Day 6

Ford Nation rises again: How a clear brand and good timing carried Doug Ford to Queen's Park

Doug Ford made plenty of promises on his way to becoming the next Premier of Ontario. Can he deliver?

No experience, no platform, no problem

Doug Ford held a press conference on June 8th, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario (David Donnelly/CBC)

When he launched his leadership campaign for Ontario's Progressive Conservative party from his mother's basement in January, there were jokes and skepticism about where it might lead.

But Thursday night, Doug Ford was elected premier of Ontario by a wide margin.

The Ontario election has been described in headlines as "contentious," a "roller-coaster," "where truth went to die," and as the "nastiest, strangest election ever." 

The Liberal government, after a 15-year run, was taken down by ethics scandals and overspending. They went from majority government to not even winning enough seats to maintain official party status.

In the polls, Andrea Horwath's NDP surged to pull neck-and-neck with the Progressive Conservatives, but ultimately their expensive promises would mean a lot of spending. 

And then there's Doug Ford, who has no experience in provincial politics, has accused the media of conspiring against him, and offered a list of campaign promises rather than a costed platform. And it worked. 

Former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne acknowledges her Liberal supporters following the election results. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

Anne Kingston, an author and columnist with Maclean's, and Conway Fraser, communications strategist, shared their perspective on the election with Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

Here's part of their conversation:

Brent Bambury: Conway, on Thursday you tweeted that election day was like Christmas — that some people would get iPad's, and others would get coal. What was there more of, iPad's or coal?

Conway Fraser: I think this was one of those Christmases where it was a little bit austerity, and a little bit overgenerous, depending on which house you were in. When it's Christmas, sometimes we have bad Christmases, sometimes we have good Christmases. 

Sometimes when we're kids you walk out in the street the next morning in snow when you look at your neighbour and go: 'What did you get?' It's like: 'Oh my god! I got the new Lego set!' ... And then the other guy will go out, and go: 'What did you get? And I'd be like: 'I got a carrot.'

Well, some people got carrots and rocks and some people got Lego sets and G.I. Joes and Barbies.

BB: Well, we all got a new premier in Ontario and last night an old hashtag from Toronto mayor Rob Ford's days gained new life, and that was #SchadenFord. Anne, how do you think people outside Ontario are viewing the fact that Doug Ford is the premier here?

Anne Kingston: I think their memory will be that of, of course, his infamous brother Rob and the chaos and the catastrophic kind of celebrity that accompanied that. ... I was talking to people in Alberta and they were [saying], 'Oh yeah, you're having an election.'

So in terms of how they will look at it, I think they're expecting the circus to come to Queen's Park and that's probably an accurate expectation.

Ontario PC leader Doug Ford reacts with his family after winning the Ontario Provincial election to become the new premier in Toronto, on Thursday, June 7, 2018. (Nathan Denette/Canadian PRess)

BB: But this is the first time that Doug Ford has been involved in provincial politics, other than the fact that he probably did some campaigning for his father who was an MPP in the Mike Harris government. What did we learn, Conway, about Doug Ford throughout his campaign?

CF: You know what I was most surprised by is, I don't know the Fords, but from being a former journalist and from following politics very closely, the whole Ford brand was about being authentic and off the cuff ... and being that kind of, you know, blue collar, down-in-the-basement so-to-speak kind of people. And I was really surprised to see how tightly [he was] scripted and managed and controlled.

He doesn't strike me as the kind of guy that would do well with being controlled. And he was very robotic and scripted and, I'll be honest with you, as this campaign ended ... the reality is I don't think Ontario really knows who the real Doug Ford is yet. I think that remains to be seen because what we saw was a product and a brand that was very tightly managed.

AK: I think that's a very apt kind of observation because, yes, we don't know who Doug Ford is at all.

We don't know what his platform is. He's made these preposterous promises that people want to believe. But I think that that is an absolute fact, this election represents sort of a widespread willful blindness on the part of the province. They wanted change and somebody who is this enigma. We know he has no experience. We know that he's basically promised a chicken in everybody's pot — and a, well, pot probably — but also, in terms of a buck-a-beer.

We are delusional if we don't think that there is going to be a cost to all of this on the other side of it. What was fascinating, I don't know if anyone has noticed this but, at the Ford campaign on the election night beers were $12, $10. That tells you all you need to know about the buck-a-beer promise.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath held onto her seat in Hamilton Centre, where she has served as an MPP since 2004. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

BB: Conway, Doug Ford made a lot of promises and we don't know how many of those promises will actually be fulfilled. But if you're in his place what would you do first in order to show that you mean business.

CF: If I can get inside of the psyche of Doug Ford and how he runs — so I'm not suggesting this is what I would do, but what I would expect that Doug Ford would do, I need to really preface that — is you know some of the low-hanging fruit.

One is the buck-a-beer thing that Anne referenced. So that whole that whole Roman idea of give them bread and circuses. And so, you know, it's summer, it's hot, buck-a-beer would be from a strategic communications point of view. That would be the low-hanging fruit.

The other one is the carbon tax situation. And that is a very long and complicated process. But I do believe, and I'm not an expert, it begins with them filing some official paperwork with the Supreme Court or some of the courts in Ottawa to get that process going. And so he'd want to at least show that he has begun the process.

BB: And that will also begin his relationship with Ottawa. Anne, what do you anticipate there? What will relations be like between Doug Ford and Justin Trudeau?

AK: Justin Trudeau has lost a soulmate in Kathleen Wynne, of course. And I don't imagine there'll be much — just girding the loins in terms of dealing with one another. They are pivotally, you know, at odds in a number of strategic areas. So this does not bode well.

We'll see how it plays out provincially. It'll be interesting to see what happens in Alberta as well in terms of the rise of a Conservative government in Ontario.

But this cannot be a happy day for Justin Trudeau.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Anne Kingston and Conway Fraser, download our podcast or click Listen above.