Doug Ford Is Brash, But He’s No Donald Trump

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This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on April 21, 2018.

“Trump is crass and a bully. Despite what has been said about him, the Conservative leader doesn’t have a penchant for inappropriate behaviour. In fact, Ford has said remarkably little that would not be considered fair game,” writes Jaime Watt.

Earlier this week, Ontario PC leader Doug Ford made an announcement that sent a shock wave through the canyons of Bay Street. His first act, should he be elected premier, said Ford, would be to fire Mayo Schmidt, the president and CEO of Hydro One, and the company’s entire board of directors.

Ford’s language was stark. “If they don’t [resign] … let me tell you something. When I’m Premier, you’d better believe I’m kicking each and every one of them out the door and taking their hands out of the pockets of hardworking taxpayers.”

Rarely is such blunt and aggressive language used in Ontario public life. Predictably, the announcement was met with recrimination. Sceptics, business leaders and pundits alike quickly noted that the premier would have no such authority to deliver on his promise upon reaching power.

Hydro One itself immediately released a statement defending its compensation structure. The organization forcefully argued that its pay policies were in line with competitors and cost ratepayers mere cents on the dollar. Hydro One’s statement went on to remind Ontarians that they are an efficient and dedicated provider of energy.

But while the business community and other stakeholders were quickly lining up behind Hydro One’s board and executive team, a different coalition of voting interests was forming.

Ford knows well that for his electoral fortunes, there is nothing more helpful than a sweeping referendum on the governmental and economic institutions that underpin Ontario’s current system.

If the critics say it can’t be done, all the better. Ford knows that the Ontario voter is both frustrated and angry. And he knows they don’t care about details, they just want action. And so, he’s channelling that anger, refusing to get confused by details and he’s promising action.

Voters may not understand much about the regulations underpinning Ontario’s energy sector. But what they do understand is that they feel the system is rigged against them; that they are alienated and locked out.

Ford promises to fix that alienation – and voters don’t care about how he does it. They crave the action he promises.

Sound familiar?

Thousands of barrels of ink have been spilled about President Donald Trump and his manner of reaching disaffected voters in much the same way – a plain-spoken and frank approach that has long been out of fashion in politics.

But just as much has been written about the corrosive effect of the Trump approach.

And so it came as no surprise that Premier Kathleen Wynne accused Ford of acting just like Trump.

The reason for the comparison? Ford had said that “if Kathleen Wynne tried to pull these kinds of shady tricks in private life, there would be a few more Liberals joining David Livingston in jail.”

Wynne said the comments amounted to Trump-style bullying and were unwelcome in Ontario. “Not here,” wrote Wynne. “Not ever.”

The problem is, beyond their plain manner of speaking, Ford is not easily compared to Trump. While it’s true that neither man has much regard for the political or economic establishment and both have shown a penchant for publicly attacking institutions to shock that establishment and delight their fans, that’s where the much of the similarities end and the differences become quite evident.

Trump is crass and a bully. Despite what has been said about him, the Progressive Conservative leader doesn’t have a penchant for inappropriate behaviour. In fact, Ford has said remarkably little that would not be considered fair game.

Trump frequently veers off-message, speaking off-the-cuff about any issue that he pleases. Ford, by contrast, has proven remarkably disciplined, closely following his campaign’s central themes.

Which may be why the Trump attacks have failed to land. Ford’s approach has, thus far, allowed the PC leader to come across as a predictable and consistent, if brash, voice for respecting the taxpayer.

He has managed to successfully channel voter frustration, and every article penned about how the changes he champions cannot be made only reinforces his message that not only can change be made, he is the one to make it.

As unconventional as it is, this approach may well take Ford right to the premier’s office.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

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