One afternoon, Doug Ford rose in the legislature and railed against the waste of taxpayers' money.
At other times, he spoke about making Ontario "open" to businesses again, was combative with his opponents and spoke with affection about serving the people who elected him. He stressed the lessons he learned from working in the private sector, running his family's labels and tags business, and the importance of reducing red tape.
Sound a little familiar, even though it hasn't happened yet?
That's because it was Douglas B. Ford, the late father of Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
To prepare for the legislative session about to begin, QP Briefing took a spin through the Hansard of the 36th Legislative Assembly of Ontario, from 1995 to 1999, reading up on the records of the late Ford family patriarch who has been often praised by his political sons and cited as an formative influence.
(A photo of Doug Ford Sr. with then Premier Mike Harris hung in Rob Ford's office at City Hall when he was mayor. Rene Johnston / Toronto Star.)
Hansard shows Ford didn't speak frequently in his four years as a backbencher — he asked the occasional friendly question to a colleague in cabinet during question period, spoke a handful of times in support of government legislation and read the usual supportive member's statements about local businesses and notable folks from Etobicoke. But, most often, he engaged in creative and combative heckling, which, if one can glean any feeling from the official transcript, he seemed to enjoy.
On one afternoon in December of 1996, Ford called out, "Spineless milquetoasts!" apparently mimicking Liberal MPP Sean Conway, who'd used the term to described how he believed the hard-line Mike Harris Conservatives saw the former Red Tories of the Bill Davis days.
The most frequent target of his verbal bombs was Liberal MPP Jim Bradley — who represented St. Catharines for more than four decades, before he was defeated in the most recent election, and has a reputation for having a little good-natured fun with his colleagues across the aisle.
"Jim, were you working with Patti Starr?" he called out in 1998, referring to the woman at the centre of the fundraising scandal that had helped bring down David Peterson's Liberal government.
Today, Liberal MPP John Gerretsen says he remembers Ford Sr. well — as one of the government MPPs who was often present at poorly attended afternoon sessions, but who rarely spoke.
"He was always one of the people to make sure the Conservatives have quorum in the House," Gerretsen told QP Briefing in a phone interview. "He seemed like a pleasant, elderly gentleman."
Gerretsen was part of Ford's most fiery exchanges in captured by Hansard, but says 21 years later that particular event has escaped his memory.
According to the official record, it started when Ford rose to speak to Bill 103, legislation that ushered in the amalgamation of the City of Toronto.
"I watched this city grow from the dirt roads, the milk wagons and the service wagons that had horse and wagon," Ford had said, in March of 1997. "I listened to some of the chatter as I was a little boy, and the greatest economist I ever met in my whole life was my mother. My mother had nine children and she didn't take any welfare and she had the kind of pride I haven't seen for many, many years."
That's when Gerrestsen interjected: "What's that got to do with Bill 103?"
Ford went on to recount that he promised his mother that one day he would support her so she wouldn't have to work, and then launched into a criticism of his opponents.
"Some of you people don't even know what life's all about. You're always talking about more money, more money. It was disgraceful the way the NDP squandered the wealth of this province. You can smile, but you wasted that money and squandered it.
"You'd better bow," he said, perhaps responding to a bowing colleague across the aisle, "because you know something? That's very difficult."
"As for you people, you're the same and your government in Ottawa's the same," he said, presumably to the Liberals.
"Now you're going too far," quipped Gerretsen. "We're not going to take that."
At that point, things began to go a little downhill, with Ford seeming to criticize the members of the public who'd come to Queen's Park to speak as deputants against the bill, wondering aloud if they had jobs.
"The government has been listening to the public and the people up there and the people over there who are lobbying from the audience every day. I've been listening and I watch them all. I wonder if they've got time or they work for a living. I don't know. The government has been listening to the public," he said.
That's when Gilles Bisson, who then represented Cochrane South and today is the NDP MPP for Timmins, chimed in: "Mr Speaker, there is a long-standing tradition in this Legislature that members in debate not only respect the members of the assembly, but certainly to God we respect the public, the people we're here to serve. I am sure I heard the member opposite make extremely derogatory comments about the public who come to view the proceedings here at the Legislature. Speaker, I don't think that is acceptable."
When the Speaker found Ford had not been unparliamentary, Bisson replied: "What a bunch of Fascists. You're a bunch of Fascists."
"A Fascist? You don't even know what a Fascist is," Ford shot back.
Ford continued to speak to the bill, until Gerrestsen interrupted him to say the government Whip was signalling Ford to sit down.
"The whip is too embarrassed by what you're saying and he wants you to sit down," interjected Bisson.
"Why don't you shut your mouth," Ford replied.
Comments from some honourable members not caught by Hansard followed, but the official record caught a one last dig from Gilles Pouliot, the NDP MPP for Lake Nipigon, who quipped: "He's the reason I'm against cloning."
At other times, Ford Sr. spoke lovingly in the house about about his business and his family.
"Before arriving in this House, I was a businessman for 32 years," he said in what appears to be his maiden speech in 1995.
"Along with my wife, Diane, I opened a company that manufactured adhesives products. It soon grew to employ 50 Ontarians in two plants in Etobicoke and is today a thriving enterprise being managed by my three sons, Randal, Douglas and Rob, and my daughter, Kathryn," said Ford. "My story is not unique. Rather, it is a typical story, shared by so many Ontarians who have ventured forth into the private sector with an idea, an appetite for risk and the willingness to put in long hours to bring their vision to light and to create jobs for their neighbours."
"I learned a lot while I was in business. One of the most important lessons concerned fairness. Fairness was hard to define in precise terms but was a quality whose absence was easy to spot. In the context of the matter before this House, the incessant demands of government on individual taxpayers for more and more of their hard-earned income just weren't fair," he continued, offering a message that has clearly been embraced by his namesake.