Can Ford mend the very party from which he tried to run away

The Ontario election is over, and the winner is… populism.

Its anti-establishment broom swept the Progressive Conservatives to victory with 76 seats, and saw the NDP form the official opposition with 40. It blew the Liberals out the door with just seven – while the Green Party gained its first seat in provincial history. It was a sea change years in the making, and one which should shape politics for all parties for years to come.

In retrospect, Ontario’s populist wave started even before the death spiral of erstwhile PC leader Patrick Brown.  It actually may have started with Brown himself, when he won the leadership back in 2015 in defiance of the political establishment of the time. Favoured rival Christine Elliott had received the endorsement of most of the party caucus, former Premier Bill Davis, and – ironically, considering what was to come – former Toronto mayor Rob Ford and future party leader Doug Ford.  Brown reached out to groups who felt ignored by the party brass, including social conservatives and new Canadians.  Under his leadership, the PCs’ first platform was called the “People’s Guarantee”, and while it differed in many respects from the vision presented under Ford, it gave a nod to the populist winds that were blowing into Ontario: lower hydro bills, lower taxes, less government waste.

The subsequent election of Ford as leader cemented the populist theme even further.  In a down-to-the-wire contest, Elliott lost once again, this time to Ford’s anti-establishment pitch. Ford carried this tone throughout the election, railing against not only the Liberal government, but the liberal media, and elites in general. In style, his campaign took a page from that of Donald Trump, emphasizing the leader over the party. On election night, at party headquarters, the branding was all Ford:  the campaign bus sat parked inside the lobby, Ford’s smiling visage towering 15 feet high; the slogan “For the People” graced the podium, nary a PC logo in sight; supporters sported t-shirts emblazoned with “Doug Ford”.  Even the traditional blue and white colour scheme was junked, in favour of red, white and blue.

At the same time, the NDP mined a populism of their own. Their “Change for the better” theme focused on disenchanted left-leaning voters, including social justice advocates and environmentalists. They appealed to young people, with student-loan forgiveness, and women, with promises of health benefits and low-cost daycare. Their surge can be ascribed to the same base that Bernie Sanders galvanized in the Democrats’ race for the U.S. Presidential nomination in 2016: the “progressive” anti-establishment voter. This appeal paid off most notably in Toronto, where they captured eight seats; their blue-collar base turned out in others, such as Oshawa, Ste Catherines and Hamilton; and their northern vote solidified in several key ridings.

Read the full article on iPolitics.

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