Doug Ford has won a large majority government in Ontario, a victory that serves as a reminder that the Progressive Conservative Party ruled Ontario for much of the 20th century.
The 42-year unbroken run from 1943 to 1985 was no coincidence. The Ontario PC of the 20th century continued to evolve and win election after election.
In turn, political scientists of the time identified an “Ontario political culture” that valued restraint and cautious progress. With leaders like Bill Davis and his famous line that “blend works”, PC and Ontario seemed made for each other.
The idea of a sustainable and liberal Ontario political culture took a hit in the 1990s when the province reached the so-called Common Sense Revolution of first the NDP and then Mike Harris PC. But it was restored with the arrival of Dalton McGinty, who, despite being a moderate, reflects the immaculate but adaptable leadership of the 20th century PC tradition.
The concept took another hit in 2018 with the election of apparently un-blinded Doug Ford. But the results of the 2022 Ontario election show that the tradition is alive and well.
Ford has positioned itself in a longstanding tradition of adaptable Ontario PCs and an enduring provincial political culture.
‘get it done’
Years earlier, Western University political scientist Sid Noel argued that: “More than the people of any other province … Ontarians define political leadership in terms of managerial ability.”
The 2022 PC’s slogan, “Get it Done,” coincides perfectly with Noel’s 20th century thesis.
The change is remarkable. Two and a half years ago, it looked like the 2022 election would almost certainly be a referendum on Ford. To some extent it still was. But while some people greatly dislike Ford, he was not the one to be polarizing in 2018.
Rather, Ford and his party have progressively portrayed themselves as capable managers who will meet Ontario’s needs in 2022. Whether his policy record really is a different story. The point is that he successfully convinced Ontarians that they were the best party to run the province.
It wasn’t really an election about divisive issues. The biggest exception was the proposed highway 413, which was promised by the PC and opposed by other parties. Instead, PC managed to make it a retail poll about instant items for sale, more than big concepts and philosophies.
It was built to Ford’s strengths. He is not a traditional thinker or a liberal. Rather, as he clearly states in his book Ford NationThe political philosophy of the Ford family is simple: “customer service.” Ford views politics on an individual, taxpayer and customer base, far more than in the spirit of broader systemic issues and challenges.
a promise extraordinary
The retail focus for an astounding series of promises in all directions during the election campaign, as played by other parties. Many of the promises seemed random and unrelated to broad ideas.
Future political junkies can play a quiz: “Who promised what in the 2022 Ontario election?” Which party promised to bring back Grade 13? Who promised to eliminate truck tolls on Highway 407? Which party promised to increase disability benefits by five percent? (Correct answers, respectively: The Liberals, The Greens and the NDP, and PC.)
The PC machine was so invincible throughout the campaign that the two other major parties spent most of their energy fighting each other for a spot. The Liberals were desperate to climb back from their 2018 wipeout, and largely failed while the NDP struggled to find its footing.
The two main opposition parties were interrupted by their leaders, both of whom announced their resignations on election night. Liberal leader Steven Del Duca was not able to sell his suburban father image and lost his seat. New Democrat Andrea Horvath has not been able to attract public attention – either positive or negative – despite her fourth election and declared that it was time to “pass the torch” to a new leader.
role of pandemic
The unanswered question is whether this election would have been different without the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ford government had a rocky record managing COVID-19. But it is notable how the PC Party remained largely united – in contrast to the Alberta United Conservatives, which were engulfed in civil war that resulted in the death of their leader, Jason Kenney.
Read more: Alberta’s political culture and history played a role in Jason Kenney’s downfall
Four members of the Ontario PC Caucus left or were expelled during the pandemic after speaking publicly against the government’s COVID-19 policies, and the party faces two distinct rivals, the New Blue and Ontario parties on the right. Had to do But both failed to win seats or stop PC’s momentum.
This again suggests that there is something different about Ontario and its political culture, and the PC Party under Ford has figured out what it is.