THE withdrawal of Toronto mayor Rob Ford and the entry of his older brother in the city’s mayoral election has turned the spotlight from a volatile man who had admitted smoking crack cocaine to his less charismatic but steadier sibling – long seen as the power behind the throne.
Rob Ford, 45, hospitalised last week with an abdominal tumour, dropped his bid for re-election on Friday night and his brother Doug, 49, took his place in the race to lead Canada’s largest city and financial capital.
Doug Ford, a city councillor and businessman, has been the mayor’s most aggressive advocate, defender and sometimes critic.
The elder Ford was also the mayor’s campaign manager.
“Did the real Mayor Ford just stand up?” tweeted Quito Maggi, a Toronto pollster and political consultant, after the family switch just minutes before a deadline for changes to the city election ballot.
“He comes with all the positives, the same track record as his brother, but not as much of the baggage and negatives,” Maggi added.
But Toronto is unlikely to see the last of Rob Ford any time soon.
He has opted to seek a city council seat representing a district in his home suburb of Etobicoke, where his brash everyman style and conservative fiscal policies first gained a faithful following that became known as Ford Nation.
His nephew dropped his bid for the seat to make way for Ford.
Doug Ford, despite only being elected as a councillor when his brother came to power in 2010, has been a major force in city politics, influencing policy and serving as the mayor’s spokesman.
He has been at his brother’s side in a string of interviews since the crack cocaine scandal erupted in 2013.
And each twist in the mayor’s saga came with a subplot starring his brother.
In August, Doug Ford apologised to Toronto’s police chief, who had threatened him with a defamation lawsuit for accusing him of leaking information about Rob Ford’s drug use to the media.
The Globe And Mail newspaper published an investigation last year that cited anonymous sources who said Doug Ford was a mid-level cannabis dealer in the 1980s, when he was in his late teens and early 20s, supplying a “select group” of street-level traffickers.
He denied the Globe’s allegations and told CNN last November that he may have sold the odd joint to a friend decades ago, but he was not a dealer.
Then he picked his own fight with renowned author and Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood when she defended library programmes that were threatened by Rob Ford’s proposed budget cuts.
“I don’t even know her. If she walked by me, I wouldn’t have a clue who she is,” Doug Ford told reporters.
Before entering politics, Doug Ford ran the family packaging business.
Political observers said that while Doug Ford may not be as charismatic as his younger brother, he comes into the race with name recognition and with his stance well known on big issues such as transportation and taxes.
He was the driving force behind a short-lived scheme to radically rethink Toronto’s waterfront redevelopment, replacing plans years in the making with a new football stadium, Ferris wheel and monorail. However, the plan gained little traction.
Doug Ford also has less popular support than his brother, who has a longer history as a city councillor and in community work.
“If Doug Ford gets control of the reins, he’s going to be happy to hold on to them entirely to himself,” Peter Loewen, a University of Toronto politics professor, told CBC television.
Some Torontonians appreciate the Ford brothers’ efforts to cut back on spending.
“I was going to vote for Rob,” said Satti Singh, 58, who added that she tried to visit the mayor in hospital but was not allowed in.
“He’s done good things for the city, he has saved us money, he’s about taking care of the poor. But now I’ll vote for Doug because he’ll continue what Rob started.”