National Column: The important difference between Trump and Ford

by Thomas Walkom

Forget the comparisons to Donald Trump. Doug Ford, Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative leader, is very much a homegrown phenomenon.

If he and his party win the June provincial election, it will be for homegrown reasons.

Ontario is usually a Red Tory province. Voters tend to elect parties, whether they call themselves PC, Liberal or New Democrat, that promise the Red Tory formula of fiscal rectitude and moderately progressive social policy.

But every now and again, when they believe matters have swung too much to one side or the other, Ontarians elect a more radical government – one that promises to purge the system and restore balance.

Ford is banking on the hope that Ontario is ready for one of those purges and that his PCs will be chosen on June 7 to deliver the emetic.

This can be labelled populism, I suppose. But it is not the same kind of bitter populism that propelled Trump to the U.S. presidency.

Unlike Trump, Ford has not fanned the embers of white nationalism and nativism. Indeed, his Ford Nation backers are marked by their racial and ethnic diversity.

Unlike Trump, Ford levels no complaints against immigrants. Quite the reverse.

And the PC leaderís rants against elites are aimed not at those who have betrayed the industrial working class through flawed trade deals but rather at liberal snobs who just donít get what ordinary people want.

If Ford does become premier on the promise of delivering fundamental change, he will be following in the footsteps of Bob Rae and Mike Harris.

Raeís NDP was elected in 1990 by an electorate that had grown weary of then-premier David Petersonís governing Liberals but was not prepared to vote in the Tories.

The voters were not necessarily opposed to Liberal policies. But they did chafe at the governing partyís unbridled sense of entitlement.

In the next election, in 1995, Harrisí PCs were elected with a sweeping mandate to restructure a public sector that the voters thought was badly out of kilter.

The Harris years were marked by both radical change and conflict. In 2003, the voters decided it was time for a rest and returned the Liberals to power.

Since then, the PCs have been looking for another Mike Harris to purge a government they believe has grown fat and lazy.

There are similarities between Ford and Harris. Both hew to a few basic principles: tax cuts are good; regulations that interfere with business are bad; government is inherently wasteful.

Ford does not yet have the kind of fully costed platform that Harris brought into the 1995 election. But few voters read the details of political platforms. They are more interested in the broad strokes.

So when Ford announces he will cut just four cents from every dollar of government spending without laying anyone off or curtailing services, many voters nod in agreement. Where exactly that $6 billion will come from remains an unanswered question.

Fordís critics point to his views on sex education to paint him as a social conservative zealot. Ford has said that he would scrap the current curriculum and start over.

He has also allowed himself to be drawn into the fringes of the fraught abortion debate.

Abortion is a topic Ford would be wise to avoid. But it is unclear that expressing doubts about sex education is that far outside the mainstream.

Certainly, NDP federal leader Jagmeet Singh didnít think so. When he was still an Ontario MPP, Singh spoke in the legislature on behalf of those in his Brampton riding opposed to the new curriculum, referring to it as a “mistake” that was “disrespectful to parents in my constituency.”

Which is pretty much Fordís position.

None of this means that Ford has a lock on the election. Much can happen before June 7. Ontarians may decide that a full-blown enema isnít necessary.

But the fact that someone promising disruptive change could become Ontario premier is neither odd nor unprecedented.

This has happened here before.

Copyright 2018 and distributed by Torstar Syndication Services