If I were Christine Elliott, I’d be spitting broken glass right now. Several dozen firefighters would be required to deal with the smoke coming out my ears. Ms. Elliott must look over the smouldering wreckage of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives’ election campaign and think: If I’d been in charge, this wouldn’t look like the end of a Terminator movie.
But Ms. Elliott is a better person than me, and a team player. She’s certainly a better person than Doug Ford, who narrowly defeated Ms. Elliott in the Ontario PC’s messed-up leadership vote in March. She certainly would have been a better leader. She probably, for one thing, would have had a platform at this point, two weeks before Ontarians go to the polls.
It is difficult not to see Ms. Elliott in the larger context of women’s thwarted ambitions and bitten tongues, watching loud mediocrity defeat quiet competence. Here was a smart, well-liked, hyper-experienced politician facing off against an inexperienced, loud-mouthed populist with hot air where his policy options should be. It is enraging. It is life. Somewhere, Hillary Clinton is putting down her Donna Leon novel and sighing.
Instead of sulking on the bench after losing the leadership, Ms. Elliott became the PC candidate in Newmarket-Aurora. Would Ms. Elliott have waged a better campaign than Mr. Ford, whom she defeated in total votes and number of ridings in the leadership contest, yet lost to anyway thanks to the PC’s convoluted point-distribution system? Let’s put it this way: She could hardly be worse. The chances are that her campaign would have been quietly competent, its platform well-planned, its minor fires doused immediately. The PC’s huge early lead – one poll just after the leadership vote had them with 44 per cent of support to the governing Liberals’ 23 per cent – would not have been squandered.
Squandered how, you ask? Oh, let’s count the ways. The PCs, who are currently neck-and-neck with Andrea Horwath’s NDP, are mired in a series of controversies having to do with irregularities in numerous riding nominations. There are allegations that data stolen from a toll highway was used to aid various candidates’ campaigns. Mr. Ford attended a fundraising dinner in April, breaking provincial campaign rules. Most recently, the provincial Liberals have accused Mr. Ford of peddling fake memberships in 2016 to support the candidacy of Kinga Surma, who’s running in Etobicoke Centre.
Will voters care? Or are they really just invested in blowing up the status quo? We won’t know until June 7, when Ontarians go to the polls. Mr. Ford’s shortcomings were hardly a secret to the PC rank and file, who chose him as leader over Ms. Elliott. He had spent four years as a Toronto city councillor, propping up the poisonous mayoralty of his brother, Rob. (Ms. Elliott, a lawyer, had been an MPP for almost a decade.) He was on record as having called a group home for developmentally disabled young people “an absolute nightmare” that “ruined” its neighbourhood. (Ms. Elliott is a long-time disability advocate.) According to a lengthy investigation published in the Globe and Mail in 2013, Mr. Ford was a hash dealer in the 1980s. (Did I mention Ms. Elliott is a lawyer?)
But hey, Mr. Ford did such a good job bloviating about the pernicious downtown elites, and how he would find mythical “efficiencies“ to slash Ontario’s spending. That would be one giant rabbit to pull out of a hat, and so far neither rabbit nor hat are anywhere in evidence. Tax cut for the middle class? Slash gas prices? Kill the carbon tax? Mr. Ford has been on record saying he doesn’t approve of the province’s new math curriculum, but his own math would put him in summer school, possibly for several years. This week, Mr. Ford announced that he would reveal his party’s fully costed platform before voters go to the polls. That’s two weeks away. (Less, when you consider advance voting.)
This is not even taking into consideration Mr. Ford’s other policy positions, which would turn Ontario back decades, or possibly farther, to the lovely nostalgic time when parents knew best and there was cholera in the water. Mr. Ford does not approve of supervised drug-use sites nor the province’s sex-education curriculum. He is open to having girls who are minors seek parental approval before obtaining abortions.
The provincial party knew what it was doing when it elected Mr. Ford over Ms. Elliott. (The two are, interestingly, reported to be old family friends.) It threw a Hail Mary pass and the ball landed in the nosebleed seats. But populism seemed such a big noise there for a minute, and quiet competence is so … quiet. Women who have ground their teeth to nubs in meetings while a male colleague loudly and confidently talked about building escalators to the sun will understand this dynamic.
The party could have chosen Ms. Elliott, or the talented but inexperienced Caroline Mulroney. (A third choice, Tanya Granic Allen, was a single-issue candidate and didn’t stand a chance.) This idiocy was not playing out for the first time, either. Inexplicably, Ms. Elliott’s leadership ambitions have been rejected three times by the Ontario PCs. First, in 2009, she lost to Tim Hudak. (Remember him? No? You’re in good company.) Then, in 2015, an upstart named Patrick Brown snatched victory from Ms. Elliott. You may remember Mr. Brown from a series of theatrical sketches: “No, I am not guilty of sexual misconduct;” “I’m running for the leadership. Wait, maybe I’m not;” and, most recently, “I am Julius Caesar; come weep over my martyred body on the steps of Queen’s Park.”
The provincial election in Ontario could go any number of ways. Voters may hold their noses, overlook Mr. Ford’s incompetence, and send a giant blue wave to Queen’s Park. Perhaps they will lose, the party will elect a new leader, and Ms. Elliott will seek the top job again. Women are also good at this – gritting their teeth and pretending to smile, with an eye on the long game.