By Rob Hurst
There are some remarkable lessons to be learned from Doug Ford’s stunning landslide last Thursday.
First, the Big Blue Machine is back. Doug Ford’s victory is reminiscent of the John Robarts majorities from the 1960s. Call it Big Blue 2.0.
Second, the opposition parties showed they are lost and largely deaf to the rhythms and sounds of life in Ontario. For example, the NDP, Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, was clearly out of touch with its own base when auto workers and construction trades voted for Doug Ford. Andrea Horwath has been a great asset at Queen’s Park, but one felt sorry for her during her concession speech, whining and hectoring the same old talking points we’ve been hearing for a decade.
The Liberals are even a sadder case. They fashion themselves as Boy Scouts, but they’re without a leader, wandering around an Ontario forest without a compass or map.
The Conservatives ran a master class in political campaigning. The most inspiring manoeuvre was the trap they set over highways. The opposition parties got sucked in and crushed.
Doug Ford said he would build Highway 413, and he kept repeating it every day. Elections in Ontario are won in the suburbs, the riding-rich 905. If you live there, every morning and every evening you are fighting traffic and gridlock.
By immediately opposing the 413, the NDP and Liberals signalled they represented the bicycle riders in the leafy elite downtown neighbourhoods of The Annex and Moore Park. By the time those good folks are pouring their second gin and tonic before dinner, the hard-working men and women of the suburbs aren’t even home yet. Supper must wait.
It was a knockout blow. Campaign manager Kory Teneycke, take a bow. The ghosts of Dalton Camp and Norm Atkins, Conservative helmsmen from long ago, would be proud.
And there are other lessons from Thursday.
On the very day of the Ontario election, the New York Times ran a piece about the Canadian political scene. The Times wrote that Canada is facing “deepening culture wars”, and that the “far-right” is rising.
Oops. Wrong—at least in Ontario. Doug Ford runs his big old pickup truck down Main Street. He had expelled the right-wing gadflies in his own party. They’re now on the fringe, humbled and quiet and far away from power or a megaphone. There is even diversity in the Conservative tent.
Are there messages here for the federal Conservative leadership race? Is Pierre Poilievre, the ‘knight of populist anger’ and the perceived front runner, listening and learning?
It was interesting to watch our own riding in Parry Sound-Muskoka. The Conservatives were clearly scared when the Liberals didn’t run a candidate. Was a gang-up protest vote the only way to win in a long-time Conservative riding? Both the Greens and the Conservatives ran solid ground games, but the Conservatives did it better. And they did it right to the end, twisting arms of reluctant local politicians. It was, however, disappointing that one old Tory war horse used insults to try to score points.
So, apparently, we in Muskoka are going to get train service again. Regular GO-Train service would be nice. Newly elected MPP, Graydon Smith, is promising two new hospitals. Will they offer cardiology, cancer, maternity, and orthopaedics—procedures key to modern hospitals?
One of the most exciting promises is Doug Ford’s commitment to build an all-season road to the Ring of Fire—the precious metal deposits 500 km north of Thunder Bay. Some say it could be Ontario’s Leduc #1, the 1947 Alberta oil gusher that helped make Canada a wealthy nation.
There are some concerning issues from the election. Doug Ford shunned the media. There was no campaign bus to carry reporters. Many Conservative candidates declined to debate. The Conservatives had every right to run their campaign this way. But they were hardly held to account. The Queen’s Park press gallery is weak and ineffective and that will not serve our province well, especially if the Conservative super-majority missteps.
Perhaps the most important lesson may be about Doug Ford himself, which is yet untold. When Conservative premiers John Robarts and Bill Davis dominated Ontario politics in the ’60s and ’70s, they took on an additional role, voluntarily and willingly. They became national statesmen. Conciliators. They supported a new Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights. They became nation-building advocates.
It’s an important role for any Ontario premier. It’s a role available to Doug Ford if he chooses to take it.
Robert Hurst, the former president of CTV News, has reported on local, provincial, and federal politics for 40 years.
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