Politics·Analysis

As Ford Nation conquers Ontario, federal parties ponder what it means for them

Canada's most populous province is now under new management after PC Leader Doug Ford ended 15 years of Liberal government. His win presents a challenge for Prime Minister Trudeau's progressive agenda, and has the other federal parties pondering what it means for them.

Trudeau lost a valuable ally — but gained a political foil

Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford reacts in Toronto after winning the Ontario provincial election to become the premier-designate on Thursday. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

It's time, Canada, to recognize the emergence of Ford Nation in the province known as Ontario.

Doug Ford — the bombastic, blustering and populist former Toronto city councillor — is going to be the next premier of Canada's most populous province. His victory, convincing as it was, came with an exclamation mark. He put an end to 15 straight years of Liberal rule.

Ford's victory also signals the arrival of a new dynamic in federal-provincial relations.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne were allies. Wynne could be counted on to support the prime minister's progressive ideals. She shared his view of government as an agent for change

And Ford? Well, he isn't, can't and doesn't.

A price on carbon? He's against it. Asking the wealthy to shoulder a greater tax burden? He's against that, too.

Pharmacare? Social housing? Gender-based analysis of government initiatives? All entitlement programs that rate no mention on the list of Ford government priorities, a list that begins with A for austerity.

In other words: chalk, meet cheese.

"The party with the taxpayers' money is over. It's done," Ford told cheering supporters. 

Ford may be the antithesis of Trudeau in terms of personality, style and politics. But longtime Conservative strategist Chad Rogers of the public affairs firm Crestview Strategy said it's not all bad news for the federal government.

"The prime minister gets a new foil," he said. "Ford gives him someone to campaign against next year on carbon pricing and pharmacare — which will be the two-step of the Trudeau agenda."

Liberal MPs say they prepared for the change in government — even before the deeply unpopular Wynne made her stunning concession in the waning days of the campaign that her Liberals simply couldn't win.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne laugh during their visit to the TMMC Toyota Manufacturing facility in Cambridge, Ont., last month. (Peter Power/Canadian Press)

Liberal Adam Vaughan represents the federal Toronto riding of Spadina-Fort York and also served on city council with Doug Ford.

Vaughan argues many of the federal government's policy priorities are in place now, with long-term financial commitments on housing, child care and other shared-cost programs.

"There will be lots of ways to read results. But at the end of the day, the demand for daycare doesn't change with the ideology of who's in power. The demand for transit doesn't change and the demand for housing doesn't change," he said.

"There may be different ways of delivering programs, but it's in all of our interests, regardless of which political party or government we serve, to find a way to make sure that things people need to live good lives arrive in their communities."

'Let Ford have his outbursts'

OK. But a number of those federal Liberal ridings in Toronto flipped Thursday to the PCs — a sign, perhaps, that voters even in that party fortress are growing weary of all the spending by Liberals at both levels of government.

Liberal MP John McKay concedes that Ford's victory poses a significant challenge to the federal government after years of mutual co-operation and support between Trudeau and Wynne.

Federal Opposition leader Andrew Scheer is pleased with the result of Ontario's provincial election. 0:40

McKay represents Scarborough-Guildwood. All six of the federal ridings in the Toronto suburbs are held by Liberals. Four of the six provincial ridings were also Liberal. On Thursday, only one of the Liberals held on. The Conservatives and NDP split the rest.

"We discussed this prospect in our Scarborough caucus and decided to invite the winners, whoever they might be, to a meeting where we'll try to identify priorities and issues we can work on together," McKay said, listing transit, housing and child care as priorities in the region.

Dealing with Ford, McKay said, does present a challenge for the Trudeau government. He said he expects the prime minister will approach him with the same strategy he's used with U.S. President Donald Trump.

"Let Ford have his outbursts. Let him selectively choose his facts — but stay with our agenda."

An ally for Scheer's Conservatives

Federal Conservatives are no doubt pleased by the outcome, even if Ford is closer to the blustering Trump in style and substance than he is to the studied competence of former prime minister Stephen Harper.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer put out a brief statement on social media Thursday night, congratulating Ford.

"Only positive Conservative policies put people first and create prosperity for all Canadians," the statement read. "I look forward to working closely with Premier Ford and his government for the benefit of the people of Ontario."

While not exactly a ringing endorsement, make no mistake the federal Conservatives will be up to their elbows in riding poll results and other voting data, looking for any opening offered by Ford's win. There will be plenty of conversations ahead with the many former Harper aides who helped run the PC campaign, and former Conservative MPs who ran under the Ford banner this time after losing their federal seats three years ago.

The Power & Politics Ontario Election Panel - Rob Silver, Denise Siele and Olivia Chow discuss Thursday's election result. 10:20

They'll also be looking to see what Thursday's results suggest about upcoming provincial elections in Quebec and Alberta, where premiers now aligned with much of the Trudeau agenda appear to face the same challenges as Wynne.

"The Conservatives and Andrew Scheer get a well-resourced ally in the manufacturing centre of the country," said Rogers, adding the federal New Democrats can also take something positive from these Ontario results.

NDP, Liberals open new battlegrounds for progressive votes

Like Ford, the NDP doubled the number of seats held, and captured just over 34 per cent of the popular vote. The party also increased its support in southwestern Ontario ridings where the federal NDP has no track record of success — not even in 2011, when the late Jack Layton led New Democrats to Official Opposition status in the House of Commons for the first time.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath's solid showing, at the very least, gives her federal cousins a basis on which to target progressive voters, and to claim that it's New Democrats rather than the Liberals who are the agents of real change in federal politics.

"The NDP's positive message clearly resonated with many voters who saw the Liberals' record on progressive issues to be all talk and no action," said Melissa Bruno, the NDP's national director.

"This led to the NDP making historic gains, especially in the GTA's 905 and becoming the Official Opposition. Andrea and Jagmeet began building that GTA strategy while they worked together in Queen's Park. Tonight, we saw the plan pay off in some big ways and has provided an important base to build on for the federal election in 2019."

So there's a new electoral map in Ontario. After 15 years of Liberal red, the province is now Ford Nation blue, with some large swatches of NDP orange. 

It suggests Ontario — the province where federal elections are most often decided, where all of the main federal political parties must deploy considerable time and resources — could be even more interesting in the 2019 election.

And much harder to predict.

The Power Panel - Tim Powers, Brad Lavigne, Omar Khan and Hannah Thibedeau discuss how Doug Ford’s resounding victory in Ontario could affect federal politics. 5:32

About the Author

Chris Hall

National Affairs Editor

Chris Hall is the CBC's National Affairs Editor and host of The House on CBC Radio, based in the Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He began his reporting career with the Ottawa Citizen, before moving to CBC Radio in 1992, where he worked as a national radio reporter in Toronto, Halifax and St. John's. He returned to Ottawa and the Hill in 1998.