I certainly suspect a fair number of pundits to write off Doug Ford’s prospects this June, but I won’t be one of them. As I have been saying for some time now, Doug Ford is capable of winning a general election against Kathleen Wynne, but his path to victory would look a heck of a lot different than Christine Elliott’s. The other thing I’ve been saying for some time now is that while Christine Elliott would be the sort of non-offensive leader that could sustain multiple Tory terms, Doug Ford would likely be the sort of high risk, high reward choice to win the largest majority government in Ontario’s history.
Why does this fair-minded professor say such a crazy thing? Here’s why: Doug Ford is the embodiment of the kind of anger Ontarians have been feeling for years. That anger is not partisan. It’s an anger that speaks to the fact that some have won more than ‘others’ in this province, and those others now have their candidate. Those ‘others’ are business owners who through red tape, regulation, higher hydro rates, and more, are being driven out of the province. Those ‘others’ include all the men and women who have lost their jobs in manufacturing and can’t find a better replacement job. Those ‘others’ include families living in substandard housing, in a province that has struggled to provide adequate affordable housing, let alone contain housing affordability. Those ‘others’ include every hydro rate payer who is paying for handsome returns to a select few green energy power producers. Those ‘others’ include those that have stuck with the PCs throughout their time in opposition, but also those who have also voted for other parties, or haven’t voted in years. Ford does not speak to right vs. left. He speaks to those that haven’t had a voice, and we’ve seen right around the world how these popular uprisings can be electorally successful.
Ford is not a right-wing ideologue. He will be branded as a radical, but he is far from one. Those that will affix such labels never intend to vote for the guy. They aren’t ‘others’. It won’t matter.
Doug Ford turns the Ontario electoral map completely upside down. Ford will win Toronto area seats. Ford will keep all the rural PC seats. Ford will win in the North. NDP seats will be in play as well as Liberal ones. I mean, I can’t name a Tory who can draw 400 people to a Welland rally on 48 hours notice. This thing is going to be interesting. The only thing limiting Doug Ford in achieving this is time.
Ford’s key strength is often seen as his Achilles heel: His brand. But that’s the thing about politics and leadership races. Having a brand comes off well. It makes you more authentic and believable. He comes off as a straight shooter, rebel rouser, folksy leader. He sticks to his commitment to righting the wrongs, being devoted to the taxpayer, and speaking on behalf of the have-nots. He covers most of the factions of the conservative movement – accept, perhaps for uber-educated, suburban living, Tory professionals who may cringe at the prospect of going to work on Monday. This ‘blue-collar PhD’ may be the exception. He delivers a clear message and looks you right in the eye. He may not be the most sophisticated policy guy you’ll ever find, but he communicates what he knows with precision. We haven’t had this since Mike Harris in 1995. This is the reversed mix to what we’re used to; I used to joke that we have more policy people than communications people in the party, and the Liberals had more communications people than policy people. Maybe the Tories are in for a correction.
Doug Ford carries the baggage of his brother, who most remember for his controversial behaviour and erratic governance. But Rob Ford’s path to victory should be the lesson for Doug Ford’s path to victory. If Rob Ford could win an election in the most progressive, and largest city in Ontario, imagine what Doug Ford can do in communities more in line with his brand!
Good luck, Doug! As Jason Kenny said… Let’s Get’er Done!