Top: invitation to Ford Fest 2014. Bottom: excerpt from City's Policy On Use Of City Resources During An Election.
Late Friday afternoon, an email went out inviting the public to Ford Fest on July 25 at Thomson Memorial Park. The preceding sentence was phrased in a passive voice, because it's not clear from whom the email came.
"Dear Friends," the message read, "On behalf of Rob Ford, Doug Ford and the Ford Family, please find attached an invitation to Ford Fest Scarborough 2014- taking place next Friday."
No name was signed, and the message was sent from an email address apparently created especially for the occasion (email@example.com). Not the Mayor's Office, not the Ford campaign.
Events of this scale require permits to be held in public parks, and the City Of Toronto Policy On Use Of City Resources During An Election [pdf] quite clearly states that "No permits, licenses, leases, or any other agreement for the use of City of Toronto facilities, including civic squares and parks, will be issued for the use or promotion of a particular candidate, political party, registrant or a supporter of a question on a ballot during an election" (emphasis in original).
Ford Fests are giant celebrations of the Fords, and Mayor Rob Ford in particular, with banners and Ford Nation paraphernalia of all kinds. There's free food and in the past has also been free alcohol. (In 2013, the beverage service was provided by Muzik, a nightclub with registered lobbyists at the City. Only after further reports concerning the mayor's relationship with Muzik did its owner state that his company had provided the Ford Fests with liquor service "for a fee.")
But the City's Parks, Forestry and Recreation (PFR) division doesn't consider Ford Fest to be campaigning.
Although the permit hasn't yet been issued because "a few final conditions have to be met," City spokesperson Jackie DeSouza says that the application meets "the requirements of the policy" and "it would be up to the Mayor and Councillor Ford to ensure the policy is adhered to at the event."
And how does it meet the requirements of the policy? "PFR says it was described as a special event open to the public, which is allowed."
Ford Fests were held annually in the large backyard of the Ford family home near Royal York and Lawrence, until even that immense property could no longer comfortably accommodate the crowds. In 2013, they moved into public parks with a July edition at Thomson Memorial in Scarborough and a September edition at Centennial Park in Etobicoke.
When asked last fall about the 2013 permits, Mark Lawson, the manager of PFR's customer service office, explained that the eligibility requirements are broad and that sitting councillors receive permits for movie nights and similar events all the time. (Lawson was unavailable for comment on Friday.)
Is there a difference between an implicitly promotional event like "Joe Mihevc's Movie Night" at Wychwood Park (which took place after he registered for re-election) and an explicitly promotional one such as Ford Fest? That's like considering whether Ford's Thursday stump speech at City Hall was the act of a mayor or the act of a candidate.
A copy of the permit application can't be released without a freedom of information request, says DeSouza, because it likely contains some personal information.
But copies of applications for the 2013 events, obtained by NOW through an FOI last fall, may shed some light. Though both documents were filled out by Doug Ford for an occasion titled "Ford Fest," it's not as though the forms required an explanation of the events' broader purpose.
Asked to provide an outline of the planned activities at the July event, for example, Doug Ford listed "Live music, food and beverages."
He did not advise the City that his brother would be asking people to help him come election day.
"Next election's October 27, 2014," the mayor declared to those in attendance, according to a Canada.com transcript of a now-removed YouTube video. "I need your support. You want me back."
UPDATE (7/22/2014, 8:30 pm): Ford Fest Scarborough, which is absolutely not a campaign event, no sir, because that would mean the City has issued a permit for campaigning in a public park, and since the City would never do that, it's ergo not a campaign event - is being prominently featured on Rob Ford's campaign website.
And robocalls are going out far and wide Tuesday night, with Ford asking, "If I can count on your support, please press 3." Support for what? Not the election, certainly. Maybe just emotional strength when he's down.
We got the call at our City Hall office, which Ben Spurr recorded. Have a listen:
Spurr pressed "3," so maybe we'll get more in the future.
Meanwhile, after being "deluged" with complaints, Toronto Ombudsman Fiona Crean confirms that she's investigating the staff decision to issue the permit.