Northern Ontario voters 'in for a treat' with Doug Ford leadership victory

Less than two months after Patrick Brown dramatically stepped aside as leader of the province’s Progressive Conservatives, the party has a new leader.

Conservatives say populist Ford will connect with voters

Doug Ford leaves a press conference after being named as the newly elected leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives at the delayed Ontario PC Leadership announcement in Markham, Ont., on Saturday, March 10, 2018. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Less than two months after Patrick Brown dramatically stepped aside as leader of the province's Progressive Conservatives, the party has a new leader.

Former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford was named the Ontario PC leader after a turbulent party convention on Saturday,

Two Conservative supporters told CBC's Morning North what this might mean for northern Ontario.

Mike Smith, a long-time Conservative in Sudbury and former Reform Party candidate, said he supports the populist Ford.

"[When] I heard Doug Ford put his name forward, we were on the bandwagon within five seconds," Smith said. "I went to see him, and had some reservations about the Trump north comparison, but when he came out and spoke he connected with the crowd very quickly."

"He came back to government waste, that it's hurting health care," Smith said. "He said we need more front line workers in health care. That was my tune, that's what I wanted to hear."

Paul Demers, a Toronto-based Conservative strategist who originally hails from Sudbury, said Ford was not his first choice. He added that the former Toronto city councillor takes an unfair bit of criticism from opponents for being too similar to populist U.S. President Donald Trump.

"He unfairly has targets on him, in which people don't seem to know why they don't like him," Demers said. "Maybe because he speaks more of a common language for the electorate."

"He may seem folksy but I wouldn't underestimate his intelligence," Demers said. "He's already talked about paying no tax if you make under $30,000 a year."

Demers said the tumultuous leadership selection demonstrated some rifts within the Conservative party, but it appears all candidates accept the final result.

"I was there on Saturday and I saw friends who were in opposing camps who are still speaking to each other," he said. "It's a little bit of a family fight, but the dust has settled and everyone's going to have Sunday dinner together."

"But I'm relieved it's finally over, and we now have a captain leading the team down the ice," Demers said.

Northerns will appreciate 'common sense' approach

Demers also said that northern Ontario voters may share more in common with Ford than they realize.

"I think people will appreciate the honest approach he brings," Demers said. "In the past, it was the blue collar factory workers, whether in the Soo or Kapuskasing, or in Sudbury, I think those people, are going to be very intrigued by Doug Ford."

"I don't think he's a big, bad monster. He's not a Trump. I dare say it, he brings a commonsense approach to politics."

"We're in for a treat."

For another perspective on Doug Ford, take a listen to this interview with Nipissing University political science professor David Tabachnick on CBC's Up North program: