Ontario PCs’ selection of Ford not surprising, but he still has many to win over

While recent political events have clearly demonstrated that polling data isn’t always accurate, the numbers suggest that the Ontario PC party is destined for a majority government come the summer. As of last weekend, Doug Ford is poised to be the next premier of the province in that scenario.

Some observers might be shocked the Ontario PCs picked the former Toronto city councillor as their leader in a time when they could pick up moderate votes that traditionally swung to the Liberals, but the result is hardly surprising.

While Ontario conservatives have romanticized the idea of a “big blue tent” party as a driver for electoral success, the reality is that a good number of traditional supporters of the party felt the policy direction under Patrick Brown swung too far toward becoming “Liberal lite” as Ford’s predecessor embraced a carbon tax and big spending. Some, like leadership candidate Tanya Granic Allen, pushed for the party to not forget about social conservatism. This leadership campaign offered them a chance at a do-over and they jumped at it.

Certainly, the govern from the centre model has worked well to bring political parties of all stripes to power, but it also presented something of an identity crisis. Would the party be able to honestly go to the polls criticizing 14 years of Liberal policy on spending and ideologies and that not offer something drastically different? It’d be a gamble to attract moderate voters while not energizing traditional supporters.

The polling numbers across Ontario suggest people are fed up high costs of living and they’re tired of the scandals that have been associated with government. While Ford certainly may have his detractors — many likely associating him with his late brother’s term as Toronto’s mayor — he built a political brand on being a defender of the blue collar class and on fiscal conservatism and cutting red tape. It’s not surprising that his messaging found support.

It is also easy to see how Ford’s anti-elite messaging worked for him, entering a race that seemed to be defined by dysfunction amid talk of impropriety within the party, of caucus and executives disagreeing on a path forward, and of fresh memories of a loss in 2015 when grassroots conservatives didn’t seem to be on the same page as their then-leader.

The Ontario PC party needed a fresh face and they had a man who has had success in a city where they desperately need to make headway who already had his own machine in high gear with plans to run for the mayor’s chair well in the works. That he wasn’t hand picked by the brass likely endured him to many.

What remains to be seen is how Ford will push forward and whether will galvanize support or turn off would-be voters. Ford has positioned himself well to take the position he’s now in and the election appears to be his to lose, but he’s going to face intense scrutiny — even from within his own rank. His politicking has taken him far, but policy will dictate whether he will win and what mandate he could have. He’ll need to find ways to bring people together, rather than divide them to have a lasting impact on the province.

-Adam Bramburger