Doug Ford’s ascendency to the Premiership has been rocky and raised concerns both inside and outside of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. Ford won the hastily called leadership convention after the previous Leader Patrick Brown was deposed in a coup over allegations of sexual impropriety.
Ford, who lost the popular vote and riding vote to runner-up Christine Elliott, still managed to win based on the convoluted electoral system devised by the PCs. As the outsider in the leadership, he only had three caucus members endorse him and no significant party establishment support; Ford inherited a fractured party with no time to put his supporters in place.
During the campaign, he brought in some of his people from his failed Toronto mayoralty bid and imported a raft of Harper era campaign staff. The campaign started out with strong polling numbers but dropped throughout giving the NDP a shot at beating the once unbeatable PCs.
The campaign also saw a number of scandals plaguing the Ford campaign from the 407 data breach to the lawsuit by his sister-in-law over his late brother Rob’s estate. With several police investigations and lawsuits involving Ford, his candidates and the Party it will challenge him to focus on trying to put together a government and plan for governing.
As Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne can tell you, these accusations can take up a lot of bandwidth and keep you from getting your job done. The question will be whether his caucus is prepared to put up with these issues?
Unlike City Council, the Ontario Legislature is a very different place. The Premier is one person and while he or she wields a lot of power the rules of the game are very different. As was seen in the Brown case, once the story broke caucus and staff abandoned the Leader that led to his resignation.
Having been successful in ousting Brown, will his caucus be willing to put up with the circus that his late brother Rob and he ran at Toronto City Hall?
Traditionally newly elected members owe some of their success to the Leader and his campaign team. In this case, many will feel that Ford didn’t do anything to help them and they would have won with him or someone else. If there is a sense that his campaign offered little or no help they may not feel obligated to follow him on every issue. This sense of independence for caucus could pose a significant obstacle for Ford.
With several potential successors elected, such as Christine Elliott, Caroline Mulroney, Rod Phillips, Vic Fedeli and Lisa MacLeod among others ready and willing to take over, as well as a caucus that was largely put in place before his arrival, Ford may find that their tolerance for a circus-like atmosphere at Queen’s Park is quite low.
Adding to this is Ford’s lack of governing experience. At City Hall, he was an advisor to his brother and a Councillor who only showed up occasionally. His lack of understanding the mechanics of government was highlighted when he was asked during the campaign if he knew how a bill was passed and was unable to answer. Like his role model to the south, he is not interested in the details of governing. He will, however, soon learn that staff and bureaucrats will try and rein him in from the freewheeling candidate on the election trail. If he chafes at this and starts battling them it may give caucus the excuse to replace him.
All of this will challenge Ford to present a cohesive government and not fall into traps that will depict his fledgeling administration as incapable of governing.
If that should happen, watch for people to push him out the door before he could inflict permanent damage to the government and party. Voters wanted change in this election, not chaos. Ford will need to move swiftly to deliver on that without the theatrics that marked his late brother’s administration, otherwise, he could find that his tenure as Premier will be one of the briefest in Ontario history.
Marcel Wieder is an award-winning political consultant. He is President and Chief Advocate of Aurora Strategy Group based in Toronto.