COMMENTARY: That late-breaking estate lawsuit might actually help Doug Ford

Click to play video: 'Doug Ford ‘can’t figure out’ where Renata Ford lawsuit ‘came from’'
Doug Ford ‘can’t figure out’ where Renata Ford lawsuit ‘came from’
Ontario PC leader Doug Ford told reporters Tuesday that he "can't figure out" where the lawsuit from the wife of his dead brother Rob Ford "is coming from" and alleged some other motivation – Jun 5, 2018

Anyone who closely watched Toronto City Hall during the Rob Ford mayoralty can’t be surprised at the latest development on Ontario’s campaign trail: Renata Ford, the widow of the late Rob Ford, is now suing his brother Doug (and the family business, Deco Labels).

The lawsuit alleges, in effect, that Deco is struggling, perhaps even failing, and that Doug and his surviving brother Randy are keeping it afloat by improperly using the remaining financial wealth of the late Doug Ford, Sr., patriarch of the Ford clan. This, Renata Ford’s suit alleges, is denying her and her children family wealth that is rightfully theirs.

That’s a fast summary of the legal filing, and none of it has been tested in court. But there’s still something almost predictable about it all. When you know the Fords, and follow them across the years, you learn to expect … well, things like this.

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When the news first broke, my first instinct was that this was dangerous for Ford’s campaign for premier. Polls are indicating that Ford seems to be on the cusp of a majority government, but it’s a tight, volatile race.

This is an election campaign that has seen a ton of mud being flung in every direction, and plenty of that mud has been backed up by detailed, credible news reports. More than a little of it has hit Doug and the PCs, none of it seems to have stuck, at least not in a meaningful, measurable way.

But a bitter, public feud with Renata, I reckoned, could be different. Doug has never had the same kind of broad public appeal as the late Rob Ford. Doug runs, in a lot of ways, as a spiritual and political successor to his brother, one free of a lot of the embarrassing personal baggage that Rob never shook off. If he found himself in outright conflict with his brother’s widow, would that damage his political brand? Would people who supported Doug because they adored his brother fall away?

Click to play video: 'Doug Ford says he’s always supported his brother Rob’s wife and kids'
Doug Ford says he’s always supported his brother Rob’s wife and kids

WATCH: Doug Ford says he’s always supported his brother Rob’s wife and kids

It doesn’t seem so. Partially because Doug got lucky, but partially because I think he’s genuinely handling this well.

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First, the luck part: the timing is on his side for two reasons.

In a perfect world, of course, one would not have a story like this break right on the eve of a close election. But it breaking so close is actually, in a perverse way, probably protecting Doug from a lot of potential damage: this looks like a political ambush.

The lawsuit’s allegations may be 100 per cent accurate, but until that’s proven, the public has every right to suspect that this is a stunt. Further, it will probably be years before a case like this is actually litigated, if it goes that far.

That’s the luck part. But Doug Ford himself has responded well.
He’s refused to answer questions by reporters about the state of his company’s books, saying that that will come out in court and he’ll be vindicated. He’s repeatedly expressed dismay and shock at the lawsuit, and has noted (I’m sure rightly) that he did a lot for Renata and the kids over the years, including financial support during tough times. He’s said, repeatedly, that his main concern is the welfare of his niece and nephew.

Click to play video: 'Ford: Claims that Deco is struggling financially categorically untrue'
Ford: Claims that Deco is struggling financially categorically untrue

WATCH: Ford claims that Deco is struggling financially categorically untrue

His campaign, meanwhile, has also released a statement attributed to his mother, which asserts (without proof) that Renata Ford is troubled, suffering from serious addictions. That allegation is certainly plausible, as those who’ve followed the Ford family know.

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I winced a bit at the bold assertion that Renata is an addict — though I’m pleased that, at long last, the Ford family can spot addiction. That wasn’t always the case, as readers may recall. In any event, if Renata needs help, I certainly hope the children are being looked after in the interim.

Click to play video: 'Ontario party leaders rely on fear factor with 3 days until election'
Ontario party leaders rely on fear factor with 3 days until election

WATCH: Ontario party leaders rely on fear factor with just days until election

But for Ford, this story probably broke too late to hurt him, and by responding calmly, as a wounded family man, he’s reminding voters of one of the Ford family’s admitted strengths: a sense of loyalty and unity. He’s also showing genuine human vulnerability, something he’s not usually good at.

Doug Ford obviously would not have sought this. But it doesn’t seem to be hurting him.

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In a weird way, it may actually help. And there’s only 55 hours or so to go.​

Matt Gurney is host of The Exchange with Matt Gurney on Global News Radio 640 Toronto and a columnist for Global News.

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