National Column: Ford knows there is more to politics than facts, details

by Thomas Walkom

There’s a canny logic behind Doug Ford’s often outrageous campaign behaviour.

The Ontario Progressive Conservative leader drives his critics crazy. He threatens to fire the head of Hydro One because he makes too much money. But he knows full well that such a move would cost more in severance pay than it saved.

He cavalierly promises to cut close to $6 billion in government spending if he becomes premier after the June 7 provincial election.

But he wonít say where the money would come from.

He says he will cut the corporate tax rate to 10.5 per cent in order to help small business – apparently forgetting that such a move wouldnít help small businesses at all (they already pay a much lower tax rate).

His pronouncements can be maddeningly detail-free.

But like his late brother and former Toronto mayor, Rob, Ford understands there is much more to politics than fact and detail.

Far more important is the impression that is left – the mood or feeling.

Take, for instance, Ford’s unprovoked attack on Hydro One president Mayo Schmidt. Logically, Schmidt is the kind of person Ford should like.

The son of Kansas farmers, Schmidt played professional football briefly before embarking on a
successful business career.

He now heads Hydro One, an electricity transmission monopoly that the Tories themselves tried to
privatize when they were in power. With the acquisition of a Spokane utility, he has begun an aggressive strategy of expansion.

Whatís in that biography for a well-to-do business person such as Ford not to like?

But the PC leader understands that personally attacking Schmidt for his $6-million annual pay packet does two things.

First, it speaks to the anger many Ontarians feel about their hydro bills. Second, it reminds voters of Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynneís spectacularly bad decision to privatize Hydro One.

That Schmidtís salary represents only a few cents on the average hydro bill is immaterial. His gargantuan pay packet neatly symbolizes everything that is wrong about a privatization scheme that enriched some but did the province no good.

In that sense, attacking Schmidtís salary neatly speaks to voter discontent with the Wynne Liberals. Don’t expect Ford to let up.

I expect most voters know that Ford would be unlikely to carry through with his threat to fire Schmidt, given that this would result in the Hydro One chief being paid up to $10.7 million in severance.

But I also expect they love to hear him utter those threats anyway.

These days, Ford is often compared to Donald Trump. I think the comparison is overdone.

I also think that Wynne’s decision to call Ford a liar and equate him with Trump smacks of desperation (although like many desperate acts it might work).

But in one important way, Ford is like Trump. Both men are skilled at reading below the surface and speaking to what they find.

Trump articulated the anger of the rust-belt, white working class. So far, Ford has been able to articulate Ontarioís unhappiness with the Wynne Liberals.

On Thursday evening, Ford spoke to a crowd at Mildmay, a small community near Walkerton, Ont.
According to the Owen Sound Times, which covered the event, hundreds showed up to see him.

So many jammed the hall that they stood shoulder-to-shoulder as Ford reiterated his threat to fire Hydro One’s Schmidt.

Later, I talked to a friend in the area, a long-time Liberal. He hadnít gone to the Mildmay event but had heard that Ford did pretty well.

“She (Wynne) is spending an awful lot of money. I might just vote for him,” he said.

Copyright 201-8Torstar Syndication Services

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