TORONTO – The media and the “ghost” of former Tory leader Patrick Brown were among the opponents Doug Ford had to beat to secure a Progressive Conservative majority in Ontario, his campaign manager said Tuesday in an analysis of the party’s recent victory.
Kory Teneycke, who previously worked as former prime minister Stephen Harper’s director of communications, said the Tories found themselves fighting those adversaries in addition to their typical political rivals as they pulled together an election campaign five weeks after Ford won the party leadership in the wake of Brown’s resignation amid sexual misconduct allegations.
“We had the Liberal party, we had the New Democrats who had the most growth potential, we also had the media party that we were going to be campaigning against. And lastly, we had the Patrick Brown party, or at least the ghost of Patrick Brown that we were fighting as well,” said Teneycke.
Part of the Ford team’s campaign against the media involved producing their own news-style branded online content aimed at target voters, Teneycke explained. The party also decided not to provide a media bus that would allow journalists to follow Ford around the province during the campaign.
“We were able to produce our own content and we were able to beam that directly into the feed of target voters,” Teneycke said. “If you were a target voter in a target riding you were getting your news from us if you were at all accessible to us.”
Teneycke also said Ford’s campaign found itself running against Brown because the former leader’s departure revealed infighting within the party.
(That) was more of an internal fight but one that reared its head in the middle of the campaign in a way that was quite disruptive,” he said.
During the height of the campaign, Brown, who has denied the allegations against him, did a series of interviews responding to criticisms levelled at him by Ford, who said his predecessor had left behind a “mess.”
A mid-campaign NDP surge, however, was helpful because it brought the party that was eventually neck and neck with the Tories in the polls under the microscope, Teneycke said.
Wilfrid Laurier University political science professor Barry Kay said the best move made by the Progressive Conservatives during the campaign was turning their attacks on the NDP. That may have propelled Ford to the win, he said.
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“The momentum in may was pretty constant, the Conservatives were down, the Liberals were down and the NDP was up,” he said. “That stopped in the last period of the campaign. What the Conservatives were doing different was very much focusing on the NDP as being radical and scary. … it appears to have been effective for some people.”
Kay said he’s skeptical that the Tory’s online advertising strategy or handling of the media made any difference in their overall numbers. Voters decided they wanted change and that was one of the biggest motivators, he said.
“The notion that it was time for a change and time to get rid of Kathleen Wynne was always there and it was set,” he said. “The Conservatives didn’t have to campaign on it.”
The Tories won 76 seats in last week’s election, which also saw the NDP win enough ridings to form the official opposition and reduced the Liberals from a majority government to a mere seven seats.
Ford will meet with his newly elected caucus next week and the official transition to the new Tory government is set for June 29.