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Marcus Gee: Toronto stands to pay the price for mayor’s campaigning

Smart politicians are always in election mode, but the Ford brothers are taking the permanent campaign to a new level, throwing themselves into two campaigns at once.

While Mayor Rob Ford is girding himself for the next Toronto election in October, 2014, he is also jumping into provincial politics.

On his weekly radio show this Sunday, he made it clear he wants the NDP to vote against the Liberal government's latest budget and bring down Premier Kathleen Wynne.

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Voters are fed up, he said, so "let 'em go to the polls."

His brother Doug, who says he is interested in running for the Conservatives, said the Liberals have presided over "scandal after scandal after scandal," so Ms. Wynne is "not scared, she is terrified" of facing the voters. "It's insane," the mayor chimed in.

Now, it is not especially surprising for a mayor to have partisan feelings. Although municipal politicians don't run for office under party banners, they usually have some allegiance or other.

Mayor David Miller's was to the NDP.

Mayor Ford's is to the Tories.

He makes no secret of that.

"Don't get me wrong, I have lots of Liberal friends," he said on his show.

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"I'm pretty balanced."

If so, he is balancing on his right foot.

His father, after all, was an MPP under premier Mike Harris.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is a friend of the Ford family.

The mayor endorsed Stephen Harper in the 2011 election and periodically threatened to unleash "Ford Nation" to unseat Dalton McGuinty when he was premier.

But this time the partisanship is especially fierce. His brother and right-hand man is in the thick of it.

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On the radio, Mr. Ford saluted him as "soon-to-be MPP, maybe Minister Ford, maybe Premier Ford one day, you never know."

The dangers for Toronto are obvious. For one thing, Ms. Wynne might be around for a while yet if she survives the budget vote.

Toronto is very much the junior government, dependent on the province.

To call openly for the overthrow of a sitting premier is not very wise.

To serve the city's interests, a mayor has to work with Queen's Park regardless of who is in charge.

Premiers, by the same token, have to work with whomever sits in the mayor's chair.

Understanding that, and showing a bit of class, Ms. Wynne was careful not to rise to the bait when a reporter asked, "Is it appropriate for the mayor of the province's largest city to start meddling in provincial politics and call for you to be kicked out of office?"

Her reply: "The mayor of Toronto, he can call on whomever he wants, he can have meetings with people who he wants to meet with. My hope is cool heads will prevail and people will look at the budget."

The second danger of Mr. Ford's partisanship is that he becomes so consumed with campaigning that he forgets to govern.

It is the lure of populism.

As Doug Ford put it on Sunday: "Where our strength is … it's not the politicians, not with the MPPs or the city councillors, it's with the people. That's where our base is."

Every time city council gets in the mayor's way, he threatens to go to the voters. Mess with me, he says, and I'll sic Ford Nation on you. If councillors vote this week for transit taxes or levies, he promises to circulate literature in the next election with the name and picture of each one who said yes.

That's fair play up to a point. It is a common tactic in politics to remind your opponents that they will have to account for their actions at election time and that you are preparing to hit them with all you've got. But when that is all you do – when the business of government ceases to interest you, when you spend all your time plotting your next campaign, when you do nothing but threaten and boast and sloganeer – then, Toronto, we have a problem.

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About the Author
Toronto columnist

Marcus Gee is Toronto columnist for the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper.Born in Toronto, he graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1979 with a degree in modern European history, then worked as a reporter for The Province, Vancouver's morning newspaper. More

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