A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[BRIEF NOTE] On the Progressive Conservatives’ failure in Toronto and urban Ontario

“Ford Nation No More?”, Derek Flack’s blogTO post asks, noting that the Progressive Conservatives failed to make any inroad in Toronto despite the victory of strongly pro-Progressive Conservative Rob Ford in last year’s mayoral elections. In the Globe and Mail Marcus Gee makes the argument that the Progressive Conservatives and their leader Tim Hudak lost because of Ford.

This summer, just before the election campaign began, Mr. Ford got into hot water with his plans for big budget cuts. There was talk of closing libraries, selling off kids’ zoos and cutting daycare spaces. It became clear, as it should have been all along, that Mr. Ford’s election promise not to cut services, “guaranteed,” was nonsense. The idea that he could cut taxes, cut spending and still keep delivering all the same city services just as before was voodoo economics at its worst.

The controversy could not have come at a worst time for Mr. Hudak, who campaigned on a message that sounded awfully similar. Respect for taxpayers. Ease the tax burden on families. Control government spending. Yet still delivering all the good things people expect from government – in the provincial government’s case, mainly decent education and health care.

The message, which had seemed like a sure-fire winner after Mr. Ford’s startling rise to office on the stop-the-gravy-train express, fell flat. It seems at least possible that having been sold a pig in a poke by Mr. Ford, Toronto voters did not want to invest in another porker from Mr. Hudak.

If Mr. Ford did play a role in Mr. Hudak’s defeat, what a reversal it would be for the Toronto mayor. He is, of course, a blue diaper baby, raised in the Conservative creed by his late businessman father, an Ontario Conservative MPP. He endorsed Conservative Stephen Harper in the last federal election. Jim Flaherty, the finance minister, is a friend of the Ford family. He was no doubt hoping for what Mr. Harper called a “Tory hat trick”, by having Conservative governments in Ottawa, Queen’s Park and city hall.

Now he is left facing a re-elected, if diminished, McGuinty government. So much for Ford Nation, the once-potent political force that Mr. Ford threatened to unleash if Mr. McGuinty turned down his demand for more money for transit, roads and other Toronto needs.

As Karim Bardeesy writes, also in the Globe and Mail, the argument is made that the election shows the terrible weakness of the Progressive Conservatives in all of Ontario’s cities.

In Toronto and Peel Region in particular, the Tory failure was complete. Not only did they not win any seats, none of their targeted races were even close. Supposed star candidates such as Rocco Rossi, Andrea Mandel-Campbell and Simon Nylassy were handed resounding defeats. Only three Tory candidates in Toronto and Peel’s 30 seats exceeded 35.4 per cent in the popular vote, the party’s province-wide vote percentage.

You can blame the Rob Ford factor; you can cite Tim Hudak’s attacks on “foreign” workers, companies and scholarship recipients, or his unseemly defence of a campaign pamphlet with homophobic undertones. After being shut out for a third straight election in Toronto and Peel, the Tories will have embrace an urban agenda without qualifications, or recruit from the ranks of elected urban municipal officials, to increase their chances of a majority.

(The Liberals, for their part, are weak in rural areas, and the NDP has a certain overconfidence–grand hopes, but only seven new seats.)

Paul Wells’ elaboration at MacLean’s of Hudak’s missteps is worth reading.

He wanted to run as a blandly reassuring alternative to a tired-out premier, very modestly to McGuinty’s right on economics, unremarkable on social issues. Twice Hudak found himself barging into controversies he didn’t need. The first was when the Liberals launched their platform in early September. It included a small amount of money for a tax credit employers could qualify for by hiring new Canadian citizens who’d been in the country less than five years. The first time he was asked about it, by TV interviewer Stephen LeDrew, McGuinty said the tax benefit was for Canadian citizens. But Hudak spent several days calling it a benefit for “foreign workers.”

Now here’s the thing. The federal Conservatives, under Stephen Harper and with Jason Kenney’s assist, have built a voter coalition that includes both immigrants and people who don’t much like immigration. The Hudak Conservatives had done less of that work in the first place, but to the extent they had, running against immigrant workers was a surefire way to underperform with that part of the voter coalition.

Was the McGuinty employer tax credit a trap for Hudak? “Those who think we might do that are thinking too much,” the Liberal campaign guy said. “We never thought it’d be a story at all.”

Then in the campaign’s last week, a Conservative campaign flyer asking all sorts of questions about same-sex curriculum got way more coverage than Hudak wanted to. Taken together, the two issues bookended his campaign and left him looking like a guy who was way more preoccupied with social issues than pocketbook issues.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 7, 2011 at 2:53 pm

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