As the awful truth emerged on Saturday evening, my phone started pinging plaintively.
“Now they have The Donald and we have The Doug,” pinged a friend of mine gloomily. “God help us.”
“How does it feel to live in Trumpland?” pinged a friend from Florida.
I asked my husband how he plans to vote now. “Leave me alone,” he said. “My head hurts.”
Many people who planned to vote against Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne are crushed. As much as they detest the Liberals, they don’t want a know-nothing populist instead. Meantime, the Liberals and the NDP are rejoicing. They believe the Progressive Conservative Party has committed suicide.
I’m not so sure. I think Doug Ford has a pretty good chance of becoming premier. There’s a huge demand for change. Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals are long past their sell-by date. As likeable as Andrea Horwath is, a lot of people simply can’t bring themselves to vote NDP. Many folks will hold their noses and vote Ford, if only to get rid of the Liberals.
More important, Mr. Ford could be a stronger candidate than many people think. In some ways, he’s far better than Patrick Brown ever was. He’s authentic. His beliefs are crystal clear. His grasp of policy is a bit shaky — but so what? It’s not hard to grasp what he stands for.
Mr. Ford’s path to victory leads through the edge cities of Ajax and Whitby and Brampton — places where typical voters have two kids and one-and-a-half incomes (because Mom works part time). Many of them are immigrants. They have no time for the social-justice crusades of the Liberals (either federal or provincial). They are strivers. They do not believe that women are particularly oppressed and they’ve never heard of intersectionality. They want a meat-and-potatoes government that will run things economically and effectively and stay away from social-engineering schemes.
Doug Ford projects himself as one of them. He’s less of a populist than a classic, small-c conservative who is determined to battle the elites. Think Ralph Klein.
Why are my downtown Toronto friends so horrified by Doug Ford? Well, obviously there’s his late brother, Rob. Rob’s tenure as mayor of Toronto, with Doug by his side, was nearly as much of a clown show as the Conservative leadership race. That did not hurt him with the voters, whose loyalty he retained through his famous bouts with smoking crack cocaine and using other addictive substances. A lot of people liked him for the same reasons they like Donald Trump. He drove the elites crazy.
Pundits always underestimate the populists because they don’t know anyone who votes for them. Those people live in different places, drink at different bars, watch different movies, take different vacations, and hang out with different folks. The pundits and the experts work for media, governments, universities and law firms. The kind of people who vote for populists work in the suburbs at companies like Doug’s labelling business.
Everything about Doug Ford reminds my downtown friends of their boorish ex-brother- in-law. He’s unsophisticated, overweight and doesn’t read. Therefore they underestimate him. But Doug is extremely shrewd. His brand is sharp. He understands exactly who his voters are and what they want. His ideas are easy to grasp. His liabilities — which include his utter ignorance of the way the province operates — could be seen as advantages, just as they are by Donald Trump’s supporters.
Political commentators worry way too much about policy and not enough about the temperament of the voters. They fret about the carbon tax and how the conservative candidates were irresponsible to drop it. This is understandable, because in the neighbourhood they live in, people who are against a carbon tax are against the planet.
Doug Ford lives in a different neighbourhood. He knows that many, many voters do not want a carbon tax. They don’t care how irresponsible that makes them seem. They don’t care about the differences between a carbon tax and cap-and-trade. All they care about is that someone from the government always has a hand in their pocket, and they’re sick of it.
There’s something else that should terrify the commentariat: Donald Trump. He’s doing pretty well these days. Despite Russia investigations, porn-star scandals and all the rest, he’s more popular than anyone would have predicted. Prosperity has returned to America. People like his tough talk on trade. He’s broken through a generation of gridlock on North Korea (well, maybe). Despite the cries of the alarmists, the insurgency down there is going pretty well. So why not Premier Ford? Stranger things have happened.