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COMMENTARY: Doug Ford’s run for Ontario’s PC leadership challenges elites

Elites beware, writes Tasha Kheiriddin. Doug Ford, businessman, former Toronto city councillor, and of course brother to late Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, wants to succeed Patrick Brown as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party.
Elites beware, writes Tasha Kheiriddin. Doug Ford, businessman, former Toronto city councillor, and of course brother to late Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, wants to succeed Patrick Brown as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party.

Elites, start your engines!

The race for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, which unofficially began even before Patrick Brown’s corpse began to chill last Thursday night, has taken yet another turn – and it’s one that will define the race. Doug Ford, businessman, former Toronto city councillor, and of course brother to late Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, withdrew his candidacy for Mayor of Toronto and is now seeking to succeed Brown as party leader.  And the theme of his campaign can be summed up in two words: elites, beware.

WATCH BELOW: Doug Ford declares run for leadership of Ontario’s PCs

Click to play video: 'Doug Ford declares he’ll run for leader of Ontario’s embattled PCs'
Doug Ford declares he’ll run for leader of Ontario’s embattled PCs

“I had every intention of running for mayor of this great city,” Ford said Monday. “But I can’t watch the party I love fall into the hands of the elites. The elites have shut the door on the grassroots, the foundation of our party.”

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“The elites of this party, the ones who have shut out the grassroots, do not want me in this race.”

“But I’m here to give a voice, … to give a voice to the hardworking taxpayers of this province, people who have been ignored for far too long.”

Ford made this anti-elite announcement, ironically, in the basement of his mother’s sprawling house in Etobicoke, source of the Ford political dynasty which includes his late father (Doug Ford Senior, an MPP from 1995-1999), late brother (Rob Ford, city councilor and then Toronto mayor from 2010-2014), and nephew (Michael Ford, former trustee and currently a councilor in Rob Ford’s former ward of Etobicoke North). Doug himself served and ran unsuccessfully for Mayor in 2014 against John Tory.

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In terms of political dynasties, read, elites, the Fords really don’t have much competition in the GTA, or even in Ontario. But that’s not how Ford will depict it. Despite their wealth and influence, the Fords have a family tradition of communing with the common man, and connecting with voters far less fortunate than them.

So who are the elites Ford is referring to? It’s a long list: members of caucus (who didn’t want a leadership vote so close to the election), the party executive (split as to whether they want to hold one anyway, over the opposition of elected members), and the backroom operators and bagmen some accuse of facilitating Brown’s ouster, to install more saleable replacement ahead of the election, for the good of the party, perhaps, but also, for the good of all those who have an interest in seeing the Tories defeat the Liberals this June.

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That replacement could take many forms, all of whom also would also be “elite” in Ford’s book:

  • MPP Vic Fedeli, the newly-installed interim leader, who has announced his intention to run for the job;
  • Rod Phillips, former head of Postmedia newspaper chain and candidate in the new riding of Ajax; and
  • Toronto Mayor John Tory, until he demurred this weekend via social media. But one name stands out above others – and in terms of elites, it’s the one most likely in Ford’s sights.

That name is Caroline Mulroney, candidate for the PCs in York-Simcoe. Mulroney is the daughter of a former prime minister, a Harvard-educated lawyer, accomplished and well-connected. She delivered a smooth and engaging performance at the last federal Conservative leadership convention, where she served as co-emcee.  She is polished, urban and urbane – everything Ford is not – and while little is known about her personal political leanings, she would put a strong female face to the party’s platform, now that Brown’s image can no longer grace its cover.

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While she hasn’t officially announced, Mulroney is clearly acting like a candidate. Fifteen minutes after Brown resigned at 1:25 am. Friday morning, she posted a tweet urging “both the women and men of the PC Party to join me in fighting for a world where this behavior is no longer tolerated.” While the party executive debated holding a leadership contest the next afternoon,  her supporters launched a Facebook page and Twitter account calling for a ”Mulroney Movement,” ostensibly to get her to run. Later that day, the Toronto Star reported that four of Patrick Brown’s inner circle, PC campaign chair Walied Soliman, ex-campaign manager Andrew Boddington, ad guru Dan Robertson, and strategist Hamish Marshall, had rallied behind her.

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(To say that these folks had not contemplated this possibility before Friday would be naïve; the word “coup” has not been circulating in the halls of Queen’s Park for nothing.)

Mulroney’s Achilles’ heel, of course, is that she has zero political experience, which sets her up for a potentially brutal fall. Politics is a nasty business, expectations are running so high, and her learning curve will be so fast. Her potential entry brings to mind another female star candidacy: that of Belinda Stronach – also a polished, smart woman – who flamed out during the federal Conservative leadership race in 2004. She subsequently made headlines for dating and dumping fellow MP Peter MacKay, crossed the floor to the Liberals, before retreating from the acid bath of public life to go back to her family business. Not exactly the great accomplishments people expected.

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Ford’s entry could help Mulroney, if only because it would polarize the race to such an extent that she could benefit from an “anybody but Ford” movement, should it coalesce behind her. Alternatively, the “anti-Ford” candidates could end up splitting the vote and knocking each other out – unless they strike a deal to prevent Ford from taking the crown.

Another possibility is that Ford’s declaration will push the party executive to reverse its decision and call off the race – fearing a divisive contest that could take the party out of their control, should Ford win. With the resignation of PC President Rick Dykstra over allegations of sexual assault, this is a party that needs stability and unity more than ever. But reversing the decision would further enrage the very people the party needs to do battle in the next election: the grassroots, the same people Ford is accusing of getting short shrift from those dastardly “elites.”

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So brace yourself, Tories, for a wild ride. And that’s just Round One. Next up: the election.

Tasha Kheiriddin can be heard between noon and 2 p.m. ET on Global News Radio 640 Toronto. She’s also a columnist with Global News and iPolitics.cawhere this piece first appeared.

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