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Rob Ford: How the mayor’s diagnosis affects the mayoral campaign

Watch above: Doug Ford’s mayoral campaign starts with an endorsement from his brother. Mark McAllister reports. 

TORONTO – A cancer diagnosis turned Toronto’s mayoral race from a marathon referendum on Mayor Rob Ford to a six-week tussle focused on policy and rivals’ attempts to appear tough but sensitive.

Dr. Zane Cohen, a senior doctor at Mount Sinai Hospital, announced Wednesday the mayor had been diagnosed with pleomorphic liposarcoma – a rare cancer that affects approximately 1 per cent of cancer patients.

John Tory and Olivia Chow had, prior to Ford’s withdrawal from the campaign to undergo a biopsy, tried to distinguish themselves from the mayor: Tory released a 10-point personal “code of conduct” that he planned to follow if he was elected and Chow repeatedly  criticized Ford for his “disappointing leadership” in campaign speeches.

But since the mayor’s withdrawal from the race their tone changed as both emphasized this is about policy, not personality.

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It’s something Nelson Wiseman, a professor at the University of Toronto, expects to see more of in the campaign – especially with polls pointing to Tory as the outright frontrunner.

“With Tory in this commanding lead, (Chow) has switched to now focusing on Tory. She doesn’t have to beat Ford, she has to beat Tory,” he said.

Tory gave a speech before the Toronto Board of Trade Thursday without once mentioning the Ford brothers by name, except to say he wishes the mayor a speedy recovery.

Speaking to reporters after the speech, Tory danced around the question as to when he would engage Doug Ford saying he would “engage other candidates, plural, as seems appropriate.”

And speaking to reporters Thursday, Chow pointed out she is criticizing Doug Ford’s policy but isn’t engaging in personal attacks.

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“Right now I am challenging Doug Ford’s policy because he voted to cut TTC budget, as a result you see that TTC fares have gone up, service has declined, and we are packed like sardines on buses and streetcars and subways. So I am challenging him, challenging his policies, not the person.”

What about Doug?

Ford entered the mayoral race just minutes before the deadline last Friday but has been absent focusing on his brother’s health until Friday morning when his website DougFord.ca was revamped with a “Ford for Mayor” graphic front and centre.

The mayor released an audio statement from his hospital Thursday thanking well-wishers and asking Torontonians to vote for his brother.

“Toronto needs Doug Ford as mayor, there’s so much at stake in this election. The city’s future and the issues facing Toronto can’t wait. So I’m encouraging my brother to jump into this race wholeheartedly right now.”

Doug Ford is polling behind both Tory and Chow and has yet to release any policy. Political strategists suggest he has a lot of work ahead of him to make an impression in the campaign.

Charles Bird, head of Earnscliffe Strategy, said Ford should have three main priorities: growing his base, eating away at the gains made by Tory, and finding some common ground with Chow.

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“That’s difficult because Olivia has effectively been branded ‘the NDP candidate’ so it’s a difficult bit of pirouetting if they’re going to make John Tory the issue of this campaign,” Bird said.

A recent Ipsos Reid poll placed Doug in third with 28 per cent support behind both Tory and Chow. While his support was strong in Etobicoke, he trailed in both North York and Scarborough – traditional suburban strongholds for the Ford brothers that seems to be swaying towards Tory.

“He really needs to regain his suburban base. He may enjoy it in Etobicoke, it’s not nearly as strong as it was in north York and in Scarborough where John Tory has made some substantial gains.”

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