Say what you will about Doug Ford, he is a man of the people.
He is premier of Ontario’s “First Government For The People.” All kinds of people.
Like Faith Goldy.
That would be the fringe journalist who famously appeared on the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, and whose shameless white nationalism has gone viral — getting her sacked by the far-right Rebel Media last year.
To be fair, our popular and populist premier poses for photos all the time, not least when he hosts thousands of people at a weekend “Ford Fest” with free food and drinks for his base.
Could this be a case of mistaken identity? A blind spot — personal, political, historical — earnestly explained and easily excused?
Faith Goldy, however, is not just any supporter, even if this is her sixth Ford Fest. Accompanied by her entourage of campaign volunteers wearing election T-shirts, she stands out in a crowd.
Did Ford not know who he was posing with, consorting with, smiling with — unaware of her notoriety, oblivious to her history? Hard to fathom.
Imagine, for a moment, he knew nothing about so infamous a far-right figure. An accidental photo-op.
Would not a premier of the people — all the people — want to walk back a viral image with a virulent white nationalist who wants to make Canada racially pure? Would not a responsible premier distance himself from a politician who provokes prejudice?
Would that he did. But he didn’t — couldn’t — do the right thing.
Given the opportunity, repeatedly, Ford refused to denounce or renounce Goldy and their shared photo in its aftermath Monday. Instead, as a hushed legislature awaited his explanation, he lapsed into partisan rhetoric and personal boasting that left his own Progressive Conservative MPPs uncharacteristically subdued, averting their glances, sitting on their hands.
Does Ford not know his history, our history, world history? Does the premier not know the perennial story of racism and anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and homophobia? Could someone in cabinet or caucus explain to him the role of a political leader as the embodiment of tolerance and defender of diversity?
How would others behave in his place? Would Stephen Harper ignore calls for clarification and explanation if he accidentally posed with a known white nationalist? Would our former Conservative prime minister allow his high office to normalize neo-Nazi sentiment? Would former federal minister Jason Kenney condone intolerance by association?
By comparison, consider the response of Ezra Levant, the self-styled “Rebel Commander” who fired Goldy from Rebel Media after she crossed a line at last year’s Charlottesville white nationalist protests. Sensing the distinction between polemicist and supremacist, Levant quickly distanced his already controversial media outfit from her racist rhetoric.
Now ponder the response of the politician who commands Ford Nation, who keeps reminding us that he won 2.3 million votes (never mind that he is premier of all 13 million Ontarians). Confronted with the image of a white nationalist who wants to make Canada white again — “96% euro Canadian,” as she once tweeted — how did Ford behave?
Rather than accept responsibility with humility, he opted for hubris and obtuseness by boasting, “There’s no group in the entire country that represents Toronto and Ontario more than Ford Nation does.”
But does he still stand behind the photo, where he is pictured smiling with his arm draped over her, flanked by campaign supporters in their T-shirts? Does he know Goldy, did he not recognize her?
Ford’s office declined to respond to that last question, saying only, “The Premier denounces all forms of hate, regardless of who says it. Ford Fest was a diverse event with over 7,000 people in attendance from nearly every race, religion, and community across the province. Premier Ford was made available to take pictures with everyone in attendance.”
Everyone in attendance. All kinds of people. All you have to do is ask.
No questions asked, and no second thoughts. No matter how incriminating, damaging and damning the image.
HOW DID DOUG FORD win the election? I’ll be hosting a post-election Democracy Forum at Ryerson University at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday with Progressive Conservative campaign manager Kory Teneycke and his counterparts Michael Balagus (NDP), David Herle (Liberal) and Becky Smit (Greens).
Martin Regg Cohn is a columnist based in Toronto covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @reggcohn