Yesterday, I find myself in the Globe and Mail building in Toronto for an 8.30am chin-wag with political correspondent, Adam Radwanski. There are about 30 of us in the room on the 16thfloor with Radwanski perched on a bar stool ready to give us his thoughts on the election and to take questions.
I am sitting next to a guy who describes himself as a Chartered Accountant. He sees me wince slightly and he smiles. Insolvency, he says. He wants to know if the Liberals, like Lazarus, can ever come back from the dead.
In our minds we all have a thousand questions. Why did the Liberals lose? Was it preordained? Did the PCs expect to win by this crushing margin? What is Ford going to do next? What are his priorities? There is no end to them.
We dodged a bullet
Radwanski says we all collectively dodged a bullet when Patrick Brown stepped down. He says there was deal-making and low ethical standards. I go further. There was corruption in the PCs, pure and simple.
He says the Liberals ran a decent campaign on “Care not Cuts” but, to my mind, the voters were underwhelmed. It didn’t set the heather on fire.
When the NDP surged in the polls Ford pivoted away from the Liberals and went straight onto the attack. There was, says Radwanski, an hysteria about it all. Ford was identifying NDP candidates by name who, if elected, would eat babies alive. (I made that bit up.)
Now Radwanski is talking about how Ford was helped by organisations (or entities) such as Ontario Proud. The NDP’s “sanctuary province” issue didn’t really surface in the mainstream campaign but Ontario Proud was hitting targets under the radar and causing a stir. (Conrad Black’s column in the National Post a week before the election touched on this issue.)
Ford kept on a tight rein
Ford was kept on a tight rein throughout the campaign by his minders, minimising his exposure to the media. And when he had to interact with reporters it was on his terms. There would be one or two questions and he’d be off. We didn’t get to know a lot more about him during the campaign – as is usually the case with politicians going for the top job.
There was no costed platform which, says Radwanski, would have given us some idea of the Party’s priorities. So we really don’t know what he is going to focus on.
With the benefit of hindsight, what could the Liberals/NDP have done to change the trajectory of the election campaign?
Ford means chaos
Radwanski says the Libs/NDP should have focussed on “chaos”. That Ford would be a “giant headache” for four years. If this had been central to their campaign narrative the headline that exploded onto the front pages just days before the election (Renata Ford suing Doug Ford for millions) would have been more than a one-day wonder. It would have resonated with the voters.
Radwanski says people were willing to overlook Ford’s failings and shortcomings – and the ethical issues.
Perhaps people’s expectations of politicians are so low they are no longer shocked by stories of ballot stuffing. Maybe they think all Parties do it. That they are all as a bad as the next.
I tell Radwanski I am one of those people still capable by being shocked that PC candidates could, in effect, buy a nomination. Is this going to be the new norm? Should we just get used to it? Or is something going to be done about this rot? And, if so, by whom?
Cleaning out the Stables
Radwanski tells me – improbably to my mind - that Ford will tackle the issue. He says people like Caroline Mulroney – who in late February described the PC party as being “in crisis” – will clean out the stables.
Personally I can’t see it.
The caravan will move on. I suspect it already has.
Now I am listening to a series of thoughtful questions, including one on the nature of democracy.
Radwanski says people voted for Ford’s PCs for a million different reasons. But some issues clearly had greater saliency.
There was anger about hydro rates which dampened and dissipated when the Liberals cut hydro bills. But when the issue surfaced in the election campaign that anger flared up again.
What’s Ford going to do about hydro?
There’s just not enough money to do all the things he promised to do. I hear Ford’s advisers are likely to open the books and tell Ford to be horrified at what he sees.
The cupboard is bare.
Even I could see that one coming.