“Doug Ford is a builder,” a moderator read to the audience at a recent election debate in Ontario that asked leaders of the three major parties to submit biographies of themselves.
It’s an image the progressive conservative leader has worked hard to present as he urged voters to re-elect him as prime minister.
He climbed aboard a construction vehicle and drove it around for a photo shoot. He wore hard hats for campaign ads and for photos at work with merchants.
Months earlier, Ford was driving through his Toronto neighborhood during a blizzard, helping with a small red shovel — a viral image that has been derided and criticized by some, but which ultimately speaks to Ford’s political approach, the scientist says. McMaster University politician Peter Graefe.
“The idea that he’s out there helping and making a difference is his way of doing things,” Graefe said in an interview.
Now, four years after the Conservative leader won election victory over Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals, Ford is campaigning on a similar brand with similarly limited media access, despite the fact that he now has a track record in office. with Ford for this story.)
At a recent press conference, Ford said he was accessible to the media during the campaign, prioritizing meeting real people, who he said were receptive to his party’s plans to stimulate the economy.
“I think people see, I hear, we have the momentum out there,” he said.
Ford’s direct mode of leadership — meeting with residents and solving problems on his own — likely stems from his experience as a manager in his family’s company and as a municipal politician, Graefe said. Ford and his late brother, controversial former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, emphasized “doing politics straight” when in town hall, giving out their cell phone numbers to anyone who wanted them and organizing barbecues in their family’s backyard.
The 57-year-old father of four still presents himself as an approachable guy who is just a text or call away. Karl Baldauf, who worked with Ford as chief of staff to its chairman of the Treasury Board until December 2020, said this is how he authentically operates.
Baldauf, now vice president of public relations firm McMillan Vantage, described Ford as having a keen sensitivity to the concerns of his constituency. In an interview, he recalled that Ford would invite him and other political officials to meet him at Perkins Bakery in west Toronto for provincial budget talks.
“I think he wanted to allow us to really get out of the Queen’s Park bubble physically so that we could be in a more relaxed environment to have a more relaxed conversation about some of these really important public policy issues, and I appreciated that. ,” he said.
Since Ford was elected in 2018, there have been no-nonsense changes to his policies and style — including a transition from a small-government advocate keen to cut spending to a leader whose government is delaying balancing the bills with the biggest spending plan ever put forward. . in the history of the province.
That shift may not matter, Graefe said, because Ford’s brand and “private charisma” are strong enough with his base that many people at this point believe he’s about small government, regardless of what he actually does.
Still, Ford’s popularity plummeted after his administration’s first budget, which was defined by controversial cuts in spending on health, the environment, social programs and the arts, and by patronage scandals after those close to Ford came to light. – the former chief of staff received lucrative appointments.
The opportunity for a new brand came in March 2020, when Ford was suddenly thrust into the position of a leader that needed to guide people through an unprecedented crisis.
Baldauf said he saw a shift at Ford at that time, describing it as a crucial transition period for the Conservative leader, whose government was in the process of “recalibrating” after its poorly received budget. He said Ford shifted to adopting the role of “coach” for a larger team, as opposed to a more “isolated” way of governing when he was in municipal politics.
“It gave him an undeniable focus,” Baldauf said of the pandemic.
Ford’s handling of the pandemic has drawn criticism, some from Ontario residents and businesspeople frustrated with the prolonged and intermittent closure of businesses and schools and the limits on social gatherings in response to the disease. – the long-term care sector, which has been ravaged by death and illness, and criticized Ford for bringing in legislation that they said would protect businesses from liability for neglecting residents.
His appearances in the pandemic media became more irritating and less frequent as the situation – and the opinion on how he handled it – worsened. Still, many people have joined him as a leader, Graefe noted.
“Ford seemed attentive. He was emotional in important ways,” Graefe said. “I think for a lot of Ontarians, it humanized him.”
This response may have been based on “emotion over reason,” noted Graefe, because in many cases “he was emotional, but he wasn’t actually doing things he could have done to improve it.” for workers, the Ford government slashed that program early in its term and delayed implementing a new program during COVID-19 before finally launching a more than a year into the crisis that critics said was short of 10 full days. needed to reduce transmission in the workplace.
One of Ford’s defining traits is his desire to be liked by everyone, and observers have credited this to the theme of the repeated COVID shutdowns.
By trying to keep everyone happy, Ford may have had the opposite effect of what was intended at times, Graefe said, when he repeatedly delayed taking public health measures despite warning signs, only to anger swaths of the population when the health care system caved in and closed. it became necessary.
But so far in the campaign, people’s pandemic frustrations don’t seem to be affecting Ford’s re-election chances, Graefe said, noting that people may have “priced in” their assessment of his COVID-19 management. Polls suggest that the Conservatives have a wide advantage, and right now, the majority government that progressive Conservatives need to stay in power — opposition parties have said they will not support a minority led by Ford — seems within reach.
At a recent campaign stop, Ford met with members at a Scarborough ping-pong academy. He greeted people with a simple “Good to see you”, posed for selfies, autographed a dozen ping pong rackets and then played a few rounds, drawing praise from the crowd for his skills. (Ford said he used to play with his brother Rob.)
People generally seemed excited to see the leader, but with just over a week to go until election day, not everyone decided to cast their vote.
College student Jeffrey Li said Ford’s response to the pandemic could have been better, particularly around repeated lockdowns, and said he wanted to hear more from all major parties about community funding plans and measures to address accessibility.
Playing a game with Ford didn’t decide it.
“I just like to play ping pong,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 27, 2022.