Just when you thought Doug Ford would take the hint — and quit while he’s behind — the defeated mayoral candidate is circling back for a victory lap: After flailing and failing at city hall, Ford is now flirting with the provincial Tory leadership.
With the contest officially underway this weekend, the fantasy of a Ford candidacy may soon be reality. By finishing a strong second in last month’s municipal race, he claims to have what the Progressive Conservatives so desperately lack — a ready-made Toronto power base to complement their largely rural support.
Despite being born into wealth, didn’t he deftly recast himself as an anti-elitist in the municipal election? Despite being born in Toronto, wouldn’t he repurpose himself as an outsider, tapping into rural alienation?
No one can deny Ford’s boast that he outpolls his PC rivals on name recognition, and that the party is moribund. As the five declared candidates keep saying, party membership has plummeted from the Mike Harris peak of 100,000 to a mere 10,000 paid up today.
Ford has always imagined himself at the head of a lacklustre pack. Fresh from his own mayoral loss, he breezily dismissed the current PC rivals as losers: “I don’t think any of the candidates could beat Kathleen Wynne.”
In June, he offered a novel prescription for a constipated political movement: “I’d give that PC party an enema from top to bottom.”
Now, he is offering Progressive Conservatives a two-for-one deal: His fast and loose persona plus an enema.
The Tories may need a tonic, but he’s toxic. A Ford candidacy would be an illusion wrapped in a delusion, a panacea in search of a party.
There’s a difference between star power and staying power. Notoriety and electability. Municipal and provincial politicking.
The latest Forum Research poll shows the current frontrunner, Whitby-Oshawa MPP Christine Elliott, would outperform Ford as PC leader in an election against Premier Kathleen Wynne. While the Liberals would still win, Elliott would get 32 per cent, versus 27 for Ford if he were at the helm.
If you believe Ford’s boasts, he should be eating Elliott’s lunch in the 416 and 905 — yet she’d poll 36 per cent versus Ford’s 29 across the GTA. That’s hardly surprising, given that Ford was vanquished in the mayoral race by John Tory — himself a former PC leader who, like Elliott, has progressive credentials.
It’s hardly coincidence that Bill Davis publicly endorsed Elliott at the opening of her midtown Toronto campaign headquarters Saturday. The former Tory premier was telegraphing his fears of Ford-style populism that might generate buzz but throw the party irretrievably off course.
After the debacle of Tim Hudak’s leadership, with its unseemly wedge issues, Tories are wary of being a protest party in perpetuity. To their credit, surviving caucus members have shown impressive unity and maturity post-Hudak — raising concerns about sexual harassment and child care, voting for regular increases to the minimum wage, renouncing Hudak’s anti-union orations, and suspending (so far) their past hysterics about sex education in schools.
Why revert to the politics of polarization? The four declared leadership candidates from caucus — Elliott, Lisa MacLeod, Vic Fedeli and Monte McNaughton — have been admirably open-minded of late. (A fifth, pro-life candidate, Patrick Brown, is a federal outlier and a political mystery — an enigma wrapped up in himself.)
Is this the calm before the Ford firestorm? He would surely suck all the oxygen out of the race — and suffocate the serious debate that Tories still need to have. Perhaps that’s why so many MPPs and activists would prefer a sober policy makeover instead of a hostile Ford takeover of their once-proud Progressive Conservative Party.
Fighting an Ontario election requires a temperament and team spirit that are hardly Ford’s forte. A party leader must stitch together a sprawling network of activists and volunteers, anchored by 107 candidates whose names are on the ballots in their individual ridings. Provincial politics is utterly unlike the one-man show of a mayoral race that lends itself to Ford’s messiah complex.
In the next Ontario election, the party’s caucus and candidates will look to their leader for inspiration, not denigration. If Ford’s call to arms is an enema, who will clean up the mess?