Opinion: How Ford differs from Trump

Doug Ford is no Donald Trump. He is a much more standard politician.

True, the Ontario Progressive Conservative leader shares some of Trump’s bumptious qualities. He is big, bulky and has a healthy regard for himself.

Like the U.S. president, Ford prides himself on being plain-spoken. He likes to say he champions the “little guy.” He sometimes exaggerates.

But politically, Ford is in an entirely different space than Trump was during his run for office.

First, he is far more popular. Polls pegged Trump as the most unpopular presidential candidate in recent history. By contrast, Ford’s poll numbers are comfortably high.

An EKOS poll released last month shows Ford and his PCs scoring highest among almost every category of voter. Men liked him better than Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne and New Democratic Leader Andrea Horwath. But so did women.

Older voters preferred Ford. But so did those between the ages of 18 and 34. He was the top choice for the university and college-educated as well as those with just a high school degree.

The Ford Tories led their rivals in every area of the province except Toronto (where the Liberals did best).

What this means is that the Ford phenomenon is not just based on the resentment of a Trumpian working class that feels hard done by. If the EKOS poll has any merit, it is far broader.

But it is also shallower. That is the second big difference.

Trump’s appeal was based largely on who he was – a politically incorrect celebrity running on a simple, nativist platform to make America great again.

By contrast, Ford’s appeal is based on who he is not: He is not Kathleen Wynne. Many voters know little more about him than that.

And so he is more careful than Trump. In Monday’s televised leaders’ debate, he avoided saying anything unduly outrageous. Indeed, at times it was if he were on the sidelines, watching his two rivals duke it out.

The only odd thing he said was that Wynne has a nice smile. But I doubt that will get him in much trouble with voters.

So, too, was he careful in his flip-flop on the green belt, that ring of protected land around the Greater Toronto Area.

Earlier this year, Ford told builders he would allow development in the green belt. When that pledge became public and attracted criticism, Ford simply reversed himself and became the green belt’s biggest supporter.

It wasn’t an elegant flip-flop. Nor did it reflect a Trumpian refusal to admit mistakes. But for a party leader anxious to avoid being labelled an environmental troglodyte, it was politically wise.

Finally, Ford is being forced to deal with the contradictions within his own party. He was happy to accept the help of outspoken social conservatives such as Tanya Granic Allen to win the PC leadership.

But like other Tory leaders before him, he balked at the idea of allowing such social conservatives to define the party. When the Liberals released footage showing Granic Allen making disparaging comments about gay marriage, Ford axed her as a PC candidate in the June 7 election – even though she had already won the party’s Mississauga Centre nomination.

Compare that to Trump’s support for alleged pedophile Roy Moore in last year’s special Alabama senate race.

In short, Ford – unlike Trump – is pitching to the centre. This may not satisfy those who prefer to see Ford as the anti-Christ. But it is not unusual for a Tory leader. Nor, as Ford is discovering, is it easy.

Critics are now asking why, in light of the Granic Allen scandal, Ford chose former AM radio host Andrew Lawton to be the party’s candidate in London West. It is alleged that over the years, Lawton made comments on social media that were dismissive of gays and the deaf.

Lawton explains that he was mentally ill at the time and thus “reckless in almost all areas of my life,” the London Free Press reports.

That explanation would almost certainly satisfy Trump. Will it be enough for Ford? I expect he will do the usual political calculation to find out.

Thomas Walkom is a national affairs reporter.

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