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Fascinating Ontario campaign quickly turns tedious with election night TV coverage

Politics in Ontario is boring. Said no one ever in the last few weeks.

It got tedious quite quickly on Thursday night, mind you, as a Progressive Conservative victory was declared about 11 minutes after the polls closed. Three minutes later, it was a majority victory. There was no drama, no tension. It was a cakewalk. “We’ll just continue the legacy of Rob Ford,” said a Doug Ford supporter to a CP24 reporter outside the Ford home in Etobicoke.

That made the head spin: If you liked Rob Ford’s Toronto, you’re going to love Doug Ford’s Ontario. Not that anybody was actually saying that. Explaining populism isn’t in the arsenal of TV punditry or reporting during an election campaign or on election night. Most TV coverage simply gallops along breathlessly, following personality not policy, trying to stick with the surface pace of change and, really, loving it all. CP24’s cheerful obsession with the Ford home and the Ford family got a bit creepily intense, to be honest.

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Explained: Doug Ford has won Ontario’s election. What happens now? A guide

“Wow, I’ll tell ya, wow!” said premier-designate Ford, starting his victory speech on TV before the leaders of the other parties had conceded. That was odd. Rude, even. But, really, Doug Ford arrived to give his speech as a man loaded with more baggage than the last car on Via Rail’s trans-Canada train. And it mattered not a whit. From his improbable victory in the leadership race to a non-platform of nonsensical slogans to the allegations in Renata Ford’s lawsuit, Ford was carrying a weight of stink but coming out smelling like roses. Somehow. “The party with the taxpayers’ money is over,” Ford declared, gnomically, and sounding very much like Rob Ford. Then he announced, “ I know my brother is looking down on us. Rob is celebrating with us tonight!” Not long before that, his other brother, Randy, a leather-hat enthusiast, had told the cameras, “It’s real exciting.”

“Let’s talk populism,” said Farah Nasser on Global, to little avail. “Trumpism comes to Canada, replied somebody on the Global panel, dolefully. But it wasn’t the time for analysis on TV. There was always another riding to call, another victory to note. Damn the discussion about populism, because it seemed the Green Party had won a seat. One seat.

On CBC Dwight Drummond and Rosemary Barton tried to achieve some balance between winner-and-loser coverage and analysis. Barton pointed out, sensibly, that around the world people would wake up on Friday and discover that Rob Ford’s brother was now running Ontario. It was a loaded remark but, wait a minute, NDP leader Andrea Horwath was about to speak. Earlier on CP24’s panel, Adrienne Batra had cheekily suggested that Horwath’s time as leader was up. Three elections and nothing to show for it. That was funny.

Horwath wasn’t funny at all. Or wise, or trenchant. One wondered how she had even got this far and surged in the polls. Her speech was mostly a tired rehash of her campaign speech. “Change for the better” came up. Certainly her French was in decline. What sounded like “mercy beau-koo” emanated from her mouth multiple times. Horwath also had a lot of stories about people she had met. A lot. It’s real exciting, said nobody.

Eventually, the much-demonized Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne got to speak. And in complete sentences, no less. She was gracious and, it seemed, relieved it was all over. Gracious and expansively she talked about Ontario being a “beautiful, vibrant place.” And she resigned as leader, without drama. She ended with a tuneless attempt to sing something about “We’re still standing.”

Actually, the more appropriate song was that old sixties tune, the one that states, “There’s something happening here/ What it is ain’t exactly clear.” From TV you certainly wouldn’t be clear about what has just happened in Ontario. The people, or half of them anyway, have spoken. They have spoken up for Ford-ism and, wow, I’ll tell you, wow. Politics in Ontario isn’t going to be boring for years to come. Stay tuned.

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Doug Ford addressed supporters at a campaign rally Thursday after his Progressive Conservatives won a majority government in Ontario, saying that the province was open for business. He also invoked his late brother, Rob, in thanking his family for their support.
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