To find a sign that Ford Nation is still alive and kicking, all you have to do is leave town.
For the past two years, drivers heading out of town on Highway 400 have been sent off with a giant, improvised campaign sign. When Rob Ford was running for mayor, it read: “Honk for Rob Ford.” When Stephen Harper was up for re-election: “Honk for a Harper Majority.” And when Tim Hudak was running for premier: “Honk for Hudak.”
“We were hoping for a trifecta,” says Julius Suraski, the gray-haired, gray-bearded co-owner of Ace Collision Centres, whose office’s parking lot backs onto the highway. “But it didn’t happen.”
Suraski’s support for politicians on the right side of the aisle began in the mid-’90s, when he lobbied Metro Toronto council on behalf of the Automobile Regulatory Council, fighting for municipal bylaw changes that would have led to the licensing of collision-repair shops. “The people who were friendly and receptive to me were the people who I would say were Conservative,” he says, and the people who weren’t were NDPers and Liberals. That was that.
The Ford sign, though, was Claire Suraski’s idea. The office manager—also Julius’ 33-year-old daughter—was volunteering for the then–Etobicoke councillor’s mayoral campaign in late summer 2010, and getting frustrated. “I was putting up a lot of these lawn signs,” she says. “It wasn’t a waste of time, but it took me so long. I was driving around in the dark, looking for lawns and, the next day, they’d be taken off. People were vandalizing them, and I was really annoyed. So I was like, ‘This way, nobody can screw with my sign.’” It took her two long days to hand-paint “Honk for Rob Ford” in thick, black capital letters on a yellow canvas. Since then, the family has had each new sign professionally made, including the one that’s been there ever since people stopped honking for Hudak: “Thank you for visiting Ford Nation, Home of Respect for Taxpayers.”
Says Julius: “I want people on the highway to see it, that it’s about respect for taxpayers. But it’s also a reminder to Rob Ford and the people that he represents: don’t forget what it is that brought you to power.” And what about those allegations that the mayor has inappropriately used City staff, including a newly hired former U of T quarterback, to help run his football team? Julius Suraski will grant only that Ford “maybe has erred, perhaps.” But, he says, “I believe he’s moved in the right direction. I believe his attitude is right.”