The recently-elected Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford, who many style as Canada’s answer to Donald Trump, was elected Premier of Ontario in convincing fashion last night.
Welcome to Ford Country
Pundits (and a few pollsters) tried their best to inject a bit of drama into the campaign. Recent media coverage has recently speculated about a late surge by the left-of-center New Democrats and their leader Andrea Horwath. But the Progressive Conservatives cruised to a convincing victory in the end, winning 76 of the 124 seats in the Ontario Legislative Assembly with an estimated 40% of the popular vote.
Last night capped a remarkable rise to power for Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford, who was not even formally a member of the party leads as recently as February, let alone its leader. A remarkable run of good fortune, plus some very popular (some say populist) straight talking have catapulted him into the top spot in Canada’s most important province.
“Tonight we have sent a clear message to the world: Ontario is open for business,” Ford told attendees at his victory party, vowing to make Ontario once again “Canada’s engine.”
Remembering his late brother, the controversial Toronoto mayor Rob Ford, he said, “I know that my brother Rob is looking down from heaven. He is celebrating with us tonight.”
The unlikely Progressive Conservative leader
Compared by many to Donald Trump, Doug Ford does at least share an unlikely ascent to power with the American President.
Before 2018, Ford’s only political experience was as a Toronto city councillor – a position he held for only four years and left in 2014. His only other qualification was as a businessman, running the family company that makes pressure-sensitive labels for plastic-wrapped grocery products.
But Ford did enjoy a strong support base in the Toronto suburbs, dubbed “Ford Nation,” inherited partly from his brother’s mayoral career. When disaster struck the Ontario PCs in early 2018 (former leader Patrick Brown was forced to step down following #MeToo allegations) Ford entered a hastily-arranged four-way leadership race as an outsider.
After narrowly winning the PC leadership, Ford found the road ahead remarkably free of obstacles. He was leading a popular opposition party against a fatally unpopular Liberal government with less than three months to go before election day. It was Ford’s election to lose.
No platform, no problem
Even during the leadership contest, Ford made clear his plans to drop former leader Patrick Brown’s election platform (which included support for a Federal carbon tax that was never a natural issue for Progressive Conservatives). But, perhaps benefiting from a “honeymoon” period with Ontario voters, Ford never bothered to publish a replacement.
The former government Liberal Party, who had led Ontario since 2003, have now been reduced to a mere 7 seats. Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats have been promoted to official opposition, but with only 40 seats will struggle to threaten the PC majority. With very few specific promises to fulfil and not much to prevent him from doing what he wants, Doug Ford can pretty much write his own ticket for the foreseeable future.
Does it matter?
It is tempting to equate Doug Ford’s election with a gubernatorial race in an American state, but the analogy is not really appropriate.
Canadian provinces have much more power and independence than American states (Alberta recently threatened to cut off energy supplies to British Columbia over a pipeline dispute). Provinces also control extremely important parts of Canadian life, including health care, education, welfare, and intra-provincial transportation. Ontario’s is easily Canada’s biggest and richest province (making up nearly 40% of the country’s population and much of its industrial capability). It could be argued that after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Doug Ford is now the second-most powerful person in Canada.
If history is any guide, however, Doug Ford’s rise to prominence is unlikely to trouble many outside of Canada. Unlike the United States, where Presidential candidates are frequently chosen from the ranks of the state governors, there is no tradition in Canada of provincial premiers becoming Prime Minister. Provincial and Federal politics are for the most part distinct, and as Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford does not even have official standing with the Federal-level Conservative Party of Canada.
The chances of Canada’s Trump ever sharing a border with the American Trump therefore seem unlikely. But then, Doug Ford’s premiership is unlikely in the first place. Stay tuned.