Doug Ford says he is ready for a showdown with Premier Kathleen Wynne in the coming provincial election as he rides what he said is the largest wave of frustration Ontario has witnessed in a generation.
Coming off a razor-thin victory over the weekend against Christine Elliott, Mr. Ford set an ambitious agenda at the start of his first week as the leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives. He said he is eager to debate Ms. Wynne and vowed to unite his fractious party and win the largest majority in his province’s history.
“The grassroots people are rising up right now. This is a movement I’ve never seen in 30 years in politics,” Mr. Ford said during a visit to Queen’s Park on Monday afternoon. “People are frustrated. We’re going to tell them all the great things that we’re going to implement.”
The new Tory leader said he would leave parliamentary business to former interim leader Vic Fedeli and focus instead on the June election. His message to voters centres on fixing the province’s finances and reducing taxes, largely through cutting waste.
“As my dad always said, in business, you aren’t getting sales in the office. You’ve got to get sales outside. We’re going to be out on the road. You won’t be seeing me in here too often,” he said in the legislature.
Ms. Wynne told reporters on Monday morning that she has spoken with Mr. Ford, but tried to dismiss his impact on her re-election campaign.
“It really, from my perspective, it didn’t matter who the leader of the Conservatives will be, our policies are about investing in people, investing in the care of people in this province,” she said. “There will be a stark choice in June, I don’t think that’s news to anyone.”
Mr. Ford was declared the new leader late Saturday night after a chaotic convention. Members voted online in a system that let them rank the four candidates in order of preference, and Mr. Ford won on the third ballot with 6,201 points to Ms. Elliott’s 6,049. While the former Tory MPP won the popular vote and most ridings, Mr. Ford won under a complex system that gave points for each riding.
The former councillor, who became a household name during his brother Rob’s term as mayor of Toronto, ran a shoestring campaign, raising only $113,550 from 254 donors, according to his filings with Elections Ontario. Political newcomer Caroline Mulroney raised more than $800,000, but finished a distant third.
“It’s not about Ford Nation any more. Everyone in the province is frustrated,” Mr. Ford told the television network CityNews on Monday. “We are going to sweep this province. I’m predicting right now this is going to be the biggest majority this province has ever seen.”
While only 64,053 Tories voted, Mr. Ford’s strong results in the Greater Toronto Area could be dangerous for Ms. Wynne’s Liberals, said Chris Cochrane, political science professor at the University of Toronto. While the Conservatives dominate in many of the province’s rural areas, the long-governing Liberals’ power base is around Toronto.
In the first ballot of the leadership contest, where voters could choose between Mr. Ford, the more moderate Ms. Elliott, Ms. Mulroney, and party activist Tanya Granic Allen, the new leader had a solid showing across much of the GTA. In the suburbs of Scarborough and Etobicoke, he won large majorities on the first ballot. He also finished strongly in Mississauga and Hamilton.
“If Mr. Ford can perform in Toronto like he did in the past mayoral election and the Conservatives perform like they did provincially in the rest of Ontario, I think he can do very well,” Prof. Cochrane said. Mr. Ford finished second to John Tory in Toronto’s mayoral race in 2014.
“I think he can reach outside of the traditional Conservative base and reach communities the Conservatives have stumbled to attract in past elections,” he said, listing the areas around Toronto as an example.
The risk for Mr. Ford, he said, is that he could scare voters to the New Democrats. During the leadership race, Mr. Ford campaigned as a social conservative on issues of abortion and the sex-education curriculum. Ms. Granic Allen, who campaigned to Mr. Ford’s political right, was the kingmaker.
On the first ballot, Ms. Elliott won about 35 per cent of the votes, short of the hoped-for 39 per cent, a member of her campaign team said. Ms. Granic Allen exceeded expectations by winning 14 per cent on the first ballot, the official said.
Two things allowed Mr. Ford to eke out a slim victory, the official said. More than 90 per cent of Ms. Allen’s supporters chose Mr. Ford on the second ballot. Ms. Mulroney won 17 per cent of the votes on the first ballot, keeping her in the race. But many of her supporters did not mark a second choice on the third ballot. Ms. Granic Allen’s supporters largely pushed Mr. Ford over the top.
While Mr. Ford may struggle with female voters, his message could appeal to some NDP supporters, Prof. Cochrane said. “He can resonate with blue collars and trades people. He doesn’t resonate because of his policies, but who he is and how he speaks,” he said.
With a report from Karen Howlett