Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford dies aged 46. Here are his greatest hits

Mayor Ford in action. Image: Getty.


Rob Ford – businessman, transit fan, football coach, and from 2010-2014 the most colourful mayor Toronto ever had – is dead. His chief of staff confirmed that he died this morning after an 18 month battle with cancer.

Ford managed something that only a handful of mayors ever achieve: becoming famous beyond his own city limits. This wasn't for his enthusiastic support for subway expansion, nor for his straight-talking approach to politics – it's just that, when you're the only mayor ever to have admitted to smoking crack cocaine, then word's gonna get around.

When Ford pulled out of his last mayoral contest in September 2014, after being hospitalised with an abdominal tumour, Barbara Speed covered the event in an article entitled “Rob Ford's greatest hits”. And so, to celebrate the life of the great man, here they are again.

1. He admitted to smoking crack cocaine.

Yeah, okay, we all know about this one (booooooooooooring). But Ford is the only mayor on the record books who’s actually admitted to smoking crack while doing the job, so we felt the story worth retelling.

In May 2013, Gawker ran a piece accusing Ford of smoking crack cocaine in his local area, claiming they’ve seen a video. Shortly after, the Toronto Star published a story claiming their reporters have also seen the footage.

After months of angrily denying that he’d ever smoked crack cocaine, Ford finally admitted in November that he “tried it” in a “drunken stupor”. The video was never released, despite Ford claiming, a little improbably, "I want everyone in the city to see this tape. I don't even recall there being a tape or video. I want to see the state that I was in."

2. He pushed over a council member.

During a heated council debate in November 2013, Ford rushed across the chamber and grabbed council member Pam McConnell, apparently trying to push her to the floor. Some argue that he was trying to reach his brother Doug, and that McConnell was simply “in the way”.

Afterwards, Ford helped McConnell up and walked away. What a gentleman.

3. He really respects “Orientals”.

At another debate, this time about Christmas shopping, Ford made clear his admiration for the residents of Seoul, Taipei and Tokyo, all of which he has visited: “Those Oriental people work like dogs. They work their hearts out... They sleep beside their machines... I’m telling you, the Oriental people, they’re slowly taking over.”

4. He spoke out against AIDS-prevention programmes. 

In 2006, while serving as a city councillor, Ford attacked a $1.5m city fund for AIDS prevention, on the grounds that “if you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS probably, that’s the bottom line.” Bravo. He just said what everyone was thinking, right?

5. He got fired from his school football coach position. Twice.

Ford began his high school coaching career with a stint at Newtonbrook Secondary School in 2001, where he was dismissed within the year after a confrontation with one of the players. Details are hazy, but Chris Spence, director of education at the Toronto School Board, confirmed that “something did happen” and Ford was dismissed.

Ford then moved on to Don Bosco Catholic School, where he coached alongside his local government duties for ten years. He was dismissed in 2013, apparently for comments he made about the school in an interview. However according to documents released by Don Bosco to the Star under the Freedom of Information Act, there were other problems, some of which tended towards the, er, scatological.

“Mayor Rob Ford made his high school football players ‘roll in goose sca’, threatened to beat up a teacher, showed up intoxicated to the final practice before the Metro Bowl, ignored requests to complete criminal background checks, stuck the school with a $5,000 tab for helmets he promised to pay for, and held an improper summer practice at which a player broke his collarbone.”

It’s like the plot of Friday Night Lights 2, isn’t it.

6. He’s a great multitasker.

In 2012, a resident posted a picture on Twitter showing Ford reading while driving on the Gardiner Expressway. In later tweets, he claimed Ford was driving at around 70mph at the time.

Image: @RyanGHaughton via Twitter.

When challenged, Ford said he was “probably” reading on the expressway because “I’m a busy man”.

7. He hates cyclists.

In 2010, while still a council member, Ford argued that if a cyclist gets hit then, well, they were asking for it:

“What I compare bike lanes to is swimming with the sharks. Sooner or later you’re going to get bitten. My heart bleeds for them when I hear someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”

Once he became mayor, Ford set about tackling the issue of cyclist safety by removing bike lanes. 

8. He’s not a fan of the homeless, either.

In a speech, Ford said he would not hold a public meeting about setting up homeless shelters in each ward, because any such meeting would be an “insult to my constituents”. “Why don't we have a public lynching?” he concluded. Why indeed?

In July of this year, he was also the only council member to vote against a motion to allocate 25 per cent of beds in a youth shelter to LGBTQ homeless people.

9. He loves fridge magnets.

There are numerous reports of Ford skipping out on boring council meetings in favour of flitting around the parking lot, slapping “Rob Ford: Mayor” fridge magnets on cars. The Star reported on one such occasion:

When a reporter told Ford that some people might find his behaviour strange, he retorted that some people find the reporter strange... The mayor slowed down only twice – once to calmly address the reporters who followed him, once to shout urgently to aide David Price for more magnets, his arms outsretched.”

His staffers also handed the magnets out at the funeral of Peter Worthington, founding editor of the Toronto Sun newspaper.

One of Rob’s magnets. If you’re interested, they occasionally pop up on auction websites.

10. He didn’t attend Toronto Pride once during his four years in office.

Every year, Ford has bowed out of attendance, claiming that it’s a Ford family tradition to spend that weekend at their cottage. In 2014, however, he confirmed that he would never attend: “I’ve never been to a Pride parade. I can’t change who I am.”

Doug Ford came to Rob’s defence, saying that he, too, would rather not see “buck naked men running down the street”.

However, a Rob Ford impersonator did attend this year’s parade, and appears to have had a wonderful time.

Image: Getty.



Here’s a fantasy metro network for Birmingham & the West Midlands

Birmingham New Street. Image: Getty.

Another reader writes in with their fantasy transport plans for their city. This week, we’re off to Birmingham…

I’ve read with interest CityMetric’s previous discussion on Birmingham’s poor commuter service frequency and desire for a “Crossrail” (here and here). So I thought I’d get involved, but from a different angle.

There’s a whole range of local issues to throw into the mix before getting the fantasy metro crayons out. Birmingham New Street is shooting up the passenger usage rankings, but sadly its performance isn’t, with nearly half of trains in the evening rush hour between 5pm and 8pm five minutes or more late or even cancelled. This makes connecting through New Street a hit and, mainly, miss affair, which anyone who values their commuting sanity will avoid completely. No wonder us Brummies drive everywhere.

There are seven local station reopening on the cards, which have been given a helping hand by a pro-rail mayor. But while these are super on their own, each one alone struggles to get enough traffic to justify a frequent service (which is key for commuters); or the wider investment needed elsewhere to free up more timetable slots, which is why the forgotten cousin of freight gets pushed even deeper into the night, in turn giving engineering work nowhere to go at all.

Suburban rail is the less exciting cousin of cross country rail. But at present there’s nobody to “mind the gap” between regional cross-country focussed rail strategy , and the bus/tram orientated planning of individual councils. (Incidentally, the next Midland Metro extension, from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, is expected to cost £450m for just 11km of tram. Ouch.)

So given all that, I decided to go down a less glamorous angle than a Birmingham Crossrail, and design a Birmingham  & Black Country Overground. Like the London Overground, I’ve tried to join up what we’ve already got into a more coherent service and make a distinct “line” out of it.

Click to expand. 

With our industrial heritage there are a selection of old alignments to run down, which would bring a suburban service right into the heart of the communities it needs to serve, rather than creating a whole string of “park & rides” on the periphery. Throw in another 24km of completely new line to close up the gaps and I’ve run a complete ring of railway all the way around Birmingham and the Black Country, joining up with HS2 & the airport for good measure – without too much carnage by the way of development to work around/through/over/under.

Click to expand. 

While going around with a big circle on the outside, I found a smaller circle inside the city where the tracks already exist, and by re-creating a number of old stations I managed to get within 800m of two major hospitals. The route also runs right under the Birmingham Arena (formerly the NIA), fixing the stunning late 1980s planning error of building a 16,000 capacity arena right in the heart of a city centre, over the railway line, but without a station. (It does have two big car parks instead: lovely at 10pm when a concert kicks out, gridlocks really nicely.)

From that redraw the local network map and ended up with...

Click to expand. 

Compare this with the current broadly hub-and-spoke network, and suddenly you’ve opened up a lot more local journey possibilities which you’d have otherwise have had to go through New Street to make. (Or, in reality, drive.) Yours for a mere snip at £3bn.

If you want to read more, there are detailed plans and discussion here (signup required).