Wow. Just wow.
It was surreal to wake up to the news that Doug Ford is the new leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party. It shouldn’t have been surreal, considering how many hard-right populists have risen to political power in recent years, but here we are. One more doughy blue-blood shoved into a suit and bleating catchphrases that are somehow more compelling than they have any right to be. He pandered to the lowest common denominator, and it paid off, as it almost always does nowadays. Why the hell am I surprised?
You can’t really talk about Doug Ford without comparing him to his brother, Rob. After all, Doug is basically humping the goodwill Rob earned over his many years as a committed municipal councillor. I didn’t like Rob Ford, but at least Rob had some redeeming qualities. He had a solid work ethic (when he wasn’t on an epic binge), was sincerely devoted to his constituents, and despite his ignorance, skewed priorities, and general misconceptions about damned near everything, he sincerely loved Toronto and wanted to do right by it. He was constantly wrong about issues, could be downright vicious to people who crossed him with as much as an inconvenient question, and somehow got blackmailed by crack dealers twice, but he wasn’t entirely bad. He wanted to be a good person, even if circumstance, genetics, and his own weakness kept him from that goal. His death at such a young age was a tragedy, at least for his young children who truly loved their father.
Conversely, I can’t think of a single decent thing to say about Doug Ford. The fact that he doesn’t share his brother’s vices is disconcerting because he’s so awful anything that might impair his functioning would be a net gain. Even traits that would otherwise be positive only serve to make Doug worse. For example, he’s a highly intelligent man, which just means he has no excuse for pleading ignorance when he gets something wrong. He’s a cruel, selfish, capricious thug who lies to his supporters about damned near everything, ranging from his awareness of his brother’s substance abuse to presenting himself as some sort of blue-collar everyman. The only time he ever seems sincere is when he’s bullying someone who isn’t giving him what he wants. He’s a living testament to the dangers of right-wing populism.
And he’s almost certainly going to be our next Premier.
One hardly needs a play-by-play on reasons to rebuke Doug Ford. For some, his pattern of abusive conduct and general hostility towards any form of opposition is reason enough for disliking him. A friend of mine usually points to Ford’s 2014 attack on a group home for autistic children, in which he accused the residents of ruining the neighbourhood and lashed out at anyone who challenged him. Personally, I can’t get over this whole thing where a rich guy claims to be a common man by dubious virtue of having no class. He’s insulting his own base, and they’re thanking him for it. While I’m more than a little impressed by the audacity of it and can’t help but acknowledge that it’s a fantastic example of voters getting the leader they deserve, it’s still frustrating. I may not have much regard for conservative populism, but the vast majority of people don’t deserve a leader who thinks so little of them.
But, like it or not, the reality is that a lot of people buy what Ford is selling. Also, while the product he’s selling is trash, he (like most populist conservatives) is a marketing genius. Few can mobilize their supporters quite like Fords, and they are legion. They’ll also get in bed with basically anyone, as we witnessed with the unusual but understandable alliance with Tanya Granic Allen’s religious grassroots followers. Admittedly, that wasn’t too difficult: promise to let anti-abortion protesters threaten women outside family clinics, and you’re bound to be seen as a hero to the religious right. Combine that with the typical platform of unspecified budget cuts, tax cuts, and promises to maintain service levels despite said cuts, and you too can obtain a base of rabidly vocal supporters who will push you into positions of power you don’t deserve based on obvious lies and fantasies. While it’s obvious that Doug Ford has little respect for his audience, he’s a master at manipulating them into getting him what he wants.
And conversely, his opponents don’t make it difficult for him. If the provincial Liberals are masters at anything, it’s ensuring that no one is happy. Hell, they managed to balance the budget for the first time in a decade (something you’d think everyone could get behind), but they’re still about as popular as common sense at an NRA rally. While the NDP’s prospects are improving, between their mediocre leader, losing their star MPP to the feds, and still living in the shadow of Bob Rae, they’re not likely to win. We’re not producing anyone or anything nearly so attention-grabbing as the machinations of the right-wing, and while we can gnash our teeth at the right’s propensity for praising people who insult their intelligence, it’s damning that we can’t do better.
Frankly, we’re also prone to unflattering glibness and insulting commentary. One refrain I saw more than a few times following the PC nomination was basically “they elected Ford because conservatives won’t elect a woman.” Even if I were to concede that there’s a misogynistic bent in conservative politics, they lost for a number of reasons, ranging from the voting system to Ford’s established talent for rocking the vote. In the end, that refrain just tarred every right-leaning person in Ontario as a bigoted idiot, and even if that were an accurate assessment, since when does a bigoted idiot stop being a bigoted idiot because you call them a bigoted idiot? We could take a lesson from Ford, in the sense that he’s great at appealing to one’s self-interest while concealing his obvious contempt for his own base. Difficult as it may be to mask your disdain for the beliefs of someone who follows Rebel Media because the Sun’s too left wing, there’s a lot to be gained from a little civility and a lot of tact.
In any case, Ford’s probably going to be our new Premier. Buckle up, because things are about to get weird, and they’re certainly not about to get cleverer.