Ontario PCs can win in Toronto with Doug Ford — and probably without him
The PCs could use the support Doug Ford had in the 2014 Toronto election. But do they need him to get it?
Doug Ford's pitch to Ontario Progressive Conservatives is that he can lead the party to a breakthrough in Toronto, a city that has spurned the Tories in four consecutive elections.
It's a big claim — and he has the numbers to back it up. But if the PCs want to storm Toronto in June's provincial election, do they really face a choice between Ford and failure?
Unlike his rivals for the PC leadership, Ford can point to his actual electoral performance to back up his claim that he can deliver in Toronto.
When he ran for the mayor's office in 2014 — stepping in for his brother, incumbent mayor Rob Ford, when he withdrew due to health reasons — Doug Ford captured 33.7 per cent of ballots cast in an election that saw an unusually high turnout for a municipal vote.
That number still put him in second place behind John Tory, who won with 40.3 per cent of the vote, and well below his brother's score of 47.1 per cent in the 2010 election.
But it's a number that, translated to the provincial level, would pay real dividends for the Progressive Conservatives.
The municipal results showed significant regional divisions in the city, with Ford winning in Scarborough and parts of North York and Etobicoke.
Ford's performance in the municipal race would be enough to deliver as many as 11 seats in a provincial election, based on how the vote broke down according to the current provincial riding boundaries — in York Centre, York South-Weston, Humber River-Black Creek, Etobicoke North (where Ford wants to run), Etobicoke Centre and all six of Scarborough's ridings.
Best PC results since the Harris years?
The PCs could have used another 11 seats in the last two provincial elections. That would have allowed them to hold Kathleen Wynne's Liberals to a minority in 2014 and to win under then-leader Tim Hudak in 2011.
The last time the Progressive Conservative seat count hit double-digits in Toronto was in 1995, when Mike Harris led the PCs to a majority government with the help of 16 seats in the city. Before that, in the days of the Big Blue Machine, the PCs routinely had 10 or more Toronto MPPs.
Ford's 33.7 per cent of the vote doesn't quite match Harris's results in Toronto in 1995 (40.8 per cent) or 1999 (37 per cent), but would still be better than any result the PCs have managed in a losing election in recent history.
A recent Ipsos/Global News poll found that a Ford-led PC Party would have 40 per cent support in Toronto, beating the Liberals by nine points — and possibly giving the PCs significantly more than 11 seats. Patrick Brown (36 per cent), Caroline Mulroney (36 per cent) and Christine Elliott (32 per cent) polled a little worse, though they all would either tie or beat the Liberals by five to six points.
Polls by Mainstreet Research and Forum Research, however, suggest that those forecasts are far from conclusive. According to Mainstreet, Ford would do marginally better in Toronto than any other candidate except Brown, while Forum suggests he would do worse than the other candidates.
PCs already poised for Toronto breakthrough
But these are hypothetical numbers based on the little information voters have about what these candidates represent. When they are removed from the equation, the situation in Toronto is still very positive for the PCs.
Without mentioning any of the leadership candidates by name, surveys by both Ipsos and Forum put the PCs at 36 to 37 per cent support in Toronto — a few points better than Ford's result in the 2014 mayoral election. The Liberals were behind with 33 to 34 per cent, a margin that likely would deliver a dozen or so seats to the PCs in the city.
And even before Brown's resignation, the PCs were well-positioned in Toronto. Polls over the three months before Brown's departure put the Tories anywhere between 27 and 37 per cent in Toronto — suggesting that the Liberals' stranglehold on the city was set to be significantly loosened well before Ford threw his hat into the ring.
Nevertheless, it's reasonable to believe that the PCs could do quite well in Toronto under Ford. Even if his floor is the 2014 mayoral election, the PCs would still put up their best showing in the city in almost 20 years.
But the polls suggest that Brown, Mulroney and Elliott also would have reasonable expectations of winning the party seats in the city as well.
Ford's claim that he can win Toronto for the PCs — or at least more of it — is credible. But do the PCs need Ford to pull that off? The answer to that question seems to be 'no'.