Doug Ford rejects Trump comparisons but Twitter fans urge him to Make Ontario Great Again

Doug Ford is laughing off the idea of adopting Make Ontario Great Again as a campaign slogan in his bid to lead the province's Progressive Conservative Party. He's also rejecting any comparisons to U.S. President Donald Trump but he's making some familiar populist promises in his campaign.

Doug Ford is running for Ontario's PC party leadership and making some similar promises that Trump made

Ontario PC leadership candidate Doug Ford held a campaign rally in Toronto on Feb. 3. Ford promised to be a voice for those who have been ignored and to lower taxes. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Doug Ford's supporters on Twitter are calling on him to "Make Ontario Great Again," but the candidate for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party is laughing off the idea of adopting Donald Trump's catchphrase as a campaign slogan and rejecting any comparisons to the U.S president.

"No, I haven't seen that one. That's a good one," Ford told CBC News and Radio-Canada reporters Tuesday when asked about the hashtag #MOGA circulating on Twitter. "That's funny," he said with a big chuckle during an interview in his office at Deco Labels, the family business.

Ford quickly dismissed the notion that there are similarities between Trump and himself.

"Not at all. Not at all," Ford said. "Good luck to President Trump. I'm worried with Ontario. I'm not worried about what's going down in the states."

"I don't have to compare myself to Donald Trump," Ford also said, adding that he and his family have been in politics long before Trump came along. 

Ford, a former Toronto city councillor, brother of the late mayor Rob Ford and son of Doug Ford Sr., a former MPP, said he's focused on the issues that matter to Ontarians.

"We are going to create prosperity that this province has never seen, ever. And it's going to be exciting, I can tell ya," Ford said in his trademark folksy manner.
Supporters gathered to hear Ford address a campaign rally in Toronto last Saturday. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Whether he likes the comparison or not, Ford's campaign is viewed as a populist one that in some ways mirrors the one that helped Trump get to the White House. 

Ford is making some of the same promises Trump did, and both men enjoy the same kind of loyalty from their base. Supporters of the Fords, a family long involved in politics and well-known in their community of Etobicoke, are called members of Ford Nation.

'He tells you no crap'

Avelino Da Silva is one of those proud members. At Ford's kickoff rally on Feb.3, Da Silva was right in front of the stage to hear from the man he hopes is the next premier of Ontario.

"I think we're going to have more or less another Trump," Da Silva said when asked why he likes Ford. "What he says, he does, and that's what we need in a politician."

Standing nearby was Al Mendrycki, who travelled from Whitby to Etobicoke for the event.

"He tells you no crap. He delivers what he says. He's just an honest guy," Mendrycki said about Ford.

He also sees Ford as someone who gets things done, and he likes that he's a businessman.

"He does what he says, and I think Doug is way better at it than Trump is," Mendrycki said. "He's got my vote."

Also standing in front of the stage was a young man holding a sign that played off Trump's Make America Great Again slogan. It read: "Make Ontario Affordable Again."
Avelino Da Silva attended Ford's campaign rally on Feb. 3 and said he sees similarities with U.S. President Donald Trump because Ford does what he says he's going to do. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Pollster Frank Graves, whose firm EKOS Research is studying populism in Canada, said Ford's brother was a populist mayor and that was years before Trump came along.

Now, Doug is carrying on with the same themes that helped the Ford brothers get elected at city hall but his leadership campaign promises are also familiar to anyone who followed the U.S. election. Like Trump, Ford's also tapping into frustrated and disaffected voters in the province.

"I can see in some of the messaging that he's delivering that I think he's trying to play to those same currents," Graves said.

Ford promises to be a voice

Michael Adams, founder of Environics research firm and author of Could It Happen Here? Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit, notes that populism in the United States and attitudes on issues like immigration and patriarchy differ with Canada.

But like in the U.S., there are angry voters in Ontario dissatisfied with the state of affairs and that could bode well for Ford, Adams said.

"What he is going to do is exploit the normal populism that comes at a time when people feel the government is taking them for granted," he said.

Ford, also a wealthy businessman like Trump, is blasting the "elites" in his party whom he says are disconnected from real people and don't care about the struggles of everyday Ontarians.

Doug Ford announces he is publishing a book: Ford Nation, Two Brothers, One Vision: The True Story of the People's Mayor, at a news conference in 2016. Ford's late brother Rob was Toronto mayor and the two worked together at Toronto city hall. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

He's promising to lower taxes and bring manufacturing jobs back to the province. He's promising to be a voice for those who have "been ignored for far too long."

Where Trump promised to "drain the swamp" in Washington, D.C., Ford is promising to "sanitize" Queen's Park, the Ontario legislature. The government is wasting taxpayer money, and it's not accountable or transparent, Ford claims.

Despite his family's long political history and connections, Ford is pitching himself as an outsider and a fighter, not unlike the picture Trump painted of himself.

"We are ready to take back our province and I am ready to fight for you," Ford told a cheering crowd of supporters at his rally.

Can Ford Nation grow?

But is Ontario ready for Ford? A populist appeal worked for his brother, it worked for Trump, but will it work with PC party members who so far are choosing between Ford, former MPP Christine Elliott and newcomer Caroline Mulroney?

Graves said populist forces in Canada are more muted than in the U.S., and less frequent, but "they are definitely here" and lately they've been "orphaned" because there hasn't been an effective leader to give voice to them.

"This kind of orphaned populist movement may now find a leader that is speaking the kinds of things they want to hear," Graves said.

Patricia Winter is supporting Doug Ford in the PC party leadership race. At his rally on Feb.3, Winter said she wants a strong man, not a woman, to lead Ontario. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Patricia Winter, sitting at a table at Ford's rally, said Ford has "that forceful nature" she wants in political leaders. Winter said she doesn't want a woman leading the PCs or the province.

"I think we need a man, a backbone. It's just my feeling a man will do a better job as premier than a female," Winter said.

For Ford to beat two women to become PC leader and then take on two women in the June election, Premier Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, he has to broaden his appeal beyond Ford Nation in Toronto.

There is fertile ground for Ford's messages to resonate around Ontario, said Graves and Adams.

His promise to bring manufacturing jobs back to areas that have lost them, for example, could resonate in cities like London, Oshawa and Windsor — the province's equivalent of the "Rust Belt" south of the border where Trump found support.

Feelings of economic insecurity, disdain for elites, frustration with the status quo and feeling left out and ignored by politicians were all forces that helped propel Trump, and Graves said they are powerful forces that shouldn't be discounted here.

Whether there are enough members of the Progressive Conservative Party in Ontario who share those feelings, and mark a ballot for Ford because of them, will be revealed when the new leader is announced on March 10.

"Can he win? Sure, anything is possible," Grave said. "It's not unimaginable at all."


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multi-platform reporter with CBC in Toronto. She previously worked in CBC's Washington bureau and covered the 2016 election. Prior to heading south of the border Meagan worked in CBC's Parliament Hill bureau. She has also reported for CBC from Hong Kong. Follow her on Twitter @fitz_meagan