He’s not Trump and he’s not his brother

National Post (Latest Edition) - - CANADA - AN­DREW COYNE

“This was t he sys­tem of elect­ing party l ead­ers that gave the party Pa­trick Brown. It could very well give them Doug Ford.” — A. Colum­nist, Jan. 29, 2018

So far as any­one can tell, Doug Ford won the On­tario Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship fair and square. No one knows who the thou­sands of party mem­bers who were un­able to nav­i­gate the com­plex ver­i­fi­ca­tion process in time would have voted for, or what im­pact the thou­sands of votes that were counted in the wrong rid­ings had on the re­sult.

And if t he f i nal t ally looked a lit­tle hinky — Ford fin­ished sec­ond in the pop­u­lar vote, sec­ond in number of rid­ings won, but still won — well, ev­ery­one played by the same rules. ( The math: Ford won his rid­ings by wider mar­gins than his near­est ri­val, Chris­tine El­liott, did in hers, thus earn­ing more “points” un­der the party’s sys­tem of count­ing, in which ev­ery rid­ing was weighted equally whether it had 150 vot­ers or 15,000. Why didn’t he win the pop­u­lar vote, then? Be­cause he won in rid­ings where the party has fewer mem­bers.)

But my good­ness, what a fine mess they made of it. To be fair, the party had scant weeks to stage a lead­er­ship con­test af­ter the sudden res­ig­na­tion ( and re­vival, and re- res­ig­na­tion) of Pa­trick Brown: some de­gree of chaos was to be ex­pected.

But the op­tion was avail­able to them to stick with the unan­i­mous choice of the party cau­cus, Vic Fedeli, who while he does not give off quite the same sparks as Ford, had the ad­van­tage of be­ing the unan­i­mous choice of the cau­cus.

Not only did a ma­jor­ity of the party Ford now leads vote for some­one else, so did all but two of its sit­ting mem­bers, and all but three of its nom­i­nated can­di­dates. So to add to the daunt­ing list of tasks fac­ing him, and the party, with an elec­tion less than 13 weeks away — hir­ing staff, plan­ning the cam­paign, writ­ing (or rewrit­ing) the plat­form, and so on — he must also es­tab­lish his lead­er­ship over a largely hos­tile cau­cus: the peo­ple he must count on to take the fight to the en­emy in the rid­ings.

Per­haps he might at that. There’s noth­ing like the smell of vic­tory to cause peo­ple to set aside their mis­giv­ings and fall in be­hind the leader: El­liott, hav­ing been dis­suaded from con­test­ing the re­sults, be­ing the prime ex­am­ple. With polls show­ing the Con­ser­va­tives, for all their in­ter­nal tur­moil, still — still! — far ahead of the gov­ern­ing Lib­er­als, the party will give Ford ev­ery chance to prove him­self — at least so long as they re­main in the lead.

Whether the pub­lic will be so for­giv­ing is an­other mat­ter. The same polls show deep un­ease with, if not op­po­si­tion to, Ford among the vot­ers: a Fo­rum poll re­leased af­ter the vote showed 48 per cent of On­tar­i­ans dis­ap­prove of him, con­firm­ing an ear­lier An­gus Reid poll. The same per­cent­age said they would be less likely to vote for the Con­ser­va­tives with him as their leader.

That sus­pi­cion/an­tipa­thy is well de­served. In his years on Toronto city coun­cil, and in par­tic­u­lar dur­ing the long cir­cus his brother Rob made of the mayor’s of­fice, Ford ac­quired a rep­u­ta­tion for er­ratic judg­ment, di­vi­sive rhetoric, dodgy ethics and a ca­sual ap­proach to the truth — most no­to­ri­ously, at­tack­ing the in­tegrity of the po­lice over in­ves­ti­ga­tions in­volv­ing his brother.

There is, too, the business of his al­leged in­volve­ment in the drug trade as a young man: a mi­nor mat­ter, per­haps, were it not for how sig­nif­i­cant a player he is al­leged to have been.

That said, there’s no deny­ing that Ford ap­peals to a good many vot­ers, for the very rea­sons oth­ers find him in­tol­er­a­ble. It is one part well- worn shtick, one part gen­uine iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with that section of the elec­torate who feel pro­foundly alien­ated from the pre­vail­ing cul­ture and con­de­scended to by its guardians. It is in this sense, and in their many per­sonal sim­i­lar­i­ties, that the com­par­isons with Don­ald Trump are valid. Cer­tainly the Lib­er­als and NDP can be counted upon to repeat them at ev­ery turn.

But Ford is not Trump, nor is he his brother. He is not trou­bled by the same demons as the lat­ter, nor is he so com­pletely out­side the norms of per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal be­hav­iour as the for­mer. He ran a largely con­ven­tional, fairly dis­ci­plined cam­paign for leader. If vague on pol­icy — an­other trait he shares with Trump — his pop­ulism is of a more fa­mil­iar kind, bash­ing Lib­er­als, taxes and “elites,” rather than other races.

He did, how­ever, pitch hard for the social-con­ser­va­tive vote, not only vow­ing to re­write the prov­ince’s sex­ual ed­u­ca­tion cur­ricu­lum, but plung­ing into the abor­tion ques­tion, al­beit only to the ex­tent of sug­gest­ing teenagers be re­quired first to ob­tain their par­ents’ per­mis­sion. Again, it is pos­si­ble the other par­ties may bring this up from time to time.

So: Is he likely to help or harm his party’s chances? The an­swer, of course, is yes. Ford is by far the riskier choice than El­liott, but with some up­sides as well as down­sides. If he is likely to re­pel Lib­eral- Con­ser­va­tive switch­ers in the big cities, he may well at­tract some NDP vot­ers, sub­ur­ban­ites and north­ern­ers.

Of course, when peo­ple are as de­ter­mined to get rid of a govern­ment as many On­tar­i­ans seem de­ter­mined to get rid of Kath­leen Wynne’s Lib­er­als, it may not mat­ter who the op­po­si­tion leader is — up to a point. I sus­pect a lot of peo­ple will vote Con­ser­va­tive if Ford gives them any ex­cuse to: if he can re­as­sure them that he is not Trump, not Rob, and not his for­mer self. The ques­tion is, will he?

ERNEST DOROSZUK / POST­MEDIA NEWS

Doug Ford, the new leader of the PC Party of On­tario, leaves the PC Party of­fices Mon­day af­ter a brief visit to the leg­is­la­ture in Queen’s Park in Toronto.

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