There is no clear "Ford Nation" front-runner in the federal Conservative leadership race, with support split between Kevin O'Leary, Kellie Leitch and Maxime Bernier, according to Doug Ford, the former Toronto city councillor and brother to late Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
"Those are the three main contenders, I would say," Mr. Ford said Thursday, referring to support from the base of 350,000 or so voters in the Toronto area who have supported the Ford family in municipal elections.
But Mr. Ford, who is set to speak on a panel called Down with the Elites at the conservative Manning Centre conference in Ottawa on Friday, said he's not supporting anyone in the race.
With 14 candidates in the running to replace Stephen Harper, Mr. Ford said the federal Conservative Party is lacking an anti-establishment candidate.
"There's not a real strong voice for the average person, the blue-collar worker, that's going to protect them, return their calls, show up to their door when they need help. That's what people want," he said.
He said no one in the federal party, except for the late former finance minister Jim Flaherty, supported the Fords in their campaigns.
"I'm a Conservative member, meanwhile the Conservatives never helped Rob and I, and that's not our base. Our base are NDP voters, Liberal voters," he said.
Mr. Ford said his appearance at the annual conference, organized by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning's Alberta-based organization, will focus on the rise of populist movements such as his brother's 2010 mayoral victory and U.S. President Donald Trump's election last November, as well as in France, the Netherlands and Poland.
When asked if Mr. O'Leary, who only recently joined the party, could be considered the party outsider, Mr. Ford said Mr. O'Leary has never served the public. "The difference is you have to build your base and Rob worked for 14 years building the base, showing up to little Ms. Jones's house to pick up her garbage," he said. "Those people are as loyal as they come."
Mr. Ford said his brother, the controversial mayor who admitted to smoking crack cocaine in office and died last March from cancer, was fond of Mr. Bernier. "He really liked Bernier. He wanted to meet Bernier and have a chat with him, even when he was sick … Never got around to doing that."
Mr. Ford said he considers Ms. Leitch a friend, but disagrees with her proposal to screen immigrants for Canadian values.
"We did so much work building the ethnic community. I believe they're all fiscal conservatives. Like the majority of us are, we have a social conscience," he said.
Mr. Ford also has a history with Ms. Leitch's former campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis, who served as Rob Ford's chief of staff in 2011 but left after clashing with Doug Ford. He said he questions whether Mr. Kouvalis, whom Ms. Leitch says is now a volunteer, is still helping the campaign.
"Nick believes he's the smartest guy he knows. So, I don't see eye to eye with him at all," Mr. Ford said.
He also said Mr. Trump's immigration ban "could have been handled better," although he believes the media has blown it out of proportion.
"I don't agree with it because there's some great people from Somalia that have been here in Canada, contributed to Canada in different ways. Not to mention I had a Muslim brother that lived with us for ten years," he said, referring to a young man from Morocco who he said lived with his family for ten years.
While he may run federally in the future, Mr. Ford said he'll "100 per cent" run for either municipal or provincial politics in 2018. "You can count me in," he said.
Mr. Ford said he finds it "ironic" that he's speaking on a panel about elites at the Manning Centre conference.
"I'm talking to the establishment, and I'm going to call them out, too. 'You guys are the guys that people worry about,' " he said.
Mr. Ford said elites are in all three parties – the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives.
"They look down on the average person, they look at you like you're a Neanderthal and they're better than you. And a majority of them, excuse my language, they don't have a pot to piss in and a window to throw it out," he said.
"They think they're higher and better than the rest of us, and they aren't."