The poison in Doug Ford's Kool-Aid

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The shocker moment of Ontario's election so far (for me) came on TVO's The Agenda. Steve Paikin's guest was Erin Kelly, head of Advanced Symbolics Inc. They do election surveys, not through polling but with an AI program that meanders around the internet, especially social media, to predict results. They seem to have nailed both Brexit and Trump's victory.

So how are youth leaning, Paikin asked, almost an afterthought. Doug Ford, she said breezily, as if: who doesn't know that? It shattered Paikin's sizable aplomb. Did the same for mine. Wooden, blue-suited Doug Ford?

Next day I asked a young millennial about it. He wasn't surprised. You people, he said, have no idea how angry people his age are. In their entire lives they've known nothing but disappointment. Vast student debt, Mideast wars, the crash of '08. They'll never own a house, have secure careers or live in a lively urban downtown. Many already believe a family is unreachable. Some will, or are, living with parents. (I'd have killed myself first, and I mean that literally.)

They've been screwed. And there you have it. The populist message is: "You've been screwed, and I'm with ya." Doug Ford has the most stripped-down version of this in the world: "You know me. I'm for the little guy." Full stop. He doesn't do racism, misogyny, blaming immigrants and Muslims, except inadvertently, and then he reverses. It's populism made easy and it's working.

At his most verbose, he adds: "I'm against the elites in downtown Toronto. He provides no corroboration." The odd nugget he blurts out runs counter, like cutting corporate taxes. How's that good for the little guy? The last time he engaged his mind may have been in the Reagan years: Business Good, Government Bad. Smile tightly. In fact, the less he says, the more impact.

We're not just talking youth here. The orange-est NDP voter I know -- who curtailed our decades of friendship because I criticized the NDP (harshly) last time around -- says he's voting for Doug. He too says this matter of factly. That nonchalance, as if it's all preordained and obvious, is what's most unsettling. His reason? Doug's for the little guy. The simplicity is breathtaking. When you're truly angry, discouraged and hopeless, everything gets streamlined.

Kathleen Wynne is helpless against this rage and bleakness. All she can do is recount the many truly useful things she's done and is doing: improved pensions, free tuition, free daycare and drugs. She's built 800 schools, the economy's doing well. Unemployment's at its lowest in … It's a swell list, it should work, but what little effect it has is undercut by her bonehead blunder: giving Hydro One away to the money guys, and those salaries they hoover up.

Andrea Horwath isn't encumbered like Wynne. But she seems incapable of anything except the inane phrases her "strategists" put in her mouth: There's another choice, etc. If she ever figures out how to say, "You've been screwed and I'm on your side," watch out. But don't expect that anytime soon.

O.K., time to row back. We're talking 40 per cent, 45 per cent max, of voters. The only reason for panic is our retrograde, undemocratic electoral system. It would give Doug over 70 per cent of seats with his 40 per cent of the vote; the Liberals and NDP would get about 35 per cent of seats with well over 50 per cent of the votes. Under any alternate system -- proportional rep, mixed member proportional, ranked ballot -- this wouldn't be so. The overwhelming majority of voters would get their preference of the NDP or Liberal platforms, which are virtually identical. We wouldn't be discussing the upsurge of populism at all. Most citizens haven't drunk the Kool-Aid, even if lots have. Blame it on the Liberals, when they've had power, and complacently chose not to change the system. Justin, that includes you.

This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star

Image: theimpulsivebuy/Flickr

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