Almost three months after winning the Ontario Progressive leadership contest, Doug Ford has led his party to a majority government in the June 7 provincial election. Riding a strong wave of anti-Liberal and anti-Kathleen Wynne sentiment, Ford bested the NDP as the chosen alternative by Ontarians.
Despite winning an impressive 76 of the 124 seats in the newly expanded provincial parliament, Ford’s campaign was almost tripped up by his own lackluster performance and a resurgent NDP leader Andrea Horwath. As the campaign progressed, especially after the two first leaders’ debates, Andrea Horwath’s momentum grew and she appeared well-positioned to win, as some polls showed her in the lead and others showed her tied with Ford. But, the final two weeks saw the NDP momentum stall and then slip slightly. A number of factors could be have contributed to that. A number of commentators suggested that Horwath’s performance in the final debate was uneven, whereas Wynne was seen by many as the winner. As well, the strategic decision by the PCs to pivot their attack ads towards the NDP allowed them to undermine the NDP’s momentum. First, the PCs raised the spectre of Bob Rae’s NDP government of the early 1990s that saw a recession hit Ontario. They also attacked the NDP for having “radical” candidates who challenged the symbolism around wearing a poppy and proposed raising gasoline prices by 35 cents a litre.
At the same time, the PCs started to surround Ford with some prospective cabinet members to show their readiness to lead. Specifically, they had prominent female candidates Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney at his side to suggest that he had support from women. In contrast, despite being taunted by the PCs, the NDP never showed their potential cabinet team around Horwath, preferring to instead showcase her leadership. In hindsight, a photo-op with many of her established MPPs may have given Horwath an opportunity to emphasize her leadership team, specifically well-established candidates who could not be accused of being “radical”.
Nonetheless, Horwath generally ran a very strong campaign and presented Ontarians a solid alternative to both Wynne and Ford. The strategic decision to outline an election platform to the left of Wynne allowed Horwath to undercut any potential resurgence by Wynne with progressive voters. Horwath gave progressives, who were greatly disappointed by Wynne’s sale of a majority stake in Hydro, a safer place to cast their vote. And, once progressives decided that Horwath was their choice, she effectively neutralized Wynne’s potential growth.
For Wynne, her re-election chances were probably doomed the moment she decided to sell a majority of Hydro to private interests. Prior to that decision, Wynne had effectively portrayed herself as the defender of the public realm, particularly in contrast to former PC leader Tim Hudak’s 2014 election promise to eliminate 100,000 public servant jobs. Once she lost her brand as the defender of the public realm, her subsequent efforts to recapture progressive voters through hikes to the minimum wage, childcare improvements and labour law enhancements were seen by many as cynical political ploys. Then, when Horwath’s NDP presented their election platform with additional progressive measures, Wynne’s opportunity to regain progressive voters was seriously undermined and her fate was sealed. All that Wynne could do now was try to salvage enough seats to retain the Liberals’ official party status in the Legislature.
Looking ahead to what a Doug Ford majority government might look like, despite his photo-ops showcasing a leadership team, it is likely that Ford will be inclined to run a one-person operation. His background as a business owner will reinforce that inclination and, in practical terms, the power vested in the Premier’s office by our parliamentary system is well-suited for that lone-wolf leader type. For those who think that the formality and prestige of the Premier’s office or the influence of his advisers will temper Ford’s character, one need only look to Donald Trump to see how the perceived decorum and momentous responsibilities of the Presidency of the United States has moderated him. We should expect Premier Doug Ford to think and act like the Doug Ford we have already come to know.