Thousands of Ford faithful, curiosity seekers and a handful of protestors packed Scarborough’s sprawling Thomson Memorial Park Friday for Ford Fest.
The Ford-family hosted bash has been held at least once a year since 1995. Initially held at Rob and Doug Ford’s mother’s home in Etobicoke, the growing event shifted to public parks in 2013 and added an eastern stop.
Burgers, hot dogs, ice cream, bouncy castle, and a live band aside, Friday’s BBQ appeared to be carefully controlled affair so as to stay within Toronto bylaws. The rules prohibit use of city space for the “use or promotion of a particular candidate or political party” during an election period. The city fielded over 175 complaints about Ford Fest from people who said the party was little more than a glorified re-election push for the mayor.
Bylaw officers watched on as volunteers handed out red and blue “Ford Nation“ flags made of paper. Guests were offered free T-shirts emblazoned with “Ford Fest Toronto” on the front above a silhouette of the Toronto skyline. On the back, “Ford Nation”.
Before the mayor’s arrival, challenger Karen Stintz showed up at the park, wearing a navy T-shirt with the words “Karen Stintz for Mayor” across her chest. Though the shirt also featured a sunflower, Stintz’s campaign emblem, she dismissed suggestions she was campaigning.
Fellow mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson rode a white horse named Fiona into Ford Fest and was soundly booed. Flanked by supporters wearing red shirts that included the message “Sarah Thomson for mayor of Toronto”, Thomson too denied she was campaigning.
“If Rob Ford can be here having a party, giving away free hamburgers to people, I can come around and let people pet a horse,” Thomson told Newstalk 1010. “I think it’s pretty much the same.”
Rob Ford spent close to four hours under a tent shaking hands, taking photos and signing autographs as a long, meandering line of adoring fans stretched out before him.
“I love Rob Ford immensely,” said Juliette who travelled from Ajax to show her support. “He is for the people.” Another woman with her son perched on her hip said she loves Ford so much, she named the 19-month-old Rob.
Ford’s supporters did not seem bothered by his admitted drug use, his reported use of racial slurs or allegations of mixing mayoralty with the family business.
“He went to rehab. Everybody has slip-ups, man. He made a mistake and, whatever, we forgive him,” shrugged one man. Juliette gave the mayor a pass because “no one is perfect” and she admires Rob Ford as a “what you see is what you get” kind of guy. “You don’t know what the other candidates have said about the Jews, and the blacks, and the non-whites.”
Well out of the mayor’s view and earshot, there was a heated, half-hour long confrontation between Ford supporters and a handful of demonstrators from LGBTQ group, Queeruption.
“Rob Ford needs to be held accountable for his homophobia,” said Poe Liberado, pointing to the mayor’s recent lone dissenting vote against a homeless shelter for queer youth.
The demonstrators were met with shouts of “This is Ford Fest, go home!”, “Go home f****t!”, “Suck a dick f***t, go munch a carpet!” Members of the group were pushed, a Ford supporter wrapped his hand around a protestor’s neck and Liberado says they were tackled.
Signs reading “Ford #1 Hater, Homophobia kills kids” and “Don’t drink the Kool Aid” were plucked from protestors' hands, ripped to bits and stomped upon.
Another pre-election Ford Fest is in the works.