Doug Ford won a larger majority government in Ontario, a victory that serves as a reminder that the Progressive Conservative Party ruled Ontario for much of the 20th century.
That uninterrupted run of 42 years, from 1943 to 1985, was not by accident. The 20th century Ontario PCs won election after election by constantly evolving.
In turn, political scientists of the day have identified an “Ontario political culture” that appreciates moderation and cautious progress. With leaders like Bill Davis and his famous line “boring job”, the computers and Ontario looked like they were made for each other.
The idea of a sustainable and moderate political culture in Ontario took a hit in the 1990s when the province first moved to the NDP and then the so-called Common Sense revolution of the Mike Harris computers. But it was restored by the advent of Dalton McGuinty who, though a liberal, reflected the 20th century PC tradition of unobtrusive but adaptable leadership.
The concept took another hit in 2018 with the election of the clearly bloodless Doug Ford. But the results of the 2022 Ontario election suggest the tradition is alive.
Ford has positioned itself in the long-standing tradition of adaptable Ontario computers and a lasting provincial political culture.
‘Get it done’
Years ago, the political scientist of the Western University, Sid Noel, argued that: “More than the people of any other province … Ontario tends to define political leadership in terms of governance.”
The 2022 PC slogan, “Get it done,” perfectly aligned with Noel’s 20th century thesis.
The change is remarkable. Two and a half years ago, it looked like the 2022 election would surely be a referendum on Ford. To some extent it still was. But while some people dislike Ford, he is not the polarizing figure he was in 2018.
On the contrary, Ford and his party have consistently portrayed themselves as capable drivers adapting to Ontario’s needs in 2022. Whether their policy record really beats is another story. The point is that they have successfully convinced enough Ontarians that they are the best party to run the province.
It was not really an election on divisive issues. The biggest exception was the proposed Highway 413, which was promised by the computers and opposed by the other parties. Instead, the computers managed to make it a retail choice to buy immediate items, rather than big concepts and philosophies.
It’s tailor-made for Ford’s strengths. He is not a traditional ideologue or libertarian. Rather as he openly explains in his book Ford Nation, the Ford family’s political philosophy is simple: “Customer service.” Ford sees politics on an individualized, taxpayer and customer basis, much more than a sense of broader systemic issues and challenges.
A promise extravaganza
The retail focus provided a staggering series of promises in all directions during the election campaign, while the other parties played along. Many promises seemed random and not linked to broader ideas.
Future political junkies could play a quiz: “Who has what promised in the 2022 Ontario election?” Which party promised to bring back grade 13? Who promised to end 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 the PCs.)
The computer machine was so unstoppable throughout the campaign that the two other big parties spent most of their energy fighting each other for second place. The Liberals were desperate to climb back from their 2018 extinction, and largely failed, while the NDP struggled to retain their foothold.
The two main opposition parties were hampered by their leaders, who both announced their resignations on election night. Liberal leader Steven Del Duca could not sell his suburban father statue and lost his seat. The new Democrat Andrea Horwath simply could not attract public attention – whether positive or negative – despite her fourth election and announced it was time to give “the torch” to a new leader.
Role of the pandemic
The unanswerable question is whether this election would have been different without the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ford government had a rocky record with the management of COVID-19. But it’s remarkable how the PC party remained largely united – unlike the Alberta United Conservatives who degenerated into a civil war, leading to the downfall 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 suspended during the pandemic after publicly speaking out against the government’s COVID-19 policy, and the party faced two breakaway rivals on the right. , the New Blue and Ontario parties. But both could not win seats or stop the PC momentum.
This again indicates that there is something clear about Ontario and its political culture, and the PC party under Ford has figured out what it is.