A recent Toronto Star article written by Queen’s Park Bureau Chief Robert Benzie shed some valuable light on a story that has been gaining steam in recent months; that leader Andrew Scheer and the federal Conservative Party are getting more and more worried about Doug Ford, his Ontario counterpart. In the piece, Benzie quotes an anonymous senior party official saying, “Doug Ford is the No. 1 issue at the doors (for candidates) here.” On top of the story, a recent poll revealed that over half of Ontario voters are less likely to vote for the federal Conservatives due to the actions and policies of one Doug Ford. Unsurprisingly, opponents and critics are trying to seize on the opportunity. Advocacy group Engage Canada released ads during Game 5 of the NBA Finals that described Scheer as Ford’s “Yes Man.” While the charge may not be entirely fair, that’s beside the point. Enough people are upset with Doug Ford, who has seen his party’s poll numbers drop into the mid–thirties, that Ontario’s federal map is wide open.
Scheer and both his supporters and colleagues are trying to do the work of blunting Ford’s impact. They will speak to anyone who cares to listen as they explain that, indeed, the provincial Tories and federal Tories are, gasp, not the same! They’ll remind us all that these are two different levels of government, tasked with different responsibilities. But, there’s little else they can say, but there’s no other option than to start the generic damage control campaign. This has become necessary on the heels of the drastic, erratic cuts Ford’s government has brought to Ontario services. No longer freed by simply running for office and not occupying it, the vague banalities of Ford’s hopeless plan to seamlessly find efficiency and ensure no one suffers one bit, Ford’s popularity is on the wane. Simply put, people are finding things to be unhappy about. In a sense, this is doubly problematic for both Ford and Scheer. Not only does it cause a potential schism between them, this development was precisely what was foreseen and discussed in opposition to Ford during the Ontario provincial election. Now, the federal Liberal and NDP parties have the opportunity to find credibility where it otherwise may be lacking, warning against the euphemistic generalities offered by Scheer, by pointing a finger at what’s happening in Ontario. Fool you once, they may offer up.
What is especially empty and cynical about any attempts by Scheer and the federal Tories to distance themselves from Ford is that Ford is precisely their ideology made manifest. They may hum and haw when the polls show trouble, but these are the sorts of cuts that the Conservative Party wants made anywhere, anyhow. To try to parse between the responsibilities of federal and provincial governments is so disingenuous because the workings at the provincial level are in many ways the dirty work of a philosophy of gutting social services and public benefits. Provinces deal more directly with healthcare, education, and many other aspects of social life that impact voters in real and direct ways. To see Ford go to town fighting against the public sector is exactly what they want. They simply want it both ways; to see the cuts take place while feigning hesitance. They want to reduce the conversation to criticism about Ford’s style, tone, the speed with which he’s gutting the budget. But, the ideas are the one’s they themselves have been bleating on about for decades.
What this sets up is a fascinating, if grotesque, potential conflict. Ford, for all his flaws, is not one to shy from of a fight. Indeed, at times he’s seems incapable of not taking whatever bait is flung at him. No doubt if he starts to believe what’s coming out of the federal Tory camp, there will be a reaction, and Scheer must tow a thin line. He can’t alienate Ford Nation completely, but cannot go down with a Premier he’s in danger of being too closely associated with. Ford will eventually begin his kicking and screaming, and it may be hilarious to behold.
Scheer and those of his ilk likely see Doug Ford as an extremely useful idiot. One who can do the dirty work of the dark side of the party’s philosophy, while the more ‘dignified’ Tories such as Scheer, retain the gloss required to win federally in a time when the most populous state is undergoing a delirious austerity program whose major goal for now seems to be to sell beer everywhere. If Ford begins to feel that is how he is seen by conservatives in Ottawa, who knows what the future will hold. But, most likely, it won’t be a smooth ride for Tories at any level of government, particularly in this fair province. V