors re-elected from the previous left-of-center administration were not amused.

And so, the face of the biggest and most powerful city in Canada is a 285-pound, 41-year-old once charged with drunk driving and possession of marijuana in Miami.

Few took his candidacy seriously when he entered the mayor’s race last spring. He had spent 10 years as a lackluster councilor in Etobicoke, a suburb in the west end of the city. He was also, to put it politely, economical with the truth.

In 2006, a couple watching a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game accused Ford of being drunk, shouting obscenities and telling the woman to “go to Iran and get raped and shot.” He was eventually escorted out of the arena by security guards.

Confronted by a journalist about the incident, Ford initially denied it happened. He claimed he hadn’t been to a hockey game in months and insisted that “someone’s trying to do a real hatchet job on me.” Days later he admitted he lied and apologized for his behavior at the game. “I’m not perfect,” he said.

During the mayoral campaign, he implied in an interview with the Toronto Star that he had graduated from university, only to later clarify that he had not.

It then emerged that in 1999, Ford was stopped by a Miami police officer for driving at night without headlights. According to a police report at the time, he got out of his car with his hands in the air.

"The def[endant] approached me and took all of his money and threw it to the ground," Miami police officer Timothy Marks wrote in the arrest record.

"The def[endant] was acting nervous. When [he] spoke to me I could smell a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath. His eyes were bloodshot." The officer also found a marijuana joint in Ford’s pocket.

Ford challenged the officer: “Go ahead, take me to jail.”