#onpoli newsletter - Who's "the exact opposite of Doug Ford"?

Revisiting some earlier episodes of our Ontario politics podcast
By Eric Bombicino - Published on Jul 16, 2019
MIchael Coteau and Steve Paikin
Michael Coteau and Steve Paikin in conversation for TVO's #onpoli podcast.

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Hello, #onpoli people,

Happy Tuesday! The provincial legislature is on break, which makes it a perfect time to catch up with us.

We’re publishing the #onpoli newsletter once a week all summer — on Tuesday as you can see — to give you what you need to be in fine form for fall. The #onpoli podcast will be back in September for Season 3 to help you navigate Ontario politics and the federal election. And we’ll resume our twice-weekly schedule for the newsletter, too.

Until then, have you ever considered how politicians are a lot like professional hockey players?

Both are under constant public scrutiny. There are the star players (the premier and members of cabinet) and the role players and grinders (the backbenchers). They can have moments of great sportsmanship but are generally playing a nasty, elbows-up game. The comparisons are endless. (Heck, some hockey players even become politicians.)

But the one way they are the most similar is in their seemingly effortless ability to respond at length to questions from the media without actually saying much of anything.

They have the rhythm and syntax of someone about to say something substantive; they tell you that “all the lines are firing tonight” and “they gotta give 110%” or that “they need more public consultations” — but by the end of their answer, you realize you have learned nothing.

Which made for quite the surprise in this interview with Liberal MPP Michael Coteau when podcast host Steve Paikin asked him about rumours that he might run for the provincial Liberal leadership.

“Well, I've decided that I'm going to pursue it,” Coteau said.

You can hear Steve taking a moment to process Coteau’s reply. As a journalist, this is a question that you have to ask but don’t really expect to be answered.

“So, you’re in?” Steve asked, double-checking that he heard him correctly.

“I’m in, yeah. I’m in,” Coteau repeated. It surprised everyone in the room, including me.

Now, the Don Valley East MPP had been remarkably candid during this interview about everything from his childhood in Toronto, to his troubles in high school, and his parents’ divorce when he was a teenager. It’s a great glimpse into the mind of someone who has his eye set on a leadership role in Ontario politics. Listen to Coteau chart his path, all the way from landing in Toronto, from England, as a child, to his decision to try to become the first Black leader of the Ontario Liberal party.

Here’s what some of you had to say about the interview.


Say what?

Jessica Smith Cross, a journalist with QP Briefing, followed up with Coteau on his surprise announcement for a leadership bid on our #onpoli podcast.

Coteau talked about how he was inspired by Brian Mulroney’s 1984 debate performance. This stuck out for Jonathan Scott.

The first Black premier

“There's never been a Black Liberal party leader before,” Steve said in this episode. “There's never been a Black premier before. How important would that be to you to be number one?”

Coteau’s answer was interesting. He will inevitably be asked this question many times between now and March 7, 2020, the date the Liberals will choose their new leader. Still, when Steve asked, Coteau’s revelation that he would run was only three minutes old — so his response was probably a little more fresh and less rehearsed than you’re going to hear in the months to come.

Let’s break it down:

First, Steve’s phrasing of the question reminded Coteau of his daughter.

“It's funny. I was running out of the house today, racing my daughter to the car, saying, like, ‘I'm number one! I'm number one!’ And she beat me. She says, ‘No, I'm number one.’”

I think this was a genuine and funny comment, but being in the room I got the sense Coteau was taking his time and slowly considering how he wanted to answer the question.

He then reflected on former Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne and how her experience would relate to him.

“It's very symbolic and very meaningful to people, being the first female premier. I think it would be good for young people to see someone a bit different from what they've seen in the past.”

Then he pivoted and said that “more than just being the first possible Black premier,” it would be meaningful to be someone “who’s not from, you know, the upper middle-class, not from the establishment.”

At this point, I think Coteau hit on something we’ll be hearing more and more from him — positioning himself as the person that Premier Doug Ford claims to be.

“Our premier always says that Liberals are, you know, elitist and [he’s] there for the people.

“I think I’m the exact opposite of Doug Ford,” Coteau said. “I grew up poor, put myself through post-secondary education, and I built something by myself.” (Obvious subtext alert: Ford inherited his father’s business.)

Coteau continued: “People who feel like they've been forgotten and that people don't pay attention to them, people who feel left out — I think I would represent more of that than just being, like, the first Black premier. I think I'd be the first premier from the other side of the street, right?”


Liberal love for Mulroney

Coteau has been a Liberal since he was in university, but one of his first political inspirations was Brian Mulroney.

Coteau reminisced about his childhood and watching Mulroney, then the federal Progressive Conservative leader, take on Prime Minister John Turner in a federal leaders' debate in the 1984 election campaign.

John Turner and Brian Mulroney
Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press/thestar.com

“There was something about Brian Mulroney that, you know, just caught my attention. He was just so good as a politician, right? The way he could express himself and bring people together.”

Mulroney’s performance in 1984, Steve says in this episode, was “the best debate performance of any candidate ever. It changed the election overnight.” Turner’s Liberals went down to defeat in a landslide, ushering in nine years of Tory governments.

And a young Coteau was watching. Given how polarized our politics has become, I wonder if any future Liberals will look back on Stephen Harper or Andrew Scheer as inspirations; or if any future Conservatives will do the same with Jean Chrétien or Justin Trudeau. Yeah, probably not. What do you think?

As always, I’d love to hear from you. Please write in to onpolitics@tvo.org.

That’s all for this week!
Eric
#onpoli producer



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