I’m somewhat perplexed by the Ontario PC Party.
First of all, let me be clear: it is not easy to run a leadership campaign, and I commend all those working in the party to run such a campaign on a tight schedule, with the eyes of Ontario (and probably Canada) fixed on your every move.
But the party’s leadership has to be aware that it has sent a somewhat dangerous message to Ontarians in its campaign to elect a new leader. That message is simple: governance under the Provincial Conservatives could be chaotic.
I don’t say this because of the fact that the party had to have a leadership convention. That part is, by and large, unforeseeable to many. But it’s because of some of the conscious choices and messages being sent by the party in its communications to the media and the public. For example:
- The fact that the interim leader jumped on a podium within a few hours of his election to the post to declare that there is “internal rot” within the party does not send a positive message about the PC Party’s readiness to govern. This is not an issue that would be resolved by a new leader, especially within the 3 months or so before the election in June.
- The confusion about who won the leadership election could have been better handled, in my opinion. This could be addressed by way of a press update that clarifies what the delay in announcing the results is about. As of the date of writing this, it seems to have been a non-mechanical balloting issue, but we may find it is something else in the near future. Either way, a reasonable explanation is better than none at all.
- When you have leaders from within the PC leadership declaring this to be a “Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton” situation, this simply re-enforces to the public that chaos will ensue no matter the outcome, and especially if Doug Ford wins (as of writing this, the announcement from the party is that Ford has, in fact, won). To many Ontarians, what is happening with Trump in the US is not the kind of chaos and instability that they want to see in Ontario. If that is the core of the message that the party is prepared to send to its constituents, then that will have its consequences.
It remains to be seen where the party will go under Ford’s leadership. However, his first true test will come in June, when he is expected to take the PC Party to the governing reins after nearly 15 years of Liberal governments.
A quick thought to keep in mind: many Ford supporters may be hoping that the momentum of winning the leadership role will carry Ford into the premiership, but this is still a tall order to ask. The mere fact that Ford won the leadership does not mean that he will pull a Trump-like victory in June – there have been other elections across the world since where populist agendas were defeated in national and provincial/state-level elections (for example, in the Dutch parliamentary elections of 2017 where the ultra-nationalist “PVV” party came in second, despite a strong surge from its previous showing in 2012).
But a lot could happen between now and election day.