COMMENTARY: Liberal allegations against Ford campaign won’t rattle the PC base

Click to play video: 'Doug Ford dismisses alleged membership scandal as being in the past'
Doug Ford dismisses alleged membership scandal as being in the past
Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford dismissed an audio recording leaked by the Liberal Party, which allegedly captures him involved in selling party memberships in Etobicoke, as an effort by the Liberals to deflect voter attention away from their "mismanagement" at Queens Park – May 24, 2018

On Wednesday, a new opinion poll done for Maclean’s confirmed what Ipsos polling done for Global News had already shown: the Ontario election is a race between the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives.

The Liberals are fading fast; Wednesday’s Maclean’s poll showed them polling two points below 20 per cent. After 15 years in office, the Liberals seem set for something worse than a loss. They could face annihilation.

READ MORE: Audio recording captures Doug Ford offering to buy PC memberships, Liberals say

As soon as I saw that, I wondered if the Liberals would start dipping into their contingency files of political dirt. You know, the worst-case scenario stuff: IN CASE OF ELECTORAL DEFEAT, BREAK GLASS. That kind of thing.

I’m not sure they’ve gone all the way with dropping all their bombs — ahem, I’m actually pretty convinced they haven’t. But what we saw on Thursday was what a desperate and losing campaign does. It won’t help the Liberals a bit.

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Click to play video: 'Doug Ford allegedly caught selling ‘bogus’ party memberships on audio recording: Liberals'
Doug Ford allegedly caught selling ‘bogus’ party memberships on audio recording: Liberals

WATCH ABOVE: Doug Ford allegedly caught selling ‘bogus’ party memberships on audio recording, Liberals says

The allegation made by the Liberals on Thursday morning, first reported by the National Post on Wednesday night, is that Doug Ford, before he was leader of the PC Party, helped recruit party members who’d support Kinga Surma, a young woman Ford apparently favours, in her quest to be the PC nominee for Etobicoke-Centre, a riding close to Ford’s political home base.

There’s nothing wrong with helping sign up members, but some of the members told the National Post that Ford did the paperwork and paid their membership fees.

On Thursday, the Liberals released an audio recording, apparently taken at a Tim Hortons in Etobicoke, that backs that up. The recording seems to depict Ford assuring would-be PC members that they just need to sign the form, and someone else will handle the paperwork and the fees.

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LISTEN: Audio recording captures Doug Ford offering to buy PC membership

The Liberals allege that that might be illegal under the Elections Act. That seems like a stretch to me. But it’s certainly sketchy, and runs counter to suggestions by Ford (and others) that any rot within the PC Party was limited to former leader Patrick Brown and his inner circle, and was expunged along with them.

Personally, if true, these allegations are gross but unsurprising. Politics is often a dirty game, and that isn’t limited to the PCs. I have a hard time believing the public will be particularly shocked by this — they already assume politicians are a bunch of crooks, so what harm does confirming that do?

The public already overlooks personal and professional failures among the political class, largely because they expect no better. I don’t think a story like this will do much more than convince those people who already can’t stand Doug Ford that they were right all along.

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READ MORE: Almost half of NDP voters just want to stop Liberals, Tories from winning, Ipsos poll

And it certainly won’t deter many PC voters from showing up on June 7. Poll after poll has shown that the PC voters are the most motivated and loyal. Their losses in recent weeks are relatively small and almost within the margins of error on both polls.

PC support is largely where it was under Patrick Brown. This support isn’t reflecting personal affection in the PC Party’s leaders or positive reviews of their moral character. It’s reflecting a desire to crush the Liberals into oblivion — and that desire is unchanged.

READ MORE: Here’s what the Liberals, PCs, NDP and Greens have pledged so far

Indeed, if anything, PC voters are even more motivated now. The rise of the NDP, including the credible chance that Andrea Horwath could be the next premier, will horrify PC voters as much as the prospect of a re-elected Kathleen Wynne.

Allegations of nomination shenanigans might well dampen some enthusiasm, or deter some undecideds from parking their vote with the PCs. But will it really suppress the PC turnout? Will it blow up the campaign and demoralize the base? No.

Ontario conservatives have been waiting 15 years to defeat the Liberals. They see that victory now. It’s not guaranteed, but it is within reach. This week’s allegations won’t change that. It’s now up to the Liberals, and those they speak closely with, to ask themselves if it’s worth taking their efforts to discredit Ford up a level, in hopes of landing a more meaningful blow.

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READ MORE: Ontario PCs would get one-seat majority, based on new poll, simulation says

I don’t know if they will. They might not see any value in it, especially since hurting Ford probably just helps the NDP at this point. But you never know what a desperate, losing party might do.

The next two weeks should be very, very interesting.

Matt Gurney is host of The Exchange with Matt Gurney on Global News Radio 640 Toronto and a columnist for Global News.

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