It was clear from the start of this roller-coaster election period that Ontario voters wanted change. Well, they got change all right.
Rejecting the big-government liberalism of Kathleen Wynne, they ushered in the swamp-draining populism of Doug Ford. Ontario is about to undergo a sharp right turn. What that will mean for Canada’s economic heartland is far from clear.
Mr. Ford’s plans are sketchy, his temperament volatile. He is the wildest of wild cards. When he was right-hand man to his brother at Toronto city hall, he often out-Robbed Rob in his blustering and bullying. Nothing in his shallow, sloganeering performance during this election campaign suggests he has changed.
Now, he is about to become premier of the country’s most-populous province. Premier Doug Ford. Let those words sink in for a bit. This promises to be a crazy ride.
Expect drama. It’s never far away when the Fords are around. Who but a Ford could find himself embroiled in an inheritance feud with his brother’s widow just days before he faced the voters in an election?
Expect conflict. Just for starters, Mr. Ford is headed for a big fight with Ottawa over carbon taxes. He hates ’em. He is certain to scrap with the province’s powerful public-service unions as he tries to curb government expenses and cut taxes at the same time.
Expect lots of boasting. Mr. Ford is bound to start saying almost right away that he is working wonders for the province. His brother said without blushing that he was the best mayor Toronto ever had.
Toronto got the measure of Mr. Ford during his city hall years, when he had a spat with Margaret Atwood about closing libraries, tried to stage a sneak attack on the city’s carefully laid waterfront plans and slung mud at the chief of police for doing his job during the Rob Ford drug scandal.
For those whose memories of those days may have dimmed, his performance during this election campaign should serve as a handy reminder. He blasted the respected head of a privatized hydro company for his big salary − “the six-million-dollar man.” He said that the “radicals” in Andrea Horwath’s NDP would take Ontario back to the Stone Age. He alternated between condemning the media and running away from reporters.
He was out of his depth in the televised debates, unable to argue policy with the two seasoned “ladies” (as he called them) who shared the stage. The list of promises he released at the last minute to fend off gibes about his lack of a properly costed platform amounted to little more than jottings on a napkin.
It’s wishful to think that power will turn Mr. Ford into a sensible moderate. He is no more likely to become a statesman at Queen’s Park than Donald Trump was to become presidential in the White House. It didn’t happen in the four years at city hall. It didn’t happen on the campaign trail, either.
The best Ontario can hope for is that Mr. Ford listens to some of the calmer figures who were elected along with him, such as Rod Phillips and Christine Elliott. With luck, some good could come out of a Ford government in spite of him. Though the Progressive Conservatives were absurdly vague about how they would fulfill their pledge to curb government excess, they at least show some signs of understanding that a provincial debt of $300-billion plus is a problem.
But Mr. Ford is the furthest thing from a team player. The big salesman’s smile can turn quickly into a scowl if someone doesn’t buy what he is selling. Like his brother Rob when he ran head first into that TV camera, Doug Ford charges forward without looking, bangs his head against a wall and starts cursing the plaster.
His response to the feud with Rob’s widow was typical. Mr. Ford suggested darkly that someone must be out to get him. In the Fords’ world, someone always is.
The sad thing is that voters didn’t ask for any of this. You wouldn’t know it from recent political history, but most Ontario voters are mild, practical folks. They like their politicians to hold the drama and get on with filling the potholes.
They didn’t ask for Ms. Wynne to shower them with borrowed money. Her tack to the left was her own idea and it blew up on her. Her party was crushed under the rubble on Thursday.
They didn’t ask for a populist premier. They would sooner have voted for a moderate. They showed every intention of doing so until the Progressive Conservatives knifed their leader in the middle of the night over allegations of sexual misconduct and narrowly chose Mr. Ford in his place.
Mr. Ford should remember − but he won’t − that voters who voted PC weren’t joining Ford Nation. They just wanted to get rid of Ms. Wynne and her Liberals. With the NDP promising Wynne Extra, the PCs seemed the surest way to put the province back on an even keel.
That they ended up putting Doug Ford at the helm in the process is proof of how far Ontario politics have shifted from the safe centre. One fine day, they may return there. In the meantime, we have Premier Doug Ford. Oh, Ontario.