On­tario’s Ford Fi­esta: Lib­er­als and Me­dia Didn’t Get It

Policy - - Contents - Pa­trick Gos­sage

One of the fea­tures of democ­racy’s sys­temic dis­rup­tion in the past half-decade has been elec­tion-night whiplash, a trend reg­is­tered in stun­ning up­sets in North Amer­ica and across the world. Vet­eran Lib­eral strate­gist Pa­trick Gos­sage ar­gues that, in the case of Doug Ford’s de­ci­sive vic­tory in On­tario, the out­come wasn’t stun­ning at all.

The “other” On­tario—be­yond the smug do­min­ion of Toronto —en­thu­si­as­ti­cally gave the prov­ince a pop­ulist gov­ern­ment un­der Doug Ford on June 7th that contrasts greatly with the prac­ti­cal mid­dle-of-the-road gov­ern­ments the prov­ince is used to. What hap­pened? How did the Lib­er­als un­der Kath­leen Wynne so mis­read the mood of the prov­ince? And how could ra­tio­nal peo­ple vote for a man who made grandiose prom­ises but never costed them? How could the me­dia have got it so wrong and still be so crit­i­cal of Ford when the poll­sters for once con­sis­tently pre­dicted his ma­jor­ity?

How could ra­tio­nal peo­ple vote for a man who made grandiose prom­ises but never costed them? How could the me­dia have got it so wrong and still be so crit­i­cal of Ford when the poll­sters for once con­sis­tently pre­dicted his ma­jor­ity?

The Toronto “elites”, as reg­u­lar a tar­get in Ford’s as­cen­sion as their Amer­i­can equiv­a­lents were in Don­ald Trump’s, ended up al­most voice­less in the new gov­ern­ment. Lib­er­als were re­duced to seven seats, only three in a gen­er­ally orange NDP Toronto south of the 401. And that in­cludes the Toronto-cen­tric me­dia who Ford treated with dis­dain at no cost to his pop­u­lar­ity.

The me­dia, the Toronto Star par­tic­u­larly, didn’t know what to make of what bureau chief Robert Ben­zie called Ford’s “im­prob­a­ble” rise to power, call­ing Ford an “ac­ci­den­tal premier”. Ford liked telling his ador­ing crowds that the me­dia didn’t want him to win. And he did every­thing to an­noy them—not run­ning

the usual me­dia bus, tak­ing only a hand­ful of ques­tions daily with an aide han­dling a mi­cro­phone to en­sure no fol­low-ups.

When we de­cided dur­ing Pierre Trudeau’s 1980 cam­paign to vastly limit me­dia avail­abil­ity, as press sec­re­tary I learned that vot­ers did not care a bit that the fourth es­tate was in­con­ve­nienced. The Ford elec­tion proved that the opin­ions of tra­di­tional me­dia don’t count for much when vot­ers make up their minds.

So, who is the “other” On­tario that ral­lied to Ford and his prom­ises to make On­tario great again? It took an old Con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal pro, Jaime Watt, to nail it in his Star col­umn: “There ex­ists a di­vide in the On­tario of to­day. On one side, an elite class built of me­dia types, pro­fes­sion­als and busi­ness­peo­ple, and aca­demics who con­trol many of the levers of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. This class ex­ists largely in ur­ban cen­tres like Ot­tawa and Toronto and agrees on a gov­ern­ing ide­ol­ogy that is fun­da­men­tally lib­eral in char­ac­ter. But the rest of On­tario looks dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent. It is a group that is far more blue-col­lar than the elite class imag­ines. Their ap­petite for lib­eral pol­i­tics is spotty and their tol­er­ance of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness barely ex­ists. And those On­tar­i­ans sim­ply do not see them­selves re­flected in the me­dia land­scape.”

This is the On­tario that Kath­leen Wynne and her band of ba­si­cally down­town Toronto aides didn’t get ei­ther. John Ib­bit­son of the Globe and Mail was one of the few com­men­ta­tors who did: “Lib­eral Premier Kath­leen Wynne for­got that most vot­ers work in the pri­vate, not pub­lic, sec­tor. They live in sub­urbs and they drive to work in cars. Many of them have diplo­mas rather than de­grees. If you dis­re­spect these vot­ers—if you tax them and lec­ture them and make them feel they are be­ing looked down upon—they wreak their re­venge. They made Rob Ford mayor of Toronto. Now they’ve made his brother premier.”

When we de­cided dur­ing Pierre Trudeau’s 1980 cam­paign to vastly limit me­dia avail­abil­ity, as press sec­re­tary I learned that vot­ers did not care a bit that the fourth es­tate was in­con­ve­nienced. The Ford elec­tion proved that the opin­ions of tra­di­tional me­dia don’t count for much when vot­ers make up their minds.

Ford de­serves re­spect for find­ing a way to ap­peal to a vast swath of On­tario that felt ig­nored by the provin­cial gov­ern­ment. Ob­vi­ously, it’s time for more politi­cians and me­dia to get out of down­town Ot­tawa and Toronto.

The sub­ur­ban belt around Toronto of self-made im­mi­grants and striv­ing younger fam­i­lies as well as the farmers, the peo­ple who’ve lost man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs, even north­ern­ers, who feel over­looked by Queen’s Park, found the voice they wanted to hear in the bom­bas­tic but savvy Doug Ford who was “for the peo­ple.” Wynne, as a friend ob­served, “sounded like she was ad­dress­ing Cabi­net” in the de­bates. No, it was the di­rect, sim­ple, al­ways-on-mes­sage Ford whose voice they found sym­pa­thetic. He un­der­stood their anger and frus­tra­tions with Wynne’s Queen’s Park and what she had done to their wal­lets with Hy­dro rates par­tic­u­larly. His “Help is on the way” mantra that worked so well for so many vot­ers, of course turned into “Help is here” on elec­tion night. Ford’s prom­ises did not add up and he was ha­rassed by the me­dia and his op­po­nents for poorly thought-out prom­ises, in­clud­ing tax re­duc­tions of 20 per cent, Hy­dro bill re­duc­tions of 12 per cent, 10 cents per litre off gaso­line, and no se­ri­ous at­ten­tion paid to re­duc­ing the deficit and provin­cial debt that Ford loved talk­ing about as the largest of any sub-na­tional gov­ern­ment in the world.

Ford’s vic­tory, like Trump’s shows that there are real di­vi­sions be­tween dif­fer­ent seg­ments of so­ci­ety. Politi­cians who ig­nore these di­vi­sions do so at their peril. Ford de­serves re­spect for find­ing a way to ap­peal to a vast swath of On­tario that felt ig­nored by the provin­cial gov­ern­ment. Ob­vi­ously, it’s time for more politi­cians and me­dia to get out of down­town Ot­tawa and Toronto.

Con­tribut­ing writer Pa­trick Gos­sage was press sec­re­tary to Prime Min­is­ter Pierre Trudeau from 1976-82, and later head of the pub­lic af­fairs di­vi­sion of the Cana­dian Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton. He is the au­thor of Close to the Charisma: My Years be­tween the Me­dia and Pierre El­liott Trudeau, and found­ing chair­man of Me­dia Pro­file, a Toronto me­dia con­sult­ing and PR firm.

Wiki­me­dia photo

Doug Ford and PCs got it right in the On­tario cam­paign, while the Lib­er­als got it wrong—all wrong.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.