December 07, 2010
TANNIS TOOHEY/TORONTO STAR
“Put that in your pipe you left-wing kooks,” hockey commentator Don Cherry told a shocked inaugural meeting of the new city council, blasting “left-wing pinkos.”
Cherry was Mayor Rob Ford’s pick for a “special guest” for the pomp-filled ceremony. Cherry turned up in a pink-and-white silk jacket and patterned tie that was eye-popping even for the famously flamboyant TV star.
The co-host of Hockey Night in Canada’s Coach’s Corner put the chain of office around Ford’s neck — something normally done by the city clerk — and then sat stoically, clapping as each of the 44 councillors got their ceremonial oaths of offices and posed for photos with Ford.
While Cherry is famously outspoken few, it seemed, were ready for the three-minute blast he delivered after being asked to make some remarks.
“I’m wearing pinko for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything, I thought I’d get it in,” Cherry said to a sharp intake of breath, then laughs and some claps.
“What’d ya expect, Ron MacLean here, to come here?,” he said, referring to his buttoned-down foil on Coach’s Corner.
Cherry, a Ford supporter who had not met the new mayor until Tuesday’s event, said he was “befuddled” by criticism of Ford’s choice of him.
“I’m being ripped to shreds by the left-wing pinko newspapers out there — it’s unbelievable. One guy called me a jerk in a pink suit so I thought I’d wear that for him too today,” Cherry said.
He said he was made fun of for going to church and called “maudlin” for honouring Canadian troops.
“This is what you’ll be facing, Rob, with these left-wing pinkos — they scrape the bottom of the barrel.”
Cherry said Ford is “honest, he’s truthful, he’s like Julian Fantino — what you see is what you get,” he said, referring to the former OPP commissioner who recently won a federal by-election in Vaughan for the Conservatives.
He said he could tell the councillors, their invited guests — including some children — and city staff about “all the millions and millions and thousands of dollars,” Ford would save as mayor.
But he instead told the story, highlighted last week by city ombudsman Fiona Crean, of city staff cutting down a tree on the property of a 75-year-old Alzheimer’s patient for no good reason and stonewalling her son after the woman was given a $4,800 bill.
“Rob’s in the mayor (’s office) one day — an apology comes and a $5,000 cheque and that’s why I say he’s going to be the greatest mayor this city has ever seen,” Cherry said.
“As far as I’m concerned you can put that in your pipe you left-wing kooks.”
Ford followed Cherry’s speech with his own that congratulated each of the councillors on being elected. He said he’s going to focus on respect for taxpayers and good customer service, and told them: “The truth is, it feels great helping people.”
After the ceremony, a nonchalant Ford said didn’t know that his special guest was going to use his airtime to attack political opponents.
“I didn’t know,” he said. “I’ve been a huge fan.
“Don is exactly what you see is what you get.”
But some members of former mayor David Miller’s left-leaning council faction were not amused.
“Oh man, it was just embarrassing for the largest city in the country — it just made me mad,” said Paula Fletcher (Ward 30 Toronto Danforth).
“It was completely inappropriate for the opening of council. We had all political stripes there and it was unfortunate. If I was mayor, that’s not the tone I would want to set.”
Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s), the TTC vice-chair under Miller, said: “We all love Don Cherry and his comments and forcefulness in hockey games, but this is council.
“It’s a political arena where we make it a habit to reach out, talk to others and achieve consensus. To have that kind of, frankly, belligerence and pushing people aside, to start out this way I think is really unfortunate.”
Denzil Minnan-Wong, a right-leaning councillor tapped by Ford to head the works committee, called Cherry’s comments: “a little over the top,” but said that’s what Cherry is about.
“You take it for what it is and you shrug it off and move forward,” said Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East). “It’s certainly not a reflection of council at all, it’s a reflection of a man who’s larger than life.”
As for Cherry himself, reporters seeking comment had to fight through a long line of people seeking his autograph and photo.
“Well, what can I tell you?,” he said of those criticizing his speech. “Don’t invite me. You don’t invite a pit bull. If you want a pit bull, you get a pit bull.”
With files from Brett Popplewell and Paul Moloney