Opinion

Doug Ford's next challenge is to make sense of his many nonsensical promises: Robyn Urback

Doug Ford will realize very quickly that making a bunch of conflicting, unrestrained promises is a lot more fun than actually running a government.

Some suggest Ford will enjoy an unyielding Trump-like base of support. But Trump had far more time to campaign

Ontario PC leader Doug Ford reacts with his family after winning the Ontario Provincial election on Thursday. (Nathan Denette/Canadian PRess)

Campaign trails are sweet nectar to the ego.

Gruelling as they might be — and they are, both physically and mentally — they also come with wonderful-feeling things like cheers from adoring crowds, photo requests from strangers and big buses with your smiling mug plastered on the side.

I can only imagine how much more fun the campaign must be when you are unconstrained by annoying things like budgets and jurisdictions and reality.

When you can promise to spend fervently but cut nothing; to reduce government overreach but also "mandate" universities uphold free speech; to make government run more efficiently but also launch a massive bureaucratic undertaking in a Supreme Court challenge over the carbon tax. Ah, to dream.

There will be a time, probably sooner rather than later, when this fun will come to an abrupt end.

Perhaps it will be when future Premier Doug Ford has to backtrack on his promise not to cut municipal transfer payments to finance his 10-cent reduction in gas prices. Or when parents still find fault with his brand new sex-ed curriculum, despite a total overhaul. Or when the CEO of Hydro One cashes his next paycheque.

Whatever the exact cause, chances are it won't take that long. Ford will realize very quickly that making a bunch of nonsensical, unrestrained promises is a lot more fun than actually running a government. And after the first few months of playing defence in the legislature, to the media and to critics from within the party, it might not feel so good.

PC Leader Doug Ford addresses crowd at his headquarters in Etobicoke on election night. 0:46

That should be obvious to anyone who has made a career out of public service — or even to anyone who regularly observes its inner workings. Ford, however, does not appear to be one of those people, at least when it comes to Queen's Park. His serious interest in provincial affairs was quite clearly catalyzed by Patrick Brown's departure as PC leader, before which it was well understood he was going to run for Toronto mayor.

Turning promises into policy

The Ontario legislature might sound nice in theory, but actually governing is far more complicated. And chances are, whatever Ford does accomplish will not be met with the same raucous applause he's enjoyed for the last several weeks. People have all the time in the world to listen to you make future promises. They have far less time to wait for you to deliver them.

Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford was easily elected in his riding of Etobicoke North. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Some will contend that Ford's fans will support him no matter what he does, pointing to the unyielding support enjoyed by U.S. President Donald Trump. And while the similarities between the two are certainly there, I think a more fitting comparison for Ford is to Kevin O'Leary, who tried to parlay his reality television notoriety into the leadership of the federal Conservatives last year.

O'Leary also used his business success as evidence that he could run a government, and made all sorts of vague promises about attracting companies to, and investment in, Canada. But his campaign fizzled when the dream of "scrap[ing] the crap" out of Ottawa and other boisterous-sounding pledges was met with the reality that, hey, trying to lead a major political party is hard.

O'Leary launched a three-month bid to become Conservative leader last year. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Plus, the rules are really complicated. Indeed, just this past week, O'Leary told the Globe and Mail that he is prepared to launch a legal challenge over Elections Act rules that prohibit him from personally paying off the remainder of his campaign debt, since candidates cannot contribute more than $25,000 to their own campaigns.

"Somebody has to shine a light on it," he said, as if it was some sort of fine-print regulation, languishing in obscurity until he decided to run for Tory leader for a few months.

Yet O'Leary didn't then — and doesn't now — have huge swarms of fans rushing to his defence.

Sure, some people bought his businessman schtick for a while there, and many liked him, but they didn't love him. Indeed, that intangible appeal just wasn't there, and so the cult that has grown so adept at excusing away Trump's most glaring offences never developed, leaving O'Leary susceptible to his own defects.

The battle to build — and keep — a base

The same might very well be the case for Doug Ford. His brother Rob had that intangible essence that endeared him to many Torontonians, despite his many flaws, but that charm is notably absent in Doug Ford. Yes, he's a straight-talker, but not a particularly likable one, and he doesn't have that renegade quality that Trump effuses when he speaks to crowds or posts midnight ramblings on Twitter.

Ford is also disadvantaged in that he has had relatively little time to endear himself to Ontarians on the campaign trail.

President Donald Trump, seen at a recent rally in Tennessee, has a base of fervent supporters. But he also had a longer campaign in which to build that base. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

Trump grew his following over the course of a year-and-a-half, fortifying his base to the point of fervency by the time he became president. Ford has had just a few months, and will soon have to make good on many of his promises.

And by design, many of those promises will have to be broken.

He simply will not be able to finance his billions of dollars worth of spending without reducing services or adding to the debt. Cheap beer might not end up so cheap. Kids will still carry cellphones in school, despite the PC's last-minute pledge to ban them. Carbon taxation, in some form or another, will stay. Ford will have to wrangle a cabinet and deliver a real-life costed budget and explain why it's taken so long to get rid of "discovery math." All without the cheering crowds every time his car is put in park.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Robyn Urback

Columnist

Robyn Urback is an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at:

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