Kelly McParland: Patrick Brown catches another break: Doug Ford will be John Tory’s problem

This story originally published here.

There’s been good news on several fronts this week for Ontario opposition leader Patrick Brown.

The gang he has to defeat to become premier next June—Ontario’s 14-year-old Liberal government—seems unable to win for losing these days. The party is busy defending itself on not one, but two, separate trials, which underlined just how routinely dark and dirty its operations have become. The premier’s effort to divert attention by unveiling its plan to monopolize the marijuana business was widely panned. The auditor-general warned that government budget figures can’t be taken seriously due to the accounting hocus pocus it has become addicted to in trying to justify its claim to a balanced budget. And the independent Financial Accountability Office reported that, far from aiding the underpaid, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s plan to boost the minimum wage to $15 in a little over a year’s time could cost 50,000 jobs, primarily among the bottom-end wage earners it claims to be helping.

It’s a heady collection of government missteps, snafus and dishonesty, but perhaps the best news for Brown came from within Tory ranks. Doug Ford, brother of former Toronto mayor Rob, announced that he’s running for office … and the job he covets is as mayor of Toronto, not as a member of Brown’s caucus.

Brown has been Progressive Conservative leader for two years, and it hasn’t been an easy time. To say he’s been keeping a low profile would understate how little Ontarians know of him. He’s faced internal battles, not surprising in a party that has blown three straight elections against a beatable opponent. He’s in his first senior political job after nine years as a federal backbencher. And he’s up against a ruthless government willing to exploit every lever available to it—including access to public funds and advertising dollars—to tilt events in its own favour.  

It’s something of a testament as to how disenchanted voters have become with the Liberals, then, that Brown’s party continues to lead in most polls. Ontarians have overlooked years of Liberal failures in rewarding them with repeated victories; perhaps they’re preparing to overlook some obvious Tory weaknesses as well. It’s certainly no sure thing, however, and the last thing Brown needed was another bombastic member of the Ford family spouting off from within his caucus.

“I am here to continue Rob’s legacy,”  Ford declared in announcing his candidacy at a backyard barbecue in the family stronghold of Etobicoke. He rejected suggestions Brown was keen to keep him from campaigning for a provincial seat. “Total opposite,” he told the Toronto Star.  “I’m welcome to run. They’re encouraging me to run.”

It’s the sort of thing Donald Trump would say if confronted with Republican pleas to stay out of the next presidential race. Rob Ford has sometimes been viewed as a precursor to Trump, an unlikely figure who scored a surprise victory by channelling blue collar resentment against fat-cat legislators and do-nothing political elites. But having seen the results—Ford’s only term collapsed amid drug allegations and municipal chaos, while Trump’s presidency has set new lows of buffoonery on a near-daily basis—even the most bitter of voters may hesitate before taking another flier on a loud-mouthed populist.

So while he may not admit it—fearful that doing so might inspire Doug to change his mind—Brown must have heaved a sigh of relief at the knowledge Ford will be Mayor John Tory’s problem, and not his. Rather than try to convince doubtful reporters he was delighted to have a Ford in his camp, Brown could express authentic pleasure at having Caroline Mulroney, daughter of the former prime minister, as a star candidate in the riding of York-Simcoe. 

Observers and analysts have been divided on how Brown should position himself in the coming election race. He’s been chastised over the absence of a solid platform of policy alternatives to distinguish PC candidates from Liberals. A recent TV ad in which Brown presented himself as an ordinary guy who struggled to overcome a childhood stutter drew a mixed reaction. Can an unmarried, 39-year-old career politician hope to defeat a hardened Liberal attack squad with the tagline “I’ll never give up on anyone?” 

It remains to be seen, but the ongoing Liberal stumbles have allowed Brown to spend his days decrying a struggling government, without delving too deeply into what he’d do differently. He managed to denounce the Liberal wage plan as a rush job that’s out of touch with the realities of small business, even while supporting the goal of a $15 minimum. He has also said he approves of carbon pricing, just not the carbon tax introduced by Wynne.

By refusing to stick to Tory orthodoxy he has upset different factions within the party, but three straight election defeats suggest more of the same wasn’t an option. And he has some leeway to continue doing things his way, as long as the Liberals seem intent on defeating themselves. Not being Kathleen Wynne has worked well for him so far, and not having to worry about Doug Ford is just one more hazard he’ll be happy to avoid.

National Post

This story originally published here.

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