Doug Ford's PC leadership ambitions leave Tories split
Some Tories would prefer Ford to stick to private life, others would welcome his candidacy
"I can honestly say I wouldn’t rule that out right now."
Eleven little words from failed Toronto mayoralty candidate Doug Ford, suggesting he could vie for the Ontario Conservative Party leadership, have sent shock waves through the party.
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Ford is the brother of Toronto's outgoing mayor, Rob Ford. He took over his brother's campaign after the mayor was diagnosed with cancer.
Doug Ford didn't win Monday's election, but he threw a real scare into John Tory, the eventual winner, with a second-place finish that was an awful lot closer than many had expected.
Ford's 330,000 votes was a respectable showing for someone who inherited the campaign late and whose "retail politics" skills are nowhere near as well-honed as his brother's.
Behind the raw numbers, something even more important: the "geography" of where Ford beat Tory, who clearly won "tony" Toronto.
Ford captured areas of the city where people are struggling and feel left out — people who are socially and fiscally conservative and prepared, as well, to separate Rob Ford and his missteps from his brother.
Doug Ford can and does connect with a lot of people who see him as their champion against what he calls "the elites" like John Tory and Premier Kathleen Wynne, a message that resonates inside and outside Toronto.
Ford also believes — unlike the candidates already in the PC leadership race — that only he can take on Wynne and her government and bring the Tories back to power — back to the days of Mike Harris. His father, Doug Ford Sr., was a backer of Harris and friend to the late Jim Flaherty, who served in the provincial cabinet and then moved to Ottawa to become the federal finance minister.
Ford's boast that only he can bring down the Liberals is seen privately by many Tories inside and outside of Queen's Park as "pretty rich" for someone who until now has only "threatened" to run provincially, but who backed out of the June election after he was quietly told the "welcome mat" that was once there for him had been lifted.
Fast forward to the present, however, and there are Conservative members of the legislature who want the mat put back, believing Ford would have a "real shot" at winning the leadership over the five already declared candidates who generate a bit of a yawn from Conservatives looking for a new leader and a new direction.
Ford a 'polarizing figure'
Some Tories are privately worried by the prospect of a Ford candidacy.
So far, though, caucus and party members are only prepared to talk privately — no name attribution — about Ford.
One member of the legislature, told of the prospect of a Ford leadership run, responded by saying: "Doug Ford? Oh my God."
Another source, outside the legislature, had a blunt response and a laugh: "Are you [deleted] kidding me?"
He and others believe Ford would be a "polarizing figure," heading a party that’s been "at war" with various groups over the past decade and a party that must change that approach if it’s to enjoy electoral success in urban, not just rural Ontario.
But then there are others, who, like the people in some parts of Toronto on Monday, think Ford’s the answer.
If Ford runs, his candidacy would put him up against Christine Elliott, widow of Jim Flaherty, who as a federal cabinet minister stood by the Fords through thick and thin. Flaherty never wavered in his support and was concerned about the Ford family in general and Rob Ford in particular, urging him to seek help for his drug and alcohol issues.
That Ford would even consider derailing Elliott, now the perceived front-runner — way out ahead of other candidates in recent polls — speaks volumes about his desire for the political spotlight denied him at Toronto City Hall on Monday.
It is also a belief that he or members of his Ford family have a kind of "divine right" to govern somewhere: municipally or provincially.
Ford said his final decision is still weeks away.
The clock is ticking. The deadline to enter the PC leadership race is January 30, 2015.
But, right now, Ontario Conservatives have their fingers crossed: some who want Ford in the race and others who hope he goes back to running the family label business.