October 27, 2011 / 7:30 PM / 6 years ago

Populist Toronto mayor sees popularity nosedive

<p>Prime Minister Stephen Harper (2nd R) greets supporters with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford during a campaign rally in Brampton, Ontario April 29, 2011.Chris Wattie</p>

TORONTO (Reuters) - Elected a year ago on a populist promise to stop the spending "gravy train", Toronto's mayor has become Canada's second least popular big-city politician on growing disillusionment after a series of public blunders and fear of service cuts.

Rob Ford, a right-wing former city councilor and businessman, has watched his popularity plunge since he won last October's election. A recent Forum Research poll gave him an approval rating of 37 percent, down from 60 percent in February.

Only Montreal's mayor had a lower rating, while Naheed Neshi, the left-leaning mayor of Calgary, Canada's right-leaning oil capital, ranked as the second-most popular.

Since taking the mayor's office in Toronto, North America's fifth-largest city, Ford has looked for ways to narrow a C$774 million 2012 budget gap. During the election race, he promised to turn the shortfall into a C$1.7 billion surplus within four years by eliminating needless spending.

The mayor has cracked down on budgets and lowered taxes, in line with his campaign promises, as well as pushing ahead with a pledge to privatize the city's garbage collection. But he has also reduced the municipal payroll and demanded service cuts, despite an election promise that there wouldn't be any.

"One thing seems certain - with his poll numbers dropping and opposition solidifying on city council, Ford will have a much harder time imposing his agenda in coming years than he did in his first," the left-leaning Toronto Star wrote.

Ford's latest spell in the headlines came this week, when the portly, red-faced mayor called emergency dispatchers to ask police to deal with a CBC Television comedy crew outside his house. He said he felt threatened, but Canadians mostly shrugged.

"They trespassed on my property and refused to leave when asked. They physically prevented me from leaving my property," Ford said in a statement.

The satirical CBC show, "This Hour has 22 Minutes" makes a habit of ambushing public figures to seek comment on the issue of the day. Most politicians play along with the game, schmoozing with program's oddly dressed reporters.

During the campaign, Ford was widely criticized for saying Toronto had enough immigrants. He called an Italian-Canadian colleague "Gino boy" and another councilor a "waste of skin," definite no-nos in politically correct Toronto.

Reporting by Claire Sibonney; editing by Janet Guttsman

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