Book Review: The Gift of Ford by Ivor Tossell

Between conflict of interest controversies to chasing a Toronto Star reporter off his property, it’s a wonder how Rob Ford became the mayor of Toronto.

Since getting elected in 2010, Ford’s antics have made him infamous and a constant water-cooler topic. So much so, that he’s already the subject of a book just halfway through his first term.

Written by Ivor Tossell, The Gift of Ford offers a colourful and entertaining portrait of what could arguably be Toronto’s most intriguing mayors to date. In providing readers with a well-researched account of Rob Ford’s life in office from his early years as an Etobicoke city councillor to the eventful days of his mayoralty, it is Tossell’s conversational and often amusing tone that makes this book so easy to follow.

A former Globe and Mail columnist who regularly reports on urban affairs, Tossell relies on his own observations at City Hall to provide context on the city. Toronto is a new city, he says, striving to be “world class” but “forever a project.” Starting from its amalgamation to former mayor David Miller’s ambitious yet pricey plans to rebuild the city, Tossell takes his time explaining Toronto’s past to present with Ford’s penny-pinching political mantra.

What makes this book so engaging is Tossell’s wit. He depicts Ford as “a Tea Party hipster, preaching radically small government before it was cool.” An example of this comes from the time Ford was just a city councillor, complaining about council’s free zoo passes and the city’s decision to hire a man to water the plants.

We learn that it was Ford, stubborn and highly ignored at the time, who repeated the same things over and over that finally made the city hear him out. As he was elected at a time when Toronto could not afford to pay more taxes to enhance the city, this book gives an insider look on the bizarre display Ford brought with him.

This book also provides some surreal anecdotes, from the numerous times Ford fought for subways to the time he accidentally voted to ban plastic bags altogether. In addition, there’s even mention about his ill-fated weight-loss challenge to the time he was kicked out of a Toronto Maple Leafs game for having a drunken outburst.

But of course, Ford was never without his right-hand man. Readers are also introduced to his brother Councillor Doug Ford–hilariously introduced by Tossell as “the Luigi to Ford’s Mario.”

Doug provides intrigue for those looking to learn more about the spectacle that is City Hall. He is described as someone who “seemed to function best in a state of cheerful, permanent war.”

His offence-first approach towards journalists, city staff and fellow councillors often generates controversy for him. With one colourful example being the time he argued in favour of library closures in the city, it was Doug who waged war against the famous author Margaret Atwood, embarrassingly claiming that “if she walked by me, I wouldn’t have a clue who she is.”

But despite the crazy behavior Ford and his brother Doug bring to Toronto, Tossell’s book is more about the theatrics. Through his observations, he asks readers whether or not the city’s constituents made the right choice.

Here, Tossell is hard on Ford, noting that the mayor’s wealthy background makes it easy for him to act virtuous about government spending. Added to recent controversies about spending his office budget on personal projects, these observations are certainly enough to sway the reader’s thoughts on whether or not Ford is responsible enough to govern a city.

While a quick read at 73 pages, this e-book would have been more interesting with first-person interviews included in the mix. But as it provides context on Toronto’s history and its present situation, Tossell’s The Gift of Ford is great for anyone who wants to know more about the unconventional mayor Torontonians decided to elect.

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