Ford's calculated fudging makes him a far trickier figureby Theodore Stone / June 11, 2018 / Leave a comment
Last week, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario ended the Liberal Party’s 15-year stay in office, relegating it to third place and causing it to lose Official Party status.
It is the Liberals’ worse result in their 161-year history. The centre-left New Democratic Party will become the Official Opposition for the first time since 1987.
The Premier-elect, Doug Ford, ran a populist campaign that promised lower taxes, lower gasoline prices, more spending on healthcare and transit, and repealing the carbon pricing.
A businessman who formerly served as a City Councillor between 2010 and 2014, and brother of the late Toronto mayor Rob Ford, Ford is notorious for lashing out at the “elites” in his speeches.
He has been compared with Donald Trump, and accused of trading in an “ugly” form of politics that “traffics in smears and lies.”
This love of low taxes and social conservatism—which includes but is by no means limited to his promise to repeal comprehensive sex education and ignoring climate change—made for a strong base against the progressive centre.
In the end, he won 40.49 per cent of the vote—despite only releasing a spending platform eight days before the election, after the leader debates had concluded.
Upon learning of victory, Ford called upon what he described as the ‘Ford Nation’; small-c conservative voters who flocked to vote for him on a promise to cut back the state whilst preserving public sector jobs, as the reason for his success.
Don’t compare him to Trump
Although many have made comparisons between Ford and Trump, they are largely unhelpful. The ‘Ford Nation’ also has strong support amongst immigrant communities because of his economic message.
His ability to blur the lines between worrying statements such as his apparent desire to ‘take care of our own,’ and a calculated level of openness, makes him a far trickier figure than Trump’s poison.
Nonetheless, his penchant for failing to adhere to the honesty Canadian politics is known for and love of the term “fake news” is likely to carry implications for the rest of Canada.
A return to Reform?
Instead, comparisons can be made with the ‘Common Sense Revolution’ advocated by the last Ontario PC Leader, Mike Harris, and Preston Manning’s Reform Party; modified to fit in with our post-truth era and Ford’s lack of interest in empiricism.
Through a promise of smaller government and more ardent populism, Reform replaced the Progressive Conservatives as the largest right-wing Party in Canada in 1993, became the Official Opposition in 1997, and eventually merged to form the current Conservative Party of Canada ten years later.
The appeal of tax cuts and a smaller state that Manning and Ford both speak of is one that carries strong support across the country. As such, Ford’s success is likely to play an influential role in the upcoming 2019 Federal Election.
What does it mean for the country?
Incumbent Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Andrew Scheer, is pegging level in the polls with Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but needs a platform that is more than simply “I’m not Trudeau.”
Scheer is currently seen as pretty much just a carbon-copy of the unpopular former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
However, his links to anti-abortionists and a rising evangelical Catholic right may be ennobled through Ford’s win—and, through Ford, he may also find the ideological opposite to Trudeau.
In turn, Trudeau may see Ford as a way to return to the aesthetic progressiveness he presented in 2015.
What’s next for the NDP
As for the NDP, results are mixed. They continue to tread water federally, but can at least take solace in becoming Ontario’s Official Opposition again.
They now have four years to deal with the mixed and unhappy legacy of their first premiership between 1990 and 1995, whilst providing a more positive future for Ontario and the Canadian left, perhaps securing themselves as the Liberals’ long-term replacement.
However, the government the NDP inherited in 1990 was dealing with the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and were driven to enact painful austerity cuts that almost destroyed the party.
If Ford’s populism fails, don’t bet against the NDP being in a similar position come 2022.