He’s not Trump and he’s not his brother
“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?
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.