James Di Fiore is a freelance journalist focusing on politics and media. He is also a radio host at chcr.org in Killaloe. The opinions expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the author.
Just when you thought the long shadow of controversy and unexpected plot twists had left the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, along came Doug Ford to remind us that this particular political saga is far from over. Click HERE for my earlier op-ed.
Ford, who almost nobody predicted would win the makeshift leadership race hastily organized by a party still in turmoil following the Patrick Brown saga, was finally declared the winner after fellow leadership hopeful, Christine Elliott, conceded victory a full day after the ballot results were sanctioned by the party.
And now we enter the next phase of this political drama – Ford vs. Kathleen Wynne. Two polarizing figures with opposite views on how the province should be run. Wynne, who currently is the most unpopular premier in provincial history, is counting on Ford’s bombastic style to bury his own chances come June. For his part, Ford will rely on that same bombastic style to contrast Wynne’s perceived dishonesty, contrasting the status quo with a supposed tell-it-like-it-is veneer that is refreshing to some, cringe-worthy to others.
But there is one thing both leaders need to pay careful attention to – the ghost of Patrick Brown still haunts this election, and for reasons that may surprise you.
Brown was unceremoniously ousted as PC leader back in January after allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled against him by two women. A secretly recorded caucus meeting revealed a palpable eagerness to rid Brown from the party. After recently interviewing local MPP John Yakabuski about inferior broadband internet in the Valley, I asked if he was concerned about caucus protocol being breached as confidentiality is seen as a bedrock protocol among caucus members. Yakabuski, after a pause, cited the importance of caucus rules, but seemed taken aback at the question. He refused to tell me if the party was investigating who the culprit was, citing internal confidentiality.
I’m betting nobody will ever be held responsible. I’ll go all-in and say that no investigation is even being conducted. Brown maintains his innocence and has since filed a lawsuit against CTV News for libel. He reentered the race briefly, only to have his fellow Conservative MPs turn on him again through accusations of mismanagement and corruption.
A new wrinkle in this provincial election is whether or not Doug Ford will sign Brown’s nomination papers so he can run for his seat again in Barrie. At the time of this writing it looks like Ford will deny Brown the chance to run as a Progressive Conservative, meaning Brown will have to enter the race as an independent. Ford, who proudly promotes himself as an anti-establishment candidate, is allowing his establishment colleagues – Vic Fedeli and Randy Hillier, among others – to dictate how the party should handle Patrick Brown, leaving many members furious at their new leader. Indeed, Brown was instrumental in successfully building the PC party into the powerhouse it has become. He had a 12 point lead in the polls before the scandal, increased membership to record levels and filled the party war chest with millions of dollars.
Many Conservatives in Ontario credit Brown for giving the party a chance to win back the province, and Doug Ford could have signed Brown’s papers and still kept party unity in place, despite the vitriol by some establishment Conservative MPPs. Instead, Ford seems to have chosen to alienate a formidable chunk of already-frustrated Conservatives instead of pushing for true party unity, a risky strategy that has already produced party members publicly proclaiming they will be voting NDP in June. And disgruntled Brown supporters will likely not be the only voting group who finds reasons to cast their ballots for Andrea Horwath and the Dippers. Like we saw in Alberta a few short years ago when the long-serving party was in trouble and when nobody thought they could win, the NDP may be able to syphon votes from both sides. Wynne is that unpopular, Ford is a polarizing figure, but Horwath needs to find her charisma if she is going to take advantage of the chaos.
One thing is certain – Doug Ford is not his brother, Rob. He is also not Donald Trump, despite the media making this comparison ad nauseam. Not to speak ill of the dead, while being blunt towards the orange rodeo clown currently occupying the White House, I think it is fair to say Doug Ford is probably better suited for public office than both those individuals. Not exactly a high bar, I know. Ford’s main problem – the tendency to speak before he thinks – will leave much of Ontario with dubious choices: hold their noses and vote Kathleen Wynne to yet another mandate, vote NDP as sort of a protest vote, or simply stay home on election day.
Whatever the people decide, you can be sure there will be more fireworks during this campaign than any in recent memory.