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From the ballet to the opinion pages and now a mayoral campaign: A closer look at Anthony Furey

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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles on the seven leading contenders in Toronto’s mayoral race, according to polls. Additional profiles will be published in the coming days.

Anthony Furey never envisioned himself as a politician.

For most of his professional life Furey, 39, was happy to comment on municipal affairs from the outside, first as a Toronto Sun columnist and more recently as a talk radio regular and an executive with the right-leaning True North media network.

But when John Tory abruptly resigned during a hastily-arranged Friday night press conference in February, something changed for the married father-of-three. His children are ages five, seven and nine.

“I just thought we needed an outside candidate to bring in common sense policies and represent the voices of regular folks once again, people in Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York who have been forgotten,” Furey told CP24.com from a basement food court near Finch Station last week, where he was taking a break from canvassing. “This is not something that I've been planning over the long time. I'm running because I believe that the perspectives that I've been steadfast on in recent years are what the city needs right now and most importantly what the regular folks are asking for. Everything I'm saying is something I would have said on talk radio before we even knew there would be an election.”

Furey was polling at as little as one per cent in the early days of the campaign in April, resulting in him being left out of virtually all debates and effectively lumped alongside the dozens of other longshot candidates.

But in recent weeks his support has risen, to the point that he now expects to be included in most of the televised debates going forward.

The latest poll from Mainstreet Research, in fact, has Furey at nine per cent, which places him ahead of former Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter (seven per cent) and current city councillor Brad Bradford (four per cent).

He is, however, still well back of frontrunner Olivia Chow, who enjoyed the support of 32 per cent of decided voters in the same poll.

“I feel like I'm in a great position. It's like at that point during the horse race where the race is bit boring because there's one horse leading and you know there is that exciting moment where it is like ‘Wait, what's this other horse?’ and it starts to pass a bunch of horses ahead,” Furey told CP24.com.

“I think from a simple storytelling perspective I'm clearly that horse.”

FROM THE BALLET TO THE OPINION PAGES

Furey is best known as a political commentator but his path to the mayoral race has certainly taken some twists and turns.

He grew up in Port Elgin, Ontario and first moved to Toronto to attend Canada's National Ballet School as a 10-year-old child.

He isn’t convinced he was all that talented – he jokes that when a boy enters ballet they tend to be “fawned over even if they are not very good” – but he says that there was a point when he was on track to become a professional ballet dancer.

“I'm glad that didn't continue because I'm 39 years old and that's kind of the age you have to retire as a ballet dancer,” he says. “It is really, really hard on your body.”

After retiring his ballet slippers, Furey spent years involved in professional theatre as an actor and assistant director before eventually opting for a career in the media, where he says that he gained a deep understanding of Toronto.

As a candidate, he largely defines himself as an “outsider” but he is unmistakably running from the right and counts controversial academic Jordan Peterson and former Conservative cabinet minister John Baird among his supporters.

So far he has mounted a campaign largely focused on public safety issues, promising to hire 500 police officers while empowering TTC special constables to carry Tasers and use vehicle emergency lights.

He has also vowed to clear homeless encampments, halt work on two planned supervised injection facilities and stop the distribution of safe drug consumption kits that he has slammed as “taxpayer-funded crack pipes.”

Advocates, in turn, have criticized Furey for ignoring the benefits of harm-reduction measures and touting policies that could worsen the devastating impacts of the opioid crisis and cost some people struggling with addiction their lives.

“We must have compassion for people struggling in the drug crisis but we can't allow the city standards to erode at the same time,” Furey told CP24.com. “Before (Furey and his family) lived in the east end we lived two blocks from Moss Park where we were raising our children in a condo. It was a nice building but what was going on in the streets was not so nice and we grew very tired of having to search the park for needles before the kids could play, we grew tired of watching scenes of chaos on the sidewalks in the streets and in our own parking garage and we knew that as our children got older and became more aware of their surroundings that we could not continue to live there. It shouldn’t be that way.”

In addition to public safety, Furey has also promised to eliminate the municipal portion of the land transfer tax for first-time homebuyers and work to eventually scrap that tax - and the $1 billion it brings in - altogether.

On the city’s finances – and the $46 billion in fiscal pressure that Toronto is facing over the next decade - he has promised a “full spending review” alongside a “non core city services hiring freeze” that he says could save millions.

“There are a lot of times when a politician wants to manage a file a certain way but they are afraid of the fact that a very vocal but very small group of people say mean things about them. I'm not afraid. I will make the tough choices and then go home and sleep like a baby,” he told CP24.com.

 

Toronto neighbourhood you call home: I am in the east end at Main and Gerrard.

Toronto hidden gem: The Leslie Street Spit is a remarkable place. It is like you are in a total different world when you are there.

Favourite Toronto bite: Whenever I am near Johnny’s Hamburgers I go for a cheese burger and even if I am not I find an excuse to pass by.

Favourite Toronto festival or event: This is one I take the cheap way out on and say I am the father of three small kids so I don’t even have a reference point for that right now. I will say taking the kids to Centre Island and Centreville.

The Beach or the Beaches: Beaches because people who live in the Upper Beach are always looking for ways to claim they live down by the beach and I am in that category. I think real estate agents created the term Upper Beaches just to inflate the prices a little.

First job: Canadian Tire

Favourite song: I just tweeted this song out and it is becoming my favourite song, it is a bit of a campaign theme for me and I know it has had a resurgence because of Stranger Things: Kate Bush’s Running up That Hill.

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