In­creas­ingly, there’s only one op­tion for anti-Ford vot­ers

Will vot­ers who can’t stom­ach PC Leader rally around Hor­wath’s NDP?

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Opinion - THOMAS WALKOM Twit­ter: @tomwalkom

Doug Ford is steam­ing ahead. His crit­ics have ac­cused him of be­ing anti-im­mi­grant, anti-medi­care and sin­gu­larly un­qual­i­fied to be­come On­tario’s premier.

But if the pub­lic opin­ion polls are right, none of this has stuck. CBC’s Poll Tracker cal­cu­lates that if cur­rent trends hold un­til elec­tion day, June 7, Ford’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives will hand­ily win a ma­jor­ity of seats in the On­tario leg­is­la­ture.

Was Ford, at best, an in­dif­fer­ent Toronto coun­cil­lor? Per­haps. But out­side the city of Toronto, few seem to care.

The lat­est Ip­sos poll es­ti­mates that 49 per cent of re­spon­dents in the 905 re­gion just out­side of Toronto back Ford.

On Mon­day, Ford de­nounced what he called cor­po­rate wel­fare just be­fore vis­it­ing a plant that had re­ceived fed­eral gov­ern­ment aid. For any other politi­cian, this might have rep­re­sented an em­bar­rass­ing con­tra­dic­tion. For Ford, it was a non-event.

As a cam­paign spokesper­son later told The Cana­dian Press, the PC leader doesn’t op­pose all cor­po­rate wel­fare. He just op­poses some of it.

At a lead­ers’ de­bate in Parry Sound last week, Ford said the prov­ince should be “tak­ing care of our own first” be­fore en­cour­ag­ing new im­mi­grants to set­tle in North­ern On­tario. Crit­ics said this showed Ford to be anti-im­mi­grant. But there was little ev­i­dence that many new im­mi­grants took of­fence.

Sim­i­larly, Ford has not been wounded by po­ten­tially em­bar­rass­ing can­di­dates.

For in­stance, Lon­don West PC can­di­date An­drew Law­ton, a for­mer AM ra­dio host, has in the past made dis­mis­sive com­ments about gays, women and the dis­abled.

Yet Ford con­tin­ues to back his hand-picked can­di­date — and ap­pears to have in­curred no po­lit­i­cal cost in do­ing so.

Usu­ally, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are re­luc­tant to do any­thing that might sug­gest they are crit­i­cal of medi­care. Ford has had no such qualms. Physi­cian Mer­rilee Fuller­ton, the PC can­di­date in Kanata-Car­leton out­side Ot­tawa, is a well-known pro­po­nent of two-tier health care — which she calls a “hy­brid” sys­tem.

When this was brought up by lo­cal Lib­er­als, Ford’s cam­paign sim­ply re­sponded that the PC leader is “100 per cent com­mit­ted to On­tario’s pub­lic health care sys­tem.”

Fuller­ton, whose web­site pro­file says she “sup­ports a hy­brid health sys­tem as a long-term so­lu­tion to Canada’s health care chal­lenges” is­sued an iden­ti­cal re­sponse. And that, it seems, was that. Medi­care con­tro­versy over.

On it goes. Ford’s pro­posed mid­dle­class tax cut dis­pro­por­tion­ally ben­e­fits higher in­come earn­ers, ac­cord­ing to economists with the left­ish Cana­dian Cen­tre for Pol­icy Al­ter­na­tives. But so what? The vot­ers — in­clud­ing those who are low-in­come — don’t seem to care.

All of this drives Ford op­po­nents

The NDP would be com­mit­ting po­lit­i­cal sui­cide if it made a for­mal power-shar­ing ar­range­ment with the des­per­ately un­pop­u­lar

Wynne Lib­er­als.

nuts. They rail at the PC leader. They ask how On­tar­i­ans can opt for such a choice. They view those who would vote for him as delu­sional.

And, as a re­sult, there are the in­evitable calls for some kind of anti-Ford coali­tion be­tween Kath­leen Wynne’s Lib­er­als and An­drea Hor­wath’s New Democrats. In the event that no party wins a ma­jor­ity of seats, could the two so-called pro­gres­sive par­ties strike a deal to keep Ford from power?

The an­swer to that ques­tion is al­most cer­tainly no. The NDP would be com­mit­ting po­lit­i­cal sui­cide if it made a for­mal power-shar­ing ar­range­ment with the des­per­ately un­pop­u­lar Wynne Lib­er­als.

And so anti-Ford vot­ers are left with this op­tion: The only way to pre­vent Ford from be­com­ing premier is to en­sure that some­one else gets the job in­stead.

In 2014, enough NDP sup­port­ers voted for Wynne’s Lib­er­als to keep Tim Hu­dak’s Tories from power. But Wynne was a fresh face then and rel­a­tively pop­u­lar. That is no longer the case.

This time, the anti-Tory vote seems to be co­a­lesc­ing around Hor­wath’s NDP. Can it co­a­lesce enough to keep Ford out of the premier’s chair? That is an­other ques­tion.

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