Ontarians want change but may fear the kind of change that Doug Ford would bring. Fear and loathing will be undeniable factors in the next election. But a campaign based on policy would favour the Kathleen Wynne.
By SHEILA COPPS
First published on March 19, 2018 in The Hill Times.
OTTAWA—Doug Ford could well be the next premier of Ontario. He just has to keep his mouth shut for three months in order to pave the way for a victory in June.
That could be more difficult than it appears.
Just last week, Ford predicted he would win the biggest majority in the history of the province.
This statement came hours after opponent Christine Elliott’s endorsement. The putative frontrunner finally conceded defeat after initially refusing to acknowledge her loss in a complicated voting system where she carried the popular vote and he won the riding splits.
Instead of predicting victory, Ford should be downplaying expectations. The one factor standing between himself and the premier’s chair is his own unpopularity. Even in the afterglow of victory, polls show he is disliked by the majority of Ontarians.
The numbers show that Kathleen Wynne’s personal unpopularity is the millstone weighing down Liberal electoral numbers. The Hill Times file photograph
That puts him in exactly the same position as the current premier. The numbers show that Kathleen Wynne’s personal unpopularity is the millstone weighing down Liberal electoral numbers.
So two unpopular leaders square off against each other, leaving a whole lot of room for people to consider policies instead of popularity.
Andrea Horwath, the leader of the Ontario New Democrats, should be the beneficiary of the standoff between the two major parties. Instead, she almost seems to have faded into the background of a gunfight between two capos determined to take each other down.
In the hours following the Conservative vote, Horwath had a perfect opportunity to be front and centre as the reasonable, centrist alternative to the Ford choice. Instead, she was missing in action.
Tories themselves must have been reeling when the complicated weighting system set the stage for a surprise Ford victory. Had Christine Elliott won, the road to Conservative government would have been much clearer.
Photogenic and articulate, Elliott would not have been burdened with the same baggage as Ford.
Even the walkabout of the two candidates was a study in contrasts during the weekend convention.
Andrea Horwath, the leader of the Ontario New Democrats, should be the beneficiary of the standoff between the two major parties. Instead, she almost seems to have faded into the background of a gunfight between two capos determined to take each other down. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
Ford, surrounded by fur-bearing, heavily lacquered family members, was accompanied by a security detail that looked more like a touring Las Vegas casino boss than a future premier.
His appeal brought immediate comparisons to the unlikely rise to power of television entrepreneur Donald Trump.
But it would be a huge mistake for the Liberals to play the Trump card.
That was exactly how Hillary Clinton lost the American presidential race. She focused so much on the negatives of her opponent that nobody knew what she stood for.
In Wynne’s case, she really needs to pose the question, what kind of province do you want for your children?
Wynne’s government has tackled some tough issues and fought for real change in Ontario.
The premier was never afraid of the truth. She even ran in the Liberal leadership as an openly gay woman and the first member of the legislature to marry her long-time partner.
What’s not to like about someone who exhibits that kind of courage?
She has fought off Conservative opposition to raise the minimum wage for the working poor. She has also gone out of her way to build bridges between provinces. Wynne has invested heavily in public transit, a total of $30-billion on transportation during her tenure.
For the first time, the economic powerhouses of Ontario and Quebec are actually working in tandem to attract economic investment, instead of fighting against each other.
One only has to look at the growing rift between the two premiers of Alberta and British Columbia to get an understanding of how not to manage relationships between two political powers.
Wynne has an uphill battle. The Liberals have been in power in Ontario for four elections and if there is one constant in politics, it is the desire for change. Seeking a fifth Grit mandate, Wynne is facing an uphill battle at best.
Ford is currently best positioned to ride that wave of change into office.
But he could also represent a change of direction that is not embraced by the majority.
His promise to reverse Wynne’s sex education curricula in the schools was a mistake.
Support from the right wing of the Tory party may have prompted that promise. But if he has any chance of reaching out to the moderate middle, Ford cannot afford to be typecast.
Ontarians want change but may fear the kind of change that Ford would bring.
Fear and loathing will be undeniable factors in the next election.
But a campaign based on policy would favour the Wynne.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.