Doug Ford: "Progressive" Conservative Leader?
By Randall White
An “enema, top to bottom” - that was Doug Ford’s prescription for the Ontario Progressive Conservatives in the immediate aftermath of the June provincial election that gave Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals a majority government.
In the wake of what is being widely characterized as a surprisingly strong, if still unsuccessful, showing in the recent Toronto mayoral election, Doug Ford has said he “wouldn’t rule out” running for the leadership of the Ontario PC party.
“It has crossed my mind and I truly believe the PC party has a lot of work to do," he said.
"They've lost track of their roots, they've lost track of the common people and if they ever want to run the provincial government again, there has to be a housecleaning from top to bottom.”
These musings have been greeted by diverse reactions. Adam Radwanski of the Globe and Mail has raised a sharp questions about whether Doug Ford is “really ready, willing and able” to take on the challenges of the Ontario PC leadership. To start with, does he really want such a demanding job?
Mr. Radwanski is reporting that most party insiders put the odds of a Doug Ford candidacy “no higher than 50/50.”
In any event, Mr. Ford has until next January 30 to file his nomination papers - and pay his $75,000 registration fee as well as a $25,000 refundable deposit. The final voting by party members will be held early in May.
The strongest argument in favour of Ford entering the race may be the fresh air he could bring to Ontario conservative political thought.
He has been advancing some provocative propositions in this connection lately.
Rob Ford's so-called "smarter, older brother" has reportedly said the Ontario PC party “needs to reach out to union members, people in public housing and other common people that (sic) are fiscally conservative."
"But you have to have a social conscience,” he said.
He believes the party needs a whole new philosophy. "We’ve got to start working on the progressive side of the party.’”
It seems true enough as well that, unlike some brands of contemporary conservative thought, Ford Nation in Toronto welcomes the class struggle. Doug Ford agrees with the Ontario Liberal founding father of the late 19th century, Oliver Mowat. Insofar as there actually is class conflict in Canada’s most populous province, he is “against the classes and with the masses.”
Whatever their personal foibles - some have tried to paint the blonde-haired Ford brothers as racist - many who vote for them are examples of Canadian multiculturalism at work. Ford Nation is supported by impressive numbers among the majority of the Toronto population, who were born outside Canada, including many visible minorities.
Doug Ford has shown he can win about a third of the Toronto big urban vote, playing to some new kind of conservatism - one that he brands a “progressive conservative” cause.
But how will he play in Wingham or Smith’s Falls, to say nothing of Hearst?
Although there is no doubt some in rural Ontario like the Fords, there are certainly Ontario Progressive Conservatives who still have big reservations about any member of that family, especially after all we have learned about Rob Ford over the past four years. And a new poll suggests that Christine Elliott would do better against Kathleen Wynne than Doug Ford.
Others complain that Mr. Ford would be a superficial right wing, US tea-party “progressive” fiscal conservative at best. The more authentic local progressive, Premier Wynne, has noted that she and Rob Ford’s s brother “are very different people ... it would be certainly an exercise in contrast if Doug Ford were to be the leader.”
Both Ms. Wynne and Mr. Ford can plausibly claim to be new kinds of Ontario politicians, responding to new conditions in a changing real world.
But Ms. Wynne has already won a provincial majority government. Doug Ford has just come second in a race for mayor of the capital city.
Still, while many of us might like to see the entire Ford family ride off into the sunset at this point, it is true, as Bob Hepburn of the Toronto Star pointed out, “Ford Nation remains a potent political force.
And now it seems the force may be with us at Queen’s Park as it was for so long at Toronto city hall.