Ontario Progressive Conservatives on the weekend chose Doug Ford, a tough-guy anti-elite populist, to lead them in the campaign to unseat Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne in the June 7 general election.
This surprising choice showed great confidence by party members that the wind is in their sails and a June election victory is assured. If they are right, we may be watching a turn of the tide in public support for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s "sunny ways" style of politics and for his conception of Canada.
On the face of it, the Ontario Tories seem to be terribly disorganized, grotesquely unprepared for a general election campaign. Their former leader, Patrick Brown, abruptly quit on Jan. 25 after anonymous allegations of sexual misconduct were published. He jumped in and then out of the race to succeed himself. Meanwhile, some of the other leadership candidates repudiated the centrist program he had laid before the public, while others wanted to make adjustments.
The leadership convention itself was a shambles, with a complex voting system that disqualified many party members and did not produce a result until most delegates had gone home.
This would seem to be a party in a pathetic state, needing every advantage it can find — including a safe, centrist candidate who can appeal to disillusioned Kathleen Wynne supporters. Instead, the delegates chose the combative Mr. Ford, who loves to rail, in the style of Donald Trump, against the Toronto elite. With three women in the leadership race, who could advance the feminist agenda, Ontario’s Tories chose the lone male candidate.
Mr. Ford comes with baggage. He was close and loyal to his brother, the late Rob Ford, who as mayor dragged Toronto through a long spectacle of disgrace as he sought to deny evidence of his drug use and heavy drinking. Rob Ford stepped aside from his mayoral duties for treatment of his alcohol abuse and drug addiction. He died of abdominal cancer in March 2016.
The Ford clan is the very antithesis of the Justin Trudeau style. They don’t do sunny ways. They don’t save the planet. They don’t advance feminism. They don’t speak in nicely crafted paragraphs reflecting high culture and refined education. They speak from the street in the language of the street.
The polls show that Premier Wynne is on the ropes. Polls are often wrong, but Dr. Eric Hoskins, her health minister, quit on Feb. 26 to take a small advisory position in Ottawa to plan a national pharmacare program. Legislative Speaker Dave Levac then announced he would not run again, as though he, too, saw some writing on the wall.
If Ontario Tories are right and the public is ready to sign on to Ford Nation, then the tide may have just turned against Justin Trudeau and the ruling Liberals. The cities of Ontario, along with Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, put the Liberals into government in Ottawa. Without that Ontario support, the federal Liberals are toast.
For this reason, the Ontario election is worth watching. Public response to Doug Ford, in the campaign and in the election, may show whether the Justin Trudeau era has run its course. Public sentiment can be brutal that way: riding high in April, shot down in May.
Or maybe the Ontario Tories just made a foolish miscalculation and snatched electoral defeat from the jaws of victory.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.