At some point, Justin Trudeau might be better off rooting for Doug Ford to win the Ontario election.
He won’t, of course, because there’s no end to the differences between Team Trudeau and Ford Nation. The Queen’s Park Liberal connections run deep in Mr. Trudeau’s federal party, where the most common element on staffers’ CVs seems to be the years working for former premier Dalton McGuinty. Mr. Ford’s campaign team is essentially Stephen Harper’s old campaign team, or at least a big chunk of it.
And when it comes to governing, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is a Trudeau ally on climate policy and transit infrastructure. A hypothetical Premier Ford would be an obstacle.
But with Ms. Wynne’s re-election hopes already looking pretty grim, you have to wonder whether some of Mr. Trudeau’s team will start to entertain a sneaky thought about self-preservation – that the election of Doug Ford at Queen’s Park might help the Liberals get re-elected in Ottawa.
Not the current, dull, non-emoting version of Doug Ford campaigning around Ontario - the front-runner trying to avoid making his personality the issue. That’s not the voluble, belligerent city councillor that Torontonians came to love and/or hate. Only a few glimpses of the old Mr. Ford have slipped out from behind the campaign robot – but if he does become premier, it’s only a matter of time before we see more. And that Mr. Ford could be just what Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals are looking for: a big target.
Lately, Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals have been openly trying to revive Stephen Harper as a scary Conservative spectre, trying to tie him to current Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. Mr. Trudeau spent his speech at last month’s Liberal convention insisting the Tories are still Mr. Harper’s party; when Liberal Whip Pablo Rodriguez was asked Friday about Conservative efforts to make inroads in Quebec, he said Quebeckers won’t be interested in a new appeal with Stephen Harper’s old policies.
The Liberals are looking for a bogeyman, someone to move left-of-centre voters to unite behind them. Their re-election strategy counts on winning part of the NDP vote, and it helps to motivate them to unite against the Conservatives,
The thing is, Mr. Scheer isn’t scary. And Mr. Harper isn’t coming back. Yet Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals might make some headway warning Mr. Scheer is allied with leaders pushing the conservative agenda from provincial capitals -- possibly Alberta opposition leader Jason Kenney, a former Harper cabinet minister in a good position to become premier next year, and Mr. Ford, a rare provincial leader who appears to annoy progressives from coast to coast.
Many of the people around Mr. Trudeau are close to Ms. Wynne’s team, but there are Liberal MPs in Ontario who think there will be a big consolation prize if Ms. Wynne loses – the federal party will stop paying for the unpopularity of Ms. Wynne’s government. They won’t miss voters blaming them for Ontario hydro rates or the sex-ed curriculum.
If their provincial cousins have to lose, it’s probably better for the federal Liberals – in purely electoral terms – to have them lose to Mr. Ford, rather than the NDP’s Andrea Horwath.
Campaigns matter, but to win, Ms. Wynne would have to pull off a Houdini-like escape from a political straitjacket. Her surprise win in 2014 was aided by Conservative missteps and the public’s goodwill toward Ms. Wynne herself, but that reserve of goodwill seems mostly gone. An Abacus Data poll conducted last month showed 80 per cent of Ontarians wanted change. If there is a backlash against the front-runner, Mr. Ford, it is more likely to consolidate behind the NDP.
That’s a more dangerous prospect for Mr. Trudeau. His federal Liberals seem to rate federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh as a non-threat. A revival of the provincial NDP in Ontario could lift Mr. Singh, and strengthen NDP organization in the province, the NDP has long struggled to get suburban voters around Toronto to consider their party, but if those voters cast ballots for the NDP in the provincial election, they might be that much more willing to do it in next year’s federal election. Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals won’t want a winner in Ontario who might reinvigorate the competition to their left – when instead, Mr. Ford could just be the conservative scarecrow they’ve been looking for.