Doug Ford would have provided a boost to an uninteresting Ontario PC leadership race

  • National Newswatch

Last week amid the media gong show, one could almost feel Ontario Progressive Conservatives breathe a collective sigh of relief with the news Doug Ford would not be contesting their party's leadership – but would instead back frontrunner Christine Elliot.However, Doug Ford's decision to sit this one out strikes a body blow to a once great party. The current crop of lackluster Ontario PC leadership candidates lack the energy, pizzazz, and quite frankly – the star appeal needed to thrust the leadership race into the media spotlight and radically overhaul a party on its death bed.Doug Ford's move to endorse the competent but uninspiring Christine Elliot will further entrench her lead in the race. Instead of a vigorous and competitive contest, Ontario Conservatives now appear destined for a humdrum coronation this spring.If the party's losses in 2007, 2011 and 2014 can be chalked up to anything, it's a consistent inability to effectively communicate their policies to the public and engage diverse demographics in the process.A political gladiator, Doug Ford is the only candidate who comes armed with the courage, stamina, and political smarts to reverse this trend and restore the once powerful Progressive Conservative brand.His entry into the leadership race would inject a veritable bolt of dynamism into a party that now finds itself broke, demoralized, and non-existent in urban centres.A Doug Ford candidacy would benefit Ontario Conservatives in three key respects.First, a Ford campaign would instantly bestow the PC leadership contest with the media coverage and public profile it so badly needs. Since the race was launched last summer, it has received scarce interest from the media. The recent saga surrounding Doug Ford's potential decision to enter the race garnered more media coverage than the entire contest thus far.This is an ominous sign for Ontario's Conservatives. This leadership contest stands as a trial run for the 2018 provincial election. It's a low-risk opportunity for Conservatives to trial balloon several policy and party reform proposals that might entice Ontarians to give their party a second look.But the current roster of candidates have done an underwhelming job of seizing the media spotlight thus far. Plenty of boiler plate criticisms of the governing Liberals have been bandied about – but not one new idea has surfaced.A Doug Ford candidacy would change this.The Ford campaign would instantly make the contest newsworthy – it would whip the media out of their complacency and inspire them to cover the leadership race. Ford's celebrity status would reap national media attention and put the party on a path toward exciting renewal.While the governing Liberals confront negative headlines relating to their fiscal challenges, Ford's leadership bid would provide an opening for more upbeat and hopeful media coverage.But a Doug Ford candidacy would be more profound and all-encompassing for the conservative movement than merely a bolstered media presence for the party. Were he to run, Ford would quickly sign up thousands of new party members from key demographics vital to forming a Conservative government – namely blue collar union members and new Canadians.Having placed a strong second to John Tory in October's Toronto election – winning the city's ethnically diverse inner suburbs of Etobicoke and Scarborough – Doug Ford would be well-positioned to tap into Ford Nation in a provincial context.Since 1999, Ontario's PCs have only won a single Toronto seat – in a 2013 by-election. In the last four general elections – under three different leaders – the party has been unable to win a seat in Ontario's largest city.Doug Ford's mere presence in the race would ensure the party is no longer an anathema in Toronto. Even if he were to fall short in his bid, Ford would have set the party on a footing to woo diverse demographics in the Toronto-region who typically would not consider voting Conservative.Finally, a Doug Ford leadership bid would offer the party an opportunity to correct its most obvious failure this past decade – a resistance to consulting party members and Ontarians on major policy proposals and an inability to communicate those policies clearly and convincingly.Whether it was John Tory's proposal to fund private religious schools or Tim Hudak's plan to axe 100,000 public sector jobs, Ontario's PCs have consistently failed to consult their members and the general public on major policy planks.They have instead sprung tone-deaf policies on a skeptical electorate come election time, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in three consecutive elections.Doug Ford's populism and plain speaking style would serve as an antidote to the Conservatives' challenges on this front. Ford simply resonates with a significant portion of the non-conservative electorate in a way that other Tory leaders haven't.By virtue of his frank demeanor and 'tell it like it is' approach, Ford could attract thousands of first-time voters into the Tory-fold – including new Canadians who have yet to be captivated by the available political options.If Ontario's Tories are ever to form a majority government again, they must meaningfully engage organized labour – not provoke the movement politically. Doug Ford is the only candidate with the disposition and political record attracting union support at the municipal level to accomplish this unenviable task.While a Doug Ford candidacy would inevitably get messy at times – attracting some undesirable headlines for the party – it would, on balance, amount to a huge boon for Ontario Conservatives. Were Ford to become PC leader, it would undoubtedly be a high-risk choice, but one that might accelerate the party's grueling assent to power.As the Ontario PC establishment move forward with yet another attempt at party renewal over the coming months, party brass might be wise to revisit their initial skepticism of Mr. Ford. While other candidates could well succeed at revolutionizing the party, Doug Ford just happens to possess virtually all of the requisite leadership qualities to actually make this a reality.Something tells me we haven't heard the last of Doug Ford.Andrew Perez is a freelance journalist covering politics and public policy. Andrew's work has appeared in iPolitics, The Ottawa Citizen, the University of Toronto's Public Policy and Governance Review, and the featured opinion section of National Newswatch.Andrew worked on Parliament Hill for government and opposition MPs through the non-partisan Parliamentary Internship Programme, completed a fellowship on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. and most recently worked in the Ontario Premier's Office. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism from Carleton University and a Master of Public Policy from the University of Toronto.