TORONTO - Doug Ford says it was "heartbreaking" to have to cancel his cell phone this week after the line was flooded by calls from special interest groups.

The Ontario premier, who made it a point of handing out his number to the public, said Thursday that the decision to scrap the line came after he received 400 to 500 calls a day, as well as harassing text messages.

In at least one case, Ford said a person texted him saying they hoped he would die of cancer like his brother, the late Toronto mayor Rob Ford.

"It's heartbreaking," he said of the decision to cancel the line. "There's so many people Rob and myself helped on this phone and it's a shame."

The premier handed out his number at rallies, meetings and numerous other gatherings. He drew attention from U.S. media in February when he doled out his number in Washington, D.C., during a business event broadcast on television.

Ford discussed the cancellation of his cell during a call to a Toronto talk radio show Thursday, saying the unnamed groups frequently dialling him had ended up depriving Ontarians of direct access to their premier.

He called some of the comments he got through the line "real nasty."

"I got quite a few of them saying 'I hope you die with cancer like your brother did, I'm coming after your family,'" Ford said. "It was ringing literally, I'm not even close to exaggerating here, probably 400 to 500 calls a day."

Opposition politicians have said Ford giving out his phone number was always a political stunt and never practical.

NDP legislator Taras Natyshak said it's no coincidence that Ford's cell phone has been disconnected after his Progressive Conservative government started to receive pushback on its policies.

"It was a farce to begin with," he said. "I think Doug was trying to play the populist card and hand out his cell phone to everybody that wanted to chat with him. Inevitably, when he started getting calls that actually asked some hard questions the phone line went dead."

Natyshak said Ford should think about the number of people calling him with their concerns.

"Doug should have a real practical look at his policies and the thousands and thousands of people that are calling his line and sending him emails and texts," he said. "(He should) try to mitigate some of the damage he's already been doing by investing in and supporting people who need the help."

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