Doug Ford is steaming ahead. His critics have accused him of being anti-immigrant, anti-medicare and singularly unqualified to become Ontario’s premier.
But if the public opinion polls are right, none of this has stuck. CBC’s Poll Tracker calculates that if current trends hold until election day, June 7, Ford’s Progressive Conservatives will handily win a majority of seats in the Ontario Legislature.
Was Ford, at best, an indifferent Toronto councillor? Perhaps. But outside the city of Toronto, few seem to care.
The latest Ipsos poll estimates that 49 per cent of respondents in the 905 region just outside of Toronto back Ford.
On Monday, Ford denounced what he called corporate welfare just before visiting a plant that had received federal government aid. For any other politician, this might have represented an embarrassing contradiction. For Ford, it was a non-event.
As a campaign spokesperson later told The Canadian Press, the PC leader doesn’t oppose all corporate welfare. He just opposes some of it.
At a leaders’ debate in Parry Sound last week, Ford said the province should be “taking care of our own first” before encouraging new immigrants to settle in Northern Ontario. Critics said this showed Ford to be anti-immigrant. But there was little evidence that many new immigrants took offence.
Similarly, Ford has not been wounded by potentially embarrassing candidates.
For instance, London West PC candidate Andrew Lawton, a former AM radio host, has in the past made dismissive comments about gays, women and the disabled.
Yet Ford continues to back his hand-picked candidate — and appears to have incurred no political cost in doing so.
Usually, political leaders are reluctant to do anything that might suggest they are critical of medicare. Ford has had no such qualms. Physician Merrilee Fullerton, the PC candidate in Kanata-Carleton outside Ottawa, is a well-known proponent of two-tier health care — which she calls a “hybrid” system.
When this was brought up by local Liberals, Ford’s campaign simply responded that the PC leader is “100 per cent committed to Ontario’s public health care system.”
Fullerton, whose website profile says she “supports a hybrid health system as a long-term solution to Canada’s health care challenges” issued an identical response. And that, it seems, was that. Medicare controversy over.
On it goes. Ford’s proposed middle-class tax cut disproportionally benefits higher income earners, according to economists with the leftish Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. But so what? The voters – including those who are low-income – don’t seem to care.
All of this drives Ford opponents nuts. They rail at the PC leader. They ask how Ontarians can opt for such a choice. They view those who would vote for him as delusional.
And, as a result, there are the inevitable calls for some kind of anti-Ford coalition between Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals and Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats. In the event that no party wins a majority of seats, could the two so-called progressive parties strike a deal to keep Ford from power?
The answer to that question is almost certainly no. The NDP would be committing political suicide if it made a formal power-sharing arrangement with the desperately unpopular Wynne Liberals.
And so anti-Ford voters are left with this option: The only way to prevent Ford from becoming premier is to ensure that someone else gets the job instead.
In 2014, enough NDP supporters voted for Wynne’s Liberals to keep Tim Hudak’s Tories from power. But Wynne was a fresh face then and relatively popular. That is no longer the case.
This time, the anti-Tory vote seems to be coalescing around Horwath’s NDP. Can it coalesce enough to keep Ford out of the premier’s chair? That is another question.
Thomas Walkom is a national affairs reporter.