Doug Ford wants to be the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario because someone told him he couldn’t be. He told reporters as much on Monday: “The elites of this party, the ones who have shut out the grassroots, do not want me in this race.”
Ford then declined to take any questions, so we actually don’t know what else he wants to do in government, although it very likely involves subways, and Six Sigma, and a bunch of other phrases this reporter can recycle from his time covering Toronto City Hall during the mayoralty of Ford’s brother Rob.
What it doesn’t involve is honesty, goodwill, or public service. Ford has a record on all these scores, and it’s not good. Honesty? The man lied to the public about his brother’s conduct for years as the mayor’s office descended into a drug-and-drink-fuelled clubhouse. Goodwill? Ford opposed housing for autistic children in his ward, saying they — the children — had “ruined the community.” Public service? Ford couldn’t make it through one four-year term as a councillor without publicly professing to hate the job.
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That’s before we get to the monorails and the Ferris wheels. And this is important, because if the Tories are so badly bamboozled that they choose Ford to be their leader, they’ll have to deal with a man who is impossible to build policy around. In 2012, Rob Ford’s office was very near to a deal at council that would have credibly preserved his commitment to build more subways in Scarborough; Brother Doug blew it up a day later with intemperate remarks about how “all taxes are evil,” and how he was going to get a subway built with a casino.
Now imagine Premier Doug Ford trying to lead negotiations with teachers unions, or doctors, or prison guards, or other premiers, or Ottawa, and imagine all the ways those negotiations could go badly. When the Fords made clear their inability to govern at city hall (where Doug acted as the mayor’s unofficial adviser and henchman), people mostly worked around them. When the provincial government doesn’t do its job, people die: they die in ERs, they die in prison cells, they die from drinking water that’s gone untested.
Ford’s candidacy is the obvious and inevitable consequence of the PCs’ decision to have a competitive leadership race. In fact, it’s one of the strongest arguments against having an open contest: the lure of leading the Tories (flush with cash, leading in the polls) isn’t just going to entice party stalwarts to run; anyone who hasn’t been credibly accused of a serious crime probably imagines they’re eligible. And so does Doug Ford.
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This isn’t about politics: there are plenty of Tories who could launch credible leadership bids and who are honourable and decent people who’ve either put the work in as MPPs (in the case of Fedeli) or as longtime conservative activists (like Rod Phillips). Hell, Sam Oosterhoff has barely started shaving, and he’s done more real work as a public servant than Ford, who bumbled his way through the worst council term Toronto has ever seen and made everything he touched worse.
That doesn’t mean he’s a joke. Right now in the PC party, there are smart people advising other smart people who are dead certain Ford will be an also-ran, a footnote in the contest to come. George Smitherman surrounded himself with smart Tories in the 2010 mayoral election, and he’ll go down in history (by his own rueful admission) as the guy who lost to Rob Ford. People have a habit of underestimating the Fords. They would do well to recall that, in 2014, Doug ended up getting 330,000 votes in the mayoral election. There are 200,000 PC members in all of Ontario.
If the Tories were even a little consistent, Ford’s hubris would have already disqualified him. Unlike any other likely candidate for the PC leadership — even that political neophyte Caroline Mulroney — he wasn’t interested in running for a provincial seat until the leader’s position opened up. This is the most basic job requirement for leading a party in the legislature, and Ford wasn’t willing to do it until roughly 100 days before election day.
The federal Conservatives lambasted Michael Ignatieff for being too visibly ambitious as Liberal leader, for wanting an easy ride into 24 Sussex. Their attacks worked because they had the ring of truth to them. Doug Ford said, publicly and repeatedly, that he had no interest in running for an MPP’s seat until the very moment a Patrick-Brown-shaped hole appeared in the legislature. Ford will spend the next few weeks hollering about how he wants to fight for the people — but actual champions do the hard work of politics when it’s hard, not just when it’s easy.
Please, Tories, remember: he didn’t come back for you.