Rob Ford was elected in 2010 as the Mayor of Toronto. Over the past year, he has been the center of controversy related to drug use and possible criminal activity. In the media frenzy of the past few months, Rob Ford’s staunchest defender has been his brother, Doug, who is currently a member of Toronto City Council.
Mayor Ford and Councillor Ford recently launched “Ford Nation”, a YouTube channel. Prior to the YouTube channel, the Fords previously hosted “The City with Mayor Rob Ford,” a popular radio call-in show on AM radio, and the short-lived “Ford Nation” television show on the Sun News Network.
I decided to fact-check one of the Fords’ YouTube videos focused on the views of Mayor Ford’s likely election opponents (“the yahoos”) in municipal elections later this year.
At first, I wanted to make a transcript of the video and score every sentence in the video for accuracy. Only then, in my view, can one overcome Matt Hemingway’s accusation of selection bias in media fact-checking. After some consideration, though, I wasn’t convinced that such an analysis would be interesting — it seems that fact-checking is most useful for controversial or attention-grabbing statements. With this in mind, I used my best judgment to select several assertions made by the Fords. (As a future exercise, it could be fun to measure attention or controversy automatically through signals like Twitter activity.)
The subject of the video is public transit in Toronto. The Fords support building new subway lines, while many of their opponents favor light-rail transit (LRTs). Along with differences in cost, construction time, and coverage, the subway-versus-light-rail debate often stirs emotions in Toronto — Mayor Ford’s base in the suburbs supports new subways, while progressives in the downtown core generally support more affordable options. A reasonable (albeit somewhat LRT-favoring) primer on Toronto subways versus LRTs can be found here.
As an additional exercise, I decided to apply a binary true/false criteria for this assignment: A statement is true if and only if all of its clauses are true, and false otherwise. The selection and judgment of degrees of truth, in my view, is also a human and potentially error-prone process.
Doug Ford (DF) (0:35): “Anywhere in the world, you go to any major city… and what you get is rapid underground transit from point A to point B.”
At 2.8 million residents, Toronto is Canada’s largest city and the fourth-largest in North America. Wikipedia lists two other, smaller Canadian cities (Vancouver and Montreal) and thirteen other North American cities (Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Juan, and Washington, D.C.) that have subways [Wikipedia]. While all of these cities have a mixture of subway and non-subway transit lines, it appears that Doug Ford’s statement, strictly speaking, is true.
Rob Ford (RF) (1:22): The Mayor makes a few statements about the transit views of other likely mayoral candidates.
“First… we have a former budget chief… who doesn’t want subways.”
RF is referring to David Soknacki, a former city councillor. According to Soknacki’s campaign website, “Although he’s a lifelong Scarborough resident, David is the ONLY major mayoral candidate with the political courage to promise to cancel the Bloor-Danforth subway extension in Scarborough, and replace it with modern, cost-effective LRT plan that was already partly designed – and fully funded.” [David Soknacki Campaign Site]
“We have the head of the TTC who says, ‘I want LRTs,’ and then she flip-flopped to subways.”
City Councillor Karen Stintz, who chairs the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has declared her candidacy for mayor. The Toronto Star notes, “In 2012, Stintz outmanoeuvred Ford and won new fans on the left when she persuaded council to return to Miller’s plan for above-ground light rail lines on Finch Ave., Sheppard Ave., Eglinton Ave. and in the Scarborough RT corridor. In 2013, she joined with Ford, and lost many of those new fans, in making a successful push for a subway in the Scarborough RT corridor, and a tax hike to pay for it, rather than cheaper light rail.” [Toronto Star]
“There’s other candidates, [e.g.] people leading the civic action group, we want to have user fees… revenue tools… LRTs.”
RF is referring in this statement to John Tory, a past mayoral candidate and provincial politician who heads the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance.
It is true that John Tory supports new taxes to build transit: The Toronto Star notes, “Tory, 59, is a vocal advocate of the need for new taxes to pay for transit expansion. Ford imposed a new property tax to pay for the planned subway extension to the Scarborough RT, but he criticized Tory last week for holding “tax, tax, tax” views.” [Toronto Star]
Tory, however, is not opposed to all forms of subways: he supports a downtown subway relief line, as noted in his introductory campaign video. [John Tory Campaign Site]. Therefore, Rob Ford’s statement is false.
DF (2:22) discusses public-private partnerships as a source of transit funding:
“You go out there, you get private sector funding, folks… you go out for the public-private partnerships, they refuse to do that. When you build a subway station, you make sure there is density on top of the subway station.”
I did not find explicit evidence of the three aforementioned mayoral candidates being opposed to public-private partnerships (P3) to fund public transit. Soknacki is on record in support of P3s this year, [Globe and Mail]; Tory has support them in the past [Globe and Mail]. It appears that Stintz is most strongly in favor of pursuing funding from the provincial and federal levels of government for transit funding [National Post], but stating that all three candidates oppose P3s is false.
“So what that does, you get the pension funds, that we have two, here, the Teacher’s Pension Fund, and OMERS, and guess what, folks? They’re developing and putting their money in London and New York! Because the councilors in Toronto, a lot of them don’t believe in getting the private sector to build subways.”
I did not find specific evidence of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) or the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund, two of the largest pension funds in the province, investing in the London and New York transit systems.
Rob Ford: “‘Revenue tools…’ means gas tax. Our friend at Civic Action wants to tax people. The first thing that he did when he got in at Queen’s Park was give a 35% pay increase to all MPPs.”
As leader of the Official Opposition in the Ontario Legislature, John Tory did indeed vote in favor of a pay increase for Members of Provincial Parliament. However, the increase was 25%, not 35% [National Post] The vote also occurred in December 2006; Tory won a by-election and entered the Ontario Legislature in March 2005 [Ottawa Citizen].