Has Mayor Rob Ford destroyed the Toronto brand?

Toronto the Good

I’m from Toronto, but I’m not really from here, if you know what I mean.  It seems most people in Toronto are from some place else.  That’s what makes it such a great place to live.  It’s visibly impossible to tell the tourists from the locals.  Toronto is a beautiful collection of cultural pockets, Italian, Greek, Jamaican, Chinese, South Asian, Brazilian, Jewish, Korean and everyone else woven throughout the city. If you love multiculturalism, Toronto is the place to be.  I love it. 

0704prideToronto has a vibrant LGBT community, with one of the world’s largest Gay Pride parades.  Our premier (equal to a governor in the US) is a lesbian and yet her sexual orientation didn’t really make the news cycle, before or after she came into office.  Isn’t that a healthy sign of a modern day world?

The hot political issues you hear in other parts of the world won’t be discussed at the lunch table in Toronto.  No one really talks about gay marriage, free healthcare, abortion and gun control.  We’ve implemented  solutions and kinda moved on past these issues.  Gay Marriage has been legal since 2003, Healthcare has been free since the 1950s, Politicians never talk about abortion anymore and in most provinces it’s fully funded under the healthcare laws.  We think guns are a problem, because that’s a big issue for us, but in reality, Toronto only has 50 murders per year compared to 500+ in Chicago (same sized cities).   

Toronto is different.  Toronto is very modern.  Toronto is good.   ‘Toronto the Good’ is one of the city’s many nicknames, first used in 1888 when there was a campaign for moral purification.”  Toronto is a fairly pure city.  

It would be safe to say that Rob Ford is a far cry from purification and not likely a fitting leader of “Toronto the Good”. 

So what is Toronto’s brand?  

Toronto is a well respected city, some love it, but almost all like it.  People see all the good, whether it’s multiculturalism or the fairly liberal virtues of the city we offer.  And clean comes up every time.

As for the Toronto tag line, I’m not sure we have one.  I’ve never heard one.   We have some good shopping, good collection of live theatre, a noteworthy ballet and a solid film festival.  We have the greatest hockey team on earth that last won in 1967.  We had the tallest structure (not building) in the world and maybe top 3 now.  We are close to Niagara Falls, a short two hours away.

Wow, who the heck are we?  

Here goes:  Toronto is a nice place to live.  

There I said it.  I’m sorry.  That’s really what the Toronto brand is all about.   We aren’t sexy, fun, wild or insane.  We are nice.  Polite.  Friendly.  Comfortable.  Courteous.  Safe.  And Clean.  

We are a nice place to live.  Embrace it.  

I guess that’s why Toronto never makes the US news.

Enter Stage Left:  Mayor Rob Ford

Well, this week Toronto finally got its wish.  We made the US news. 

hi-rob-ford-interactive-852For those who don’t know, Rob Ford, Toronto’s infamous mayor has admitted that yes, he smoked Crack last summer, but it was likely during one of his many drunken stupors.  His words.  It’s re-assuring that at least we know he was too drunk to remember.

Toronto has finally made the US news cycle and we are on every late night TV show.  I was watching Jimmy Kimmel last night and he just said “Rob Ford” without even saying “Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford”.  Wow, we have hit the big time.  We are famous finally.  Embrace this Toronto.  

Here is Toronto’s seven minutes of fame on the Daily Show with John Stewart.  Tourism Toronto could not afford this coverage.  


So what’s the damage to the Toronto brand?  

First of all, what’s the damage to the Rob Ford brand?  None.  People in Toronto have known Ford was like this for a long time.  So this is not really new to us.  Just good comedy.  Even back last year there was a fun list of 21 things about Rob Ford that will get a good chuckle.  “The 21 Things to Know About Rob Ford” New York Magazine   

There are contrasting Rob Ford poll numbers floating around that could give him room to repair this.  On the positive side, his job approval rating is up 5% compared to before the crisis.  But 60% of the people are saying he should resign.  So if he can find a way to put this behind him and create some “comeback story”, then his core supporters could help him to stay in office.  Check himself into re-hab, lose 30 pounds and come out a changed man.  Just follow the Bill Clinton playbook.

Good brands have to be either better or different.  In the high taxed political world of Toronto and Canada, Rob Ford occupies a very unique message in Toronto, that of “lower taxes”.  He’s almost the wrong guy with the right message.  If someone comes along with a “lower taxes” message but in a much refined image, then Rob Ford could be ousted.  No longer unique.  

As for the Toronto brand, I think it’s relatively safe.  I know local people are “embarrassed” and ranting on Facebook about what a disgrace this is to Toronto.  It won’t really damage the city.   Toronto has such a squeaky clean image, this will fade into the news cycle and won’t come back to haunt us.  In the last 20 years, we’ve seen so many politicians do some pretty bad stuff that we are long past that.   Nobody equates the bad behavior back to where they are from.  

With or without Rob Ford, Toronto will always be “Toronto the Good”



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5 thoughts on “Has Mayor Rob Ford destroyed the Toronto brand?

  1. I believe he has ,not soley because of his “truth stranger than fiction ” antics but because Rob Ford and his Brother The Organ Grinder Doug have cast a suburban pall over what was at one time a cosmopolitan growing city. We have inherited these Etobicoke Trust Fund. Thugs because of the GTA amalgamation that was dumped on us by Harris,.So you could argue that the debasing of the Toronto brand started with him.
    For us to maintain our brand image we must in fact divorce ourselves from the rest of the province and allow a level of sophistication cultural,neighborhood ,political and commerce that you expect to find in New York, London or Paris . To achieve this we need to have vision and perhaps this is where the most damage has been done by the suburbs voters outnumbering the downtown core, As it appears to the rest of the world that we actually voted the buffoon in. Which is really Scary

  2. Actually, Toronto does have a slogan: “Diversity, Our Strength”. The idea of a new Toronto slogan was in the news for a while back in 2012 as the City’s planning and growth committee recommended a new slogan along with many updates to Toronto’s “official plan” http://www.citynews.ca/2012/01/05/new-toronto-slogan-among-recommendations-in-city-report/

    My Dad and Grandfather were both born in Toronto, as was I, making me a 3rd generation Torontonian. I love this city, but I don’t like her much these days. “Toronto the Good” is riding on a reputation that it’s not really living up to. Of course we’re still very, very good in comparison to many other big cities, but we’re not so good as we used to be. Overall the crowding, traffic and construction in the downtown core have helped foster a “me first” attitude amongst pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike with so many impatient, pushy people ready to snap. I’ve noticed a big change over the last decade or so with a colder, more callous edge creeping in.

    The Rob Ford gravy saga will not ruin Toronto’s brand, but he is hurting the city. It’s intensely frustrating for people in the actual City of Toronto proper, who did not vote him in (thanks suburbs!) and whom Rob Ford dislikes, to have to deal with his bumbling, idiotic ways and made up facts and figures. He’s saved a few dollars in business expenses at City Hall, but he’s cost the city plenty with the Jarvis bike lanes and the Scarborough subway extravaganza. He sees the city as something to drive through and if cyclists are in the way, according to him they take their lives in their hands.

    He doesn’t promote this great city… he promotes himself. The bill when he leaves will be almost as large as his ego. His antics, his ineptness, his homophobia and bullying ways are all great reasons why he doesn’t deserve to be our mayor. The substance abuse scandal may just be the key to actually getting rid of him, though I believe the choices he’s made for the city have done the most damage.

    In the end though, Mayor McCheese aside, I think the people of Toronto need to go back to promoting the kind of respect for each other that initially helped create “Toronto the Good” or we’ll be responsible for our own brand backlash.

  3. Toronto was once considered a clean, safe and polite city that attracted many Americans and Europeans with families to visit and immigrate to. However, the Jamaican influence has brought violence and the Indian influence has brought scams and various benefit crimes (welfare, pensions going to non residents, tax avoidance etc.) The Chinese have tied up University places and the native, caucasean Canadians are effectively the minority and the victims in Toronto. Toronto has earned a reputation as being dangerous and non welcoming to white visitors and immigrants. Starting with Trudeau, Canada has been ruined by immigration and Toronto has particularly suffered. The mayor can be voted out, then of course he will retire on some sunny American shore, but the immigrants destroying the country and Toronto in particular cant be gotten rid of so easily.

    • James,it looks like you and I see immigration as completely different. I’ll publish your note only to show that racists remain and I guess always will be part of what we are trying to counter. Have a great day.

      By the way, my grandmother immigrated from Scotland in 1925…she likely met a whole different racism back then.

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