After June 29, when the Ontario Progressive Conservatives take office, we will get two Doug Fords. There will be days when a disciplined leader draws from the collective wisdom of a talented team to deliver effective conservative government. There will be days when a rogue premier riles up his base by raging against the elites.
The success of Mr. Ford’s premiership will hinge on how much the former prevails over the latter.
In theory, Mr. Ford has far less power within government than that other populist leader, Donald Trump, who in the office of president, is unfettered by the constraints of cabinet, caucus or legislature.
One example: Mr. Trump has a tendency to fire cabinet secretaries who displease him. (He has dispatched three thus far.) Once they’re gone, they’re gone.
But if Mr. Ford asks for the resignation of a cabinet minister, that minister will return to the backbench, a source of potential opposition within caucus, should things start to go badly.
Mr. Ford is also restrained by his cabinet, who must vote their approval of anything he proposes. And individual ministers also exercise influence. The Finance Minister, especially, has an effective veto over proposed spending measures.
If things go very, very badly, party members could remove him as leader at a policy convention, or the Ontario Legislature could vote non-confidence in the government, with the opposition parties backed by a minority of PC MPPs.
But for Robert Fisher, a freelance journalist who has covered Queen’s Park for going on four decades, none of these theoretical restraints are real. He believes “Mr. Ford is an uncontrollable force” who will dominate his party just as Donald Trump dominates the Republican Party.
“The force of his personality is such he’s going to take this province and his party to wherever he wants to take it,” he said on CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition. (I was also on that panel, hosted by Michael Enright.)
John Filion, who served on Toronto City Council with Mr. Ford and his brother, the late Rob Ford, and who wrote a book about the latter’s troubled life and tenure as mayor, agrees. “Doug Ford will be deliberately divisive,” he wrote Friday in a Twitter thread. “He’ll want to keep his supporters cheering and the other side booing. That’s all part of the show.”
He predicted Premier Ford will constantly attack the media, deliberately stir up controversy, speak in falsehoods and exaggerations, and politicize the bureaucracy.
Furthermore, “Doug Ford will totally control the PC Party, demanding total loyalty,” he tweeted. “Any PCs who don’t follow him anywhere he wants to go will be sidelined.”
But someone who has known Mr. Ford for many years, who spoke on condition of anonymity, dismissed such an extreme view. The key to understanding Mr. Ford, this person said, is to realize he is a completely different person when he’s in control from when he’s not in control.
On council, the Fords rarely corralled the agenda, resulting in explosions of frustration from Doug. But during the PC leadership campaign, and in the following election, he was focused and disciplined. Mr. Ford will bring those qualities to the Premier’s Office, the person said.
He will surround himself with qualified staff and cabinet ministers and seek their advice, the person predicted, adding that as long as everyone knows he’s in charge, Mr. Ford will be happy to be part of a team.
Combining those two views gets you something like this: When things are going well, Mr. Ford will be a disciplined and effective leader, delivering conservative policies − tax and spending cuts, a gradual move toward a balanced budget, and a back-to-basics approach to education − with strong ministers having considerable latitude over their files.
When things go badly, expect the premier-designate to lose his temper, lash out at the media, lie and distort, and blame the situation on everyone but himself.
It’s going to be an interesting four years. We can only imagine how he’ll handle Question Period.