My Annex friends in Toronto are quaking in their Birkenstocks. Somehow they survived a Ford as mayor. But how will they survive a Ford as premier?
Their objections to Doug Ford are, to some extent, class-based. They are secretly convinced that many of the millions of people who voted for him are ignoramuses. Or, as one pundit tactlessly put it, “rubes.”
It turns out there are even more ignoramuses than my neighbours feared. Not only do they dwell in Scarborough, Etobicoke and the other outer fringes of Toronto, they dominate the vast, voter-rich hinterland of 905, where cow pastures morph into subdivisions practically overnight. They make up most of the remaining population of the decaying industrial towns and cities, whose manufacturing plants left long ago.
What my neighbours don’t get is that although Mr. Ford may be inarticulate, he speaks their language. The urban elites have been ripping them off, he tells them, and he is going to stop them. He didn’t have a formal campaign platform, costed down to the last loonie, but so what? His bottom line is crystal clear.
Some people claim that Mr. Ford himself is part of the elites. After all, he never had to sweat to make the rent. His dad left him the family business. But “elite” is not an income bracket. It’s an attitude. Elites are defined by where they live, how many degrees they have, and what they believe. Mr. Ford dropped out of community college, he says, because the lectures were too boring. He’s a guy who wears gold chains around his neck. He is unfashionably overweight, as was his late brother, Rob, the former mayor of Toronto. His biggest media supporter is the Toronto Sun. To the Annex, everything about him screams: “Not our class.”
Doug Ford was a disastrous choice for PC leader. Or so the elites said. The naysayers included plenty of people in his own party, who cringed with shame that he was elected leader. They thought he would lead the party, once again, into oblivion. Instead, he led the race from the start. And they didn’t understand what motivated Ford voters most – not the man, but an overwhelming desire for change.
People voted for Mr. Ford because they were sick of 15 years of taxing and spending. They didn’t see any point in replacing one tax-and-spending party with another. You don’t have to be an urban sophisticate to recognize that 15 years of Liberal rule had created a bottomless money pit. That is Ontario today. The interest on the provincial debt alone costs a billion dollars a month. The hydro system is a mess. Health care is a fraying blanket of strained facilities and hallway medicine. So when the Liberals tried to bribe the voters with huge election promises, paid for by more deficits without end, people saw these promises for what they were: a scam.
The tragedy of this election is that Mr. Ford is not the person who can fix what ails the province. He doesn’t have the grasp or the vision. The best that can be said is that he probably won’t embarrass us as much as his brother did; Mr. Ford probably won’t be doing drugs at Queen’s Park. But his economic plans for Ontario would make the debt hole even deeper.
Rob Ford’s widow, Renata, is currently suing Doug and his other brother, Randy, for her fair share of Rob’s estate. The lawsuit (along with an earlier Globe investigation) has cast considerable doubt on Doug’s business prowess. If he manages the province the way he runs the label business, then God help us all.
But the government is not one man. Mr. Ford will have a cabinet. Presumably, able people such as Rod Phillips, Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney will be in it. Maybe he’ll listen to them. He is not, after all, Donald Trump. He’s a populist but also a centrist, a man who lacks Mr. Trump’s degree of raging sociopathic egomania. He doesn’t tweet randomly when the urge strikes him.
Many people will insist that Mr. Ford’s election – with only 40.5 per cent of the popular vote – justifies the case for electoral reform. It’s outrageous that such a small percentage of the vote can command such a large majority of seats. They should remember that in 2014, the previous Liberal government got its majority with just 38.6 per cent of the vote.
As for the question of whether Ontario can survive Mr. Ford, let’s just say I’m cautiously optimistic. After all, we survived the Liberals. So we’ll probably survive him.