The Inside Agenda Blog

Here's How Stephen Harper Can Help Rob Ford

by Steve Paikin Monday January 6, 2014

First in line to sign up: Rob Ford is running for re-election.

As promised, Rob Ford was first in line to file his papers for the 2014 Toronto mayor's race. He's now officially a candidate.

There are two other possible candidates considered to be part of the upper tier: NDP MP Olivia Chow and former Ontario PC Leader John Tory, now host of the Live Drive on Newstalk1010 Radio. 

There's a second tier of candidates as well who at this point would have to be considered significant underdogs, including city councillors Karen Stintz, Denzil Minnan-Wong, and former councillor David Soknacki.

The last time Ontario's capital city went through all this, the thinking was, get in early to stake out your policy ground, then raise your money and profile. As a result, the campaign lasted a full year as Ford, former Ontario cabinet minister George Smitherman, city councillor Joe Pantalone, former Liberal Party national director Rocco Rossi, and Women's Post publisher Sarah Thomson battled it out. 

Olivia Chow speaks at the dedication of the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal on Toronto's Waterfront

That doesn't appear to be the case this time. All of the Tier One candidates have high name recognition. Ford's is off the charts. He's known around the world, albeit not necessarily for the right reasons.  Chow is about to go on a book tour, designed to raise her profile even more, in case she wants to run. Tory, of course, is on the radio every day, and has a big organization already in place, just waiting for the word from the would-be candidate to make it official.

Now, here's a rumour I've picked up that could dramatically shake up the race. 

Could Stephen Harper do something to help his ideological soul mate, Rob Ford? The answer is, absolutely yes. One of the things he could do is remove the front runner from the race, at least, the front runner according to recent polls.

Olivia Chow has been in public life for 23 years. Fourteen of them at City Hall as a former city councillor, and the rest on Parliament Hill as an MP. Is it possible she's had enough of elective politics?  Would she be open to something else? 

John Tory has an organization ready to go. They're just waiting for the word from the possible candidate.

Here's the "something else." David C. Onley's tenure as Ontario Lieutenant-Governor is coming to an end later this month. Lieutenant-Governors are appointed by the prime minister. I'm told Chow has been offered the job by Prime Minister Harper.

In truth, it's a very clever offer. Chow is a terrific "people person," and would do an excellent job as LG. She would also make history as the first lieutenant-governor of Asian descent (although not the first female LG. That was Pauline McGibbon, appointed in 1974).

If Chow accepted the appointment, that would dramatically simplify Ford's efforts to win re-election, since Tory, Stintz, Minnan-Wong, and Soknacki are all essentially from the same part of the political spectrum as Ford. In fact, one of John Tory's supporters says a Tory mayoralty would be akin to "Ford's fiscal conservatism without the freak show."

Without a strong centre-left candidate in the race, all those other would-be candidates will split the centre-right vote with Ford, who no doubt thinks he can count on his loyal supporters to win that fight.

  Two big Rob Ford fans, seen here in the 2008 election campaign: Prime Minister Harper and his finance minister, Jim Flaherty.

I saw Olivia Chow last Friday. I put this scenario to her. She laughed. A very big, very dramatic laugh. The kind of laugh where you're stalling for time.

"That's not a denial, Olivia," I said to her.

She paused, then immediately changed the subject.

The Toronto mayor's race may have just gotten much more interesting.

Update: In response to the social media conversation started by this blog post, Olivia Chow tweeted the following: