Follow @norm on Twitter and you’ll find out he’s a defender of Toronto; Drake’s self-proclaimed guardian angel; Mrs. Kelly’s favourite son; and not related to American R&B singer R. Kelly. He also really wants to know why some of you keep calling him ‘dad.’
Have any of you thought about how your real dad feels when you call me dad?
— Norm Kelly (@norm) August 29, 2015
But this is only a social sampling of @norm, the personal Twitter account of Western alumnus and City of Toronto Councilor Norm Kelly. There’s so much more than this to know about the man who last year, at the height of the city’s highly publicized Rob Ford saga, acted as deputy mayor.
Let’s start with that Twitter presence.
Earlier this summer, Kelly, BA’64 (History), caused something of an uproar, after he stepped forward in defense of Drake, the Canadian rapper, singer, songwriter and actor who has an ongoing ‘Twitter feud’ with Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill.
When Meek Mill accused Drake of using a ghostwriter, Kelly butted in to let him know he was no longer welcome in Toronto, even though the rapper was scheduled to perform with Nicki Minaj the following week.
You're no longer welcome in Toronto, @MeekMill.
— Norm Kelly (@norm) July 22, 2015
The rapper responded by calling the 73-year-old councilman ‘a thug.’
Kelly replied – and a Twitter feud was born.
Aye American @MeekMill. Didn't say don't come. Just puzzled why you'd diss a Canadian hero a week before coming to his city.
— Norm Kelly (@norm) July 22, 2015
Drake thanked Kelly for his Twitter defense with an invitation to OVO Fest, Drake’s two-day annual music festival, in early August. Although out of town that weekend, Kelly did make a larger-than-life appearance. After Drake performed back-to-back songs insulting Meek Mill, a giant image of Kelly was projected on a screen behind the rapper.
— Norm Kelly (@norm) August 4, 2015
What could have sparked such social media fire in his belly?
“Last year, when I was deputy mayor, I got a perspective on the city I otherwise wouldn’t have had. If you believe that competition in the 21st Century will be less between countries, and more between urban regions, then it’s very important to promote the city and the characteristics of the city,” Kelly said.
“Drake does that as well as anyone else – he’s among the new faces of the City of Toronto. This is a cool place to be, an exciting place to be and when Meek dissed him, I said, ‘This isn’t fair. This is my man.’”
Known initially for his role as Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi: The Next Generation, the Toronto-born Aubrey Drake Graham nudged his way into the music scene in 2006 with a series of popular mixtapes. A year later, the still-unsigned artist scored his first major hit with Replacement Girl. Today, his three albums, as well as a 2015 mixtape that followed them, topped the album charts in Canada and in the United States.
“Although I didn’t meet Drake, I became aware of him from that perspective I had last year, and how important I thought he was to this city,” Kelly said. “So, I leapt to his defense, and to the defense of the City of Toronto – and BOOM,” he explained, making a noise as to indicate an explosion.
Following the exchange, Kelly’s following grew. Fast.
Twitter Canada called this #thesummerofnorm, congratulating him once he surpassed 100,000 followers. To paraphrase Drake, “He started from the bottom; now he’s here.”
Having given the platform some thought, Kelly came to a conscious decision not to use his account as an extension of his political life. Instead, you will find him “personally having fun” on it.
His personal brand of fun has attracted a lot of attention – a number of media outlets have since profiled him, discussing everything from Kelly’s taste in music to his preferences in fried chicken.
“You know, I grew up with the movies, listening to the CHUM-FM hits back in the 50s,” he chuckled. “I’ve been fascinated by popular culture for a long time. I collected thousands of comic books; I wish I had kept them. I read widely. I think I’m considered by friends and family to be young in spirit. Twitter is just ‘this is what I’m thinking today.’ Most of the stuff is on cultural issues, social issues and sometimes it’s a wry approach, other times it’s a sly one.”
Pro-tip: Close your mouth while eating.
— Norm Kelly (@norm) August 12, 2015
I haven't, nor will I ever, ghost ride the whip.
— Norm Kelly (@norm) August 27, 2015
Who wore it better: Don Cherry or the produce section of your local grocery store? pic.twitter.com/bSmXoteOP6
— Norm Kelly (@norm) June 14, 2015
Honestly, no single tweet can do Kelly’s account justice.
“The attraction of politics, and my explanation of why I’ve stayed in political life as long as I have, is it appeals to the student side of me,” Kelly said. “You’re always learning. Having learned, you then teach. Teaching is in my background. I’ve learned that rap, or the hip-hop culture, is widespread. It’s youthful; it’s energetic; it’s passionate. I’ve enjoyed exploring it and participating in its debates.”
A trained historian, he earned his History degree at Western , and then attended Carleton and Queen’s universities.
He served as a research assistant for two of Canadian historian Pierre Berton’s best-selling books, The National Dream and The Last Spike. In researching these two books, Kelly was the first historian to detail the contribution of Chinese workers toward the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the province of British Columbia. The National Dream won the Governor General’s Award, and was made into a popular, award-winning documentary series of the same name for the CBC.
In 1973, Kelly was appointed Chairman of the History Department at Upper Canada College. He resigned that post in 1980 when he won a seat in the House of Commons under the leadership of Pierre Elliot Trudeau. He has served Toronto as councilman for more than 20 years.
“Municipally, unexpectedly, and without precedent, becoming the deputy mayor of the city, was something. You never know what the hell is going to happen sometimes. That’s what happened to me politically; that’s what’s happened to me with the Twitter-verse,” Kelly said. “No matter where you find yourself, you try to do your best and enjoy.”