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Andrew Tumilty: How long can Ford's luck hold?
The opposition may have missed its best chance to bring down Ontario's premier, but it will not be the last one.
By: Andrew Tumilty
If you have ever spent any time in a casino, you probably understand the fallacies of chance and probability. For example, if the roulette wheel has landed on red 10 times in a row, people will bet on red, believing that the streak will continue, while others bet on black, “knowing” the same streak can’t possibly continue.
Of course, the wheel doesn’t know that it landed on red 10 times in a row, so the odds are the same on the 11th spin as they were on the first.
Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford is a talented retail politician. He is the son of an MPP and inherited a multi-million-dollar family business, yet consistently portrays himself as an everyman here for the little guy. His talent should not be dismissed, but neither should a lengthy streak of good luck that, like the ball on the roulette wheel, was entirely beyond his control.
Doug Ford would not even be leader of his party, never mind premier of Ontario, had the fates not conspired to see Patrick Brown ousted just months before an election. Being elected a party’s leader at such a moment would normally be a mixed blessing at best, given the constraints of time and logistics. Unless, like Ford, you were running against a Liberal government that had been in power for 15 years and reached historic levels of unpopularity. The prevailing theory among political practitioners is that a coatrack painted PC blue could have been elected premier were it running against Kathleen Wynne in 2018.
No one would say that a once-in-a-century pandemic was fortunate. That said, during the early days of the pandemic, Ford took the opportunity it provided to change the public perception of his government. To that point, his government had been more concerned with disruption than governance, via mid-election city council cuts, a fiasco with his chief of staff, cancelled green energy programs and Supreme Court fights.
That all changed when the pandemic hit. Ford was out every day for months conducting press conferences and briefings. People across the province were tuned into the news like never before, and there was Doug Ford, looking the part of a serious leader, able to work across partisan and intergovernmental lines.
When it came time to get re-elected, lady luck smiled on Ford again. The first of his two rivals was Andrea Horwath, who had never made a significant breakthrough with voters across the province — despite, at the time, being NDP leader longer than Netflix had been available in Canada,
For the Liberals, there was Steven Del Duca, elected leader right before the pandemic restrictions really kicked in, denying him the opportunity to get out and let people get to know him on a leader’s tour.
Conditions beyond his control handed Ford the best-case scenario for a re-election campaign, and unsurprisingly, he won another majority.
The latest bit of fortune for Ford came more recently. With accusations of backrooms deals, ministerial resignations, and a reversal of a major policy, the Greenbelt scandal handed a perfect opportunity to the opposition to spend days putting the heat on Ford’s government.
Naturally, the NDP chose to light a match under their own feet instead with the ouster of Hamilton-Centre MPP Sarah Jama over her comments concerning the Gaza War, plus the ensuing blowback against NDP leader Marit Stiles as different factions within her party turned on each other.
The opposition may have missed its best chance, but it will not be the last one. The RCMP has launched a criminal investigation into the Greenbelt affair, and the acting auditor-general has announced he will be looking closer at the province’s plans to redevelop Ontario Place and the Ontario Science Centre. Another scolding from the A-G is something most people will miss, but few will ignore the news if members of Ford’s government, or even Ford himself, face criminal charges.
Even if Ford is personally cleared in the RCMP investigation, if there are charges, there will be a more and louder calls for resignations. Unfortunately for Ford, the chief of staff and minister most directly responsible for the Greenbelt have already resigned, leaving the premier himself as the only person left to fold his cards and quit.
Ford’s political skill and savvy have been greatly bolstered in the last five years by a remarkable streak of good luck. If and when his luck runs out, either Ford or his own caucus may decide that it’s time for him to cash in his chips and walk away.
Andrew Tumilty has crafted strategic communications and advice for federal, provincial, and municipal campaigns and candidates. He is a senior consultant for strategic communications and issues management with Enterprise Canada in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewTumilty
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