Canada Why Doug Ford’s populist politics are resonating with Ontarians

15:21  16 april  2018
15:21  16 april  2018 Source:   Toronto Star

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Ford ' s populist message of taking down the "elites," cutting taxes and standing up to the federal government on things like the carbon tax resonated with many Ontarians . His timing could be perfect. So what happens if Doug Ford is elected the next premier of Ontario?

In an election in which it appears Ontarians are sick of the incumbents -- the Liberals have been in power 15 years, and poll after poll finds the majority of voters want change -- Ford ’ s populist message appears to be resonating .


Abby Ayoola is a longtime Ford fan, first-time Ford voter.

The 32-year-old Mississauga resident is a regular at Ford Fest, the annual backyard barbecue hosted by rookie Progressive Conservative leader and former Toronto councillor Doug Ford and his brother, late mayor Rob Ford, at their mother Diane’s Etobicoke home. On June 7, Ayoola plans to cast a ballot for a party she’s never voted for before, now that there’s a Ford in charge.

“The way they care about the little people, the way they help them, that’s what matters,” said Ayoola, who moved to Canada from Nigeria in 1998. As a mother with six kids between 16 months and 11 years old, it can be “tough” to make ends meet, she said.

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Politics . “That’ s why Doug Ford becomes such an interesting character. Although he’ s not a perfect fit, he is by far the closest thing to a populist leader.”

politics . Doug Ford is the new leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives. Considering the Liberals have been in power for 15 years, and have undoubtedly become a source of resentment for many Ontarians , Ford probably has a pretty decent shot at taking down Premier Kathleen Wynne in

“The food prices are going up, everything’s getting higher and higher. Like, how can we cope?” Ayoola said. “(Ford) said it’s going to get back to the way things were.”

Like many Ontarians, Ayoola is worried about her family’s future and fed-up with out-of-touch leaders and status quo politics. It’s part of why Ford’s anti-elite, austerity message is appealing beyond the Greater Toronto Area and heart of Ford Nation and puts him in serious contention for the premier’s seat in the spring election. The PCs have also come out on top in most public opinion surveys for more than a year.

As more citizens feel insecure and disconnected from the political ivory tower, populist sentiment in Ontario may weigh heavily on voters’ decisions at the ballot box. In extremes, autocratic rulers and xenophobic or nativist platforms can start to look attractive, and extremist or fringe political factions may be empowered.

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Ford , a former Toronto city councillor, brother of the late mayor Rob Ford and son of Doug Ford Sr., a former MPP, said he' s focused on the issues that matter to Ontarians . "I think we ' re going to have more or less another Trump," Da Silva said when asked why he likes Ford . "What he says, he does

Ford has the brand recognition and populist appeal that his opponents are lacking. Doug Ford is himself affluent and a former politician , but he somehow manages to come off as a regular guy. Mulroney, a first-time politician , is easy to dismiss as out of touch with the average Ontarian , and

Populist movements have picked up steam in democracies around the globe, including Turkey, the Philippines and Italy, and is most often applied to Brexit and the political stylings of U.S. President Donald Trump.

It’s an approach to politics that generally favours the people over the privileged, average folks over fat cats. In the U.S. and Europe, right-wing, conservative populism has an anti-immigrant tinge as people who are feeling uncertain about their own status may feel more suspicious over newcomers.

What’s unique about made-in-Ontario populism is also what’s special about Ford’s brand — it’s diverse. Visible minorities, immigrants and religious people of all denominations are some of Ford Nation’s staunchest supporters.

“It’s not only white people, like it is supporting Trump,” said Frank Graves, president of EKOS polling firm.

Ford hits home with an electorate that is “working class, pessimistic, deeply suspicious of elites and professionals,” especially in areas such as Windsor, Hamilton, Barrie, London and Oshawa that have experienced sharp manufacturing losses. Those towns are the top five in Ontario most prone to populism, according to a recent study by EKOS and The Canadian Press.

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Doug Ford has shown some support for Franco- Ontarian concerns, but has a long way to go. Ford ’ s populist approach and slogans might resonate with portions of that electorate. Stewart Kiff has worked in Ontario politics the past 27 years.

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Windsor resident Melissa Kozak is a single mom to two children under 12 with learning disabilities. She relies on social assistance and has struggled to find steady employment. Kozak, 36, says she feels left behind by government and let down by politicians.

“People need to have hope,” Kozak said. “Even though we’re down here in Windsor, (Ford) realizes that we exist.”

Graves said the more “homogenous” a population, the more prone it is to populism. For instance in Toronto, ethnically rich neighbourhoods like Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York are relatively more closed off and susceptible to populist sentiment, as are predominantly white neighbourhoods.

“That sort of populism is steeped in a broad view that the elite prescription and the economy aren’t working for me the way they used to in the past … and pulling up the drawbridge and putting up our own interests first is a good idea,” Graves said.

“Doug Ford by far is the one speaking the language most closely to what the constituents are.”

Ford has already proven himself an unwilling cog in the party machine by scrapping the party’s People’s Guarantee platform designed last fall under ex-leader Patrick Brown. He’s promised to slash taxes, reduce the size of government and tackle the provincial debt, but hasn’t fully explained how exactly he’ll pay for it. He also ripped open the debate on carbon pricing and Ontario’s controversial sex education curriculum, and raised questions about access to abortion during the PC leadership contest.

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There is very little doubt that Ford ' s populist agenda is resonating well with a certain segment of the Ontario electorate. For example, Ford ' s pro-privatization comments on weed sales sent out a shockwave, even though polls suggest that 50 per cent of Ontarians are for a private business model

Ford has the brand recognition and populist appeal that his opponents are lacking. Doug Ford is himself affluent and a former politician , but he somehow manages to come off as a regular guy. Mulroney, a first-time politician , is easy to dismiss as out of touch with the average Ontarian , and

Meanwhile, the Liberals say they’re all about “fairness” for Ontarians and the New Democrats are promising to make life more “affordable.” Both have offered a raft of progressive policies, including a $15 minimum wage and expanded public health care.

Ford is also a self-branded political outsider who doesn’t play by the rules and spent much of his single term at city hall propping up his brother the mayor’s cut-the-waste agenda. He’s come out swinging against journalists and on Thursday his campaign put the brakes on having a media bus follow him on the stump.

Slogans such as the Fords’ “stop the gravy train” and Trump’s “drain the swamp” and “make America great again” may not have much substance, but they often stick when people are increasingly worried about their status in society.

Populist politicians tend to use straightforward messaging that caters to someone’s emotions, said Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist at the University of Bristol who studies the spread of fake news and misinformation.

“They’re simple messages that promise solutions and appeal to emotions. In a world that is incredibly complex … a lot of people find the pace of change difficult to cope with … that’s when simple messages become attractive,” Lewandowsky said.

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populist message of taking down the “elites,” cutting taxes and standing up to the federal government on things like a carbon tax resonated with many Ontarians . Doug Ford ’ s acceptance speech as PC party leader4:36. And the carbon tax is only one of the big-ticket items in provincial politics .

After 15 years of Liberal fiscal mismanagement and a lack of due diligence on everything from electricity to healthcare, it’s no wonder Ford ’ s message is resonating with Ontarians . READ MORE: Doug Ford declared Ontario PC Party leader after chaotic convention.

Ford’s candid and brazen approach to politics has won over Gordon Hazelwood, 52, who owns a small print shop in his hometown of Hamilton.

“No surprise I’m also a Trump supporter. You can quote me on that,” Hazelwood said.

He thinks Ford is cut from the same cloth as Trump and does “the things he says he’s going to do and actually follows through on them.”

“Ford is just being a regular person up there. He’s speaking normally. He’s speaking from his heart, as himself — not (as) somebody who wants you to hear stuff that’s scripted and, you know, the right way to say it,” he said.

That goes beyond just repeating talking points — Hazelwood feels political correctness has gone too far and pervaded public policy, citing a recent report about Service Canada’s directive to avoid honorifics like Mr. and Mrs. and the All Families Are Equal Act in Ontario that swaps out “mother” and “father” for gender neutral “parent” on government forms.

“We’ve been like this for centuries and nobody ever complained about anything. It seems the whole world is going that way, it’s too far,” he said.

People may be more willing to give up the liberties ingrained in democracies because they feel like they’re losing their place in society, but those feelings have to be nurtured, Lewandowsky said.

“Populism doesn’t just grow on a tree like apples or pears. It has to be produced,” Lewandowsky said. “You have to have messengers go out who are stoking fears and divisions because one of the crucial aspects of populism is it is turning people against some out-group.”

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Lewandowsky said people’s perceptions on cultural and economic issues are exaggerated. People tend to think there are a lot more immigrants in the population than there actually are, though financial stress is more subjective.

Populism may be a gateway to autocracy, but for now at least, Canadians don’t seem to be willing to give up on democracy as we know it.

According to a Pew Research survey from 2017, Canadians generally think autocratic leaders are bad — 81 per cent versus 17 per cent who said they are good. That said, one in 10 said they thought the country should be under military rule.

Ford Nation is a “strange coalition” that includes “immigrants and minorities but also people who don’t like immigrants and minorities,” said Michael McGregor, a political science professor at Ryerson University who heads a study of local elections in major Canadian cities.

“Maybe the two groups don’t recognize each other, maybe they don’t care — the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” he said.

McGregor’s national study of local elections includes a poll conducted just before Toronto’s 2014 municipal election, when Doug Ford entered the mayoral race to replace his brother, the drug-scandal-plagued incumbent mayor who dropped out at the time to focus on his health.

People who identified as East Asian, South Asian and Eastern European were more likely than self-identified Canadians and Western Europeans to give Ford a high score when asked to rank a candidate’s likability out of 100. Ford’s approval rating was about 44 per cent among East Asians, 42 per cent among South Asians and 41 per cent among Eastern Europeans. He scored an average of 31 per cent approval among self-identified Canadians — which would include visible minorities — and about 32 among Western Europeans.

McGregor noted Ford’s base in the 905 and Toronto suburban fringe tends to be low-income, high visible minority.

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“It’s this disaffected feeling (that) elites or people in power … don’t really care what people like me think,” McGregor said.

Simon Kiss, a political scientist at Wilfrid Laurier University, gauged support among Torontonians for then-scandal-plagued mayor Rob Ford, using data from Ipsos’s 2014 provincial election exit survey.

Visible minorities in Toronto were twice as likely to support the former mayor compared to white voters, Kiss said. Support was also higher among immigrants — those who were born in Canada were 34 percentage points less likely to approve of Rob Ford than those who had immigrated here.

“They (the Fords) talk about getting taxes down, they talk about taking on the elites, they talk about being the voice of the people, they talk about being businessmen knowing how to run a government better ... in Toronto, Ontario, at least, that message actually resonates quite profoundly with visible minority voters,” Kiss said.

Religion is also a key factor in support for the Ford brothers. McGregor’s research suggests Doug Ford did poorly among atheists. Kiss’s report also shows the most religious respondents were four times as likely to approve of the late mayor over those who skewed secular.

Abby Ayoola, a Mississauga mother of six, plans to vote PC for the first time because of Doug Ford's leadership. The Fords © Bernard Weil Abby Ayoola, a Mississauga mother of six, plans to vote PC for the first time because of Doug Ford's leadership. The Fords "care about the little people," she says. She is seen here with her children and fiancé, Wayne Williams.

Ayoola goes to church every Sunday and wholeheartedly believes Ford shares her religious, socially conservative values.

“Why him? Because he has a family too and he has the same kind of morals that I do,” she said.

Despite Trudeau's progressive rhetoric, Canada not immune to populism: experts .
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might see his country as a beacon of hope in a roiling sea of polarization and angry nationalist sentiment, but Canada is far from immune, experts warn. Just as he did Tuesday at the French National Assembly, Trudeau likes to portray Canada as a place where progressive values flourish — free trade, ethic diversity, immigration, environmental protection and gender equality. "At a time when the political movements exploit the real anxiety of their citizens, Canada has chosen to be against cynicism and embrace audacity and ambition," he said.

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