06.06.2018 09:35 AM

Why it’s a mistake to underestimate Doug Ford: he’s not a snob, he’s not an elitist, and he talks like a regular person

From a few months ago.  I still stand by it.

When I quit the Olivia Chow Toronto mayoral campaign in 2014 – because she’d not told the truth to the media, among other things – guess who was the first person to call me?

Doug Ford.

“Warren, old buddy,” said Doug Ford, brother of former Toronto mayor, the late Rob Ford. “We’ve had our differences but I want you to chin up. Rob and I like you and respect you. Let’s get together when you get home.”

When you’re a political chew toy, you tend to remember calls like that one: you remember who called and who didn’t. So we stayed in touch after that. We did TV political panels together and we talked pretty regularly. I told him he shouldn’t run for mayor again because John Tory was doing a great job and would cream him. He should run instead to be Ontario premier, I told him.

There’s clearly a market these days for populist conservatives who defy the conventional wisdom and say what they think, I told him. And there were lots of reasons why he’d be a formidable Progressive Conservative leadership candidate.

Here are 10:

  • Ford’s working hard: Every plugged-in PC told me the same thing: “Doug’s working the phones. Doug’s reaching out. Doug’s doing all the right things.” He did what a party leadership candidate has to do in any contest: he worked his tail off.
  • Fords disciplined: I think his musings about scrapping a carbon tax were a mistake – we need it (as a province) and his party needs it (because it finances their entire platform). But apart from that, he didn’t blow any feet off and he said the kind of stuff card-carrying Conservatives love.
  • Ford has early support: Planning a rally early in a campaign is a big risk: it takes a lot of time and hard work to get hundreds of people to come out to an event. Well, Ford got thousands out for a Toronto rally at the start of his campaign and in a very short time frame, too. It gave him momentum and the visuals were pretty stunning – not everyone there was an old white guy. At all.
  • Ford’s evolved: A few weeks ago, I watched TVO’s fun Political Blind Date show, because Doug and federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh were on, and because I like both of them. Singh was engaging, warm and likable, as you’d expect. But so was Ford – big time. I was shocked at how he had evolved as a politician. Gone is the shouty city councillor, always being forced to defend his brother’s bad behaviour. In its place was a HOAG – a hell of a guy.
  • Ford’s better at retail: The TVO show also revealed something else. You could tell that the participants in the broadcast – the NDP members who agreed to the matchup and perhaps the TVO producers who came up with the idea – expected Ford to be what he had always been: a bit of circus act, a trained bear riding a tiny bike in the centre ring. Someone to be laughed at. Well, guess what? He was way better in the mano-a-mano s
    egments than Singh was. Way.
  • Ford has a USP: A unique selling proposition, that is. It’s easy to see how some disengaged voters – that is, 99 percent of voters – would see Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, and fellow PC leadership candidates Caroline Mulroney and Christine Elliott as all kind of the same thing. You know: female, centrist, careful, establishment. Ford is none of those. He offers the only clear alternative for the voters who are after one (and voters are always after one).
  • Ford gives quotes: The guy is a quote machine. The microphone loves him. He never uses a $20 word when a $2 word would suffice. He never uses jargon and acronyms and Newspeak. He talks about values. He knows facts tell, but stories sell. Ford is a one-man media machine.
  • Ford dominates the vote-rich Greater Toronto Area: An important Mainstreet Research poll – little-noticed in the Patrick Brown madness – showed that only one PC leadership candidate was very strong in the part of the province that decides who gets to be government: Toronto. In that area, Ford dominates. That matters. Remember: his brother crushed George Smitherman and Doug Ford himself came within 60,000 votes in his mayoral run against Tory in 2014. Ford Nation knows how to win in GTA.
  • Ford ain’t dumb: I worked for a populist-type politician who everyone – from the Martinites to the media – always dismissed. They always put him down. They always said Jean Chretien was dumb when he was way (way) smarter than all of them. Ford, so far, is running a very smart campaign. If he can keep his mouth under control, he’s got a real shot at winning the election.
  • Ford is reaching out: He did with me. And I know he’s reached out to many others who have criticized him in the past: “The door is open,” he’s telling them. “Just walk through it.” In a leadership race – and in an election – it’s all about connection. Ford is connecting. He’s reaching out.

Can Doug Ford win? Damn right he can.

Underestimate him at your peril.

13 Comments

  1. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    If the polls are to be believed, his party’s pulling ahead of the NDP. In the old days, someone this personally unpopular couldn’t win but Trump has shown us that it’s Wizard of Oz time…

  2. Gord says:

    Well put.

    I go berserk when I read the comparisons between Doug Ford and Donald Trump (even the NY Times, usually a pretty quality news outlet, fell into that trap). I just don’t see it. I don’t buy that *any* straight-talking, populist type who appeals to ‘common sense’ or pocketbook issues should automatically be lumped in with the Mango Mussolini or his white supremacist allies. Doug Ford is miles away from Trump. Look at the slate of PC candidates on their website. This ain’t your grandpa’s PC party.

    Do I think he’s got the chops to run one of Canada’s largest governments and largest economies? Time will tell, but I think the fact that he has surrounded himself with folks like Christine Elliott, Rod Phillips and Caroline Mulroney should tell us something.

    Ford would certainly not be my first choice if I were an Ontario voter, but the province could do worse.

  3. Lou says:

    It has been amusing watching the Star trot out story after story basically trying to charachter assissinate Ford. I look forward to the reactions of Regg Cohn, Hepburn, Mallick when Ford gets his majority. May Rival MSNBC and CNN when Trump won.

    • doconnor says:

      It’s the left-wing media’s fault that the right keeps choosing such flawed characters as leaders?

      • Lou says:

        They lose credibilty when they devote this much space on an estate issue while barely mentioning the lastest Glen Murray fiasco. Pravda isn’t wasnt that biased. Thankfully the Globe still treats stories as they should. Heck, even though they support the Cons, even the post has has some unflattering stories about Ford. The Star is acting like the wizard.

      • Fred from BC says:

        Yes, exactly.

  4. doconnor says:

    Re: Ford ain’t dumb

    Jean Chretien invented the fully coated platfrom. (He also invented throwing it out the window and engaging in full-on austerity instead.)

    Does Doug Ford not have one because he is smart and figures revealing his true plans would be worse then not having a costed platform or because he actually believes the magic of efficiencies to solve any defacit?

    • Matt says:

      You do understand that none of the parties platforms are actually fully costed?

      Horwath’s has a $7 billion ($1.4 billion /year for 5 years) error right from day one. She put zero costs to making Ontario a “sanctuary” province, which Concerned Ontario Doctors today said would add $2.5 billion/year just in health care costs. Her plan to buy back Ontario Hydro, according to several energy sector experts is understated by $3 billion to $4 billion.

      We all know Wynne’s platform, which was pretty much layed out in the budget, has according to th AG and FAO twice the defict the Liberals claimed – $12+ billion vs $6.7 billion

      And as you point out, some OPC promises have costs attached, others don’t and there isn’t a lot of detail how they’d be paid for.

      • doconnor says:

        It’s easy to avoid math errors if you don’t do any.

        No party has said that they would adopt the AG’s accounting method for the deficit.

        “there isn’t a lot of detail how they’d be paid for.” There is zero information on how the Conservatives would pay for anything. We don’t even know if they are basing their numbers before or after the most recent budget.

        • Chris says:

          No party’s platform survives the first TRUE look at the numbers. Whoever wins will have to do some serious number crunching. Maybe it was smart not to put out a firmly costed platform, because very few voters and no auditor general actually believe the OLP budget numbers.

  5. David Ray says:

    trickle me down Elmo when this clown realizes it is the economy and yes he is stupid. Sad

  6. Derek Pearce says:

    I do have to say that I speak like a regular person too. Just because I don’t pepper my sentences with folksiness and (god forbid!!!) have a degree does not make me elitist. I’m so sick of this thinking. It’s total BS. Hell, I make way less money than the median too but that doesn’t mean I have to be folksy.

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