A photo of Ontario Premier Doug Ford at an announcement of a new hospital expansion in Mississauga in December of 2021.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford at an announcement of a new hospital expansion in Mississauga in December of 2021. Credit: Ontario Premier Photography

A week is indeed a long time in politics. Particularly if Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford continues strengthening his position and we can anticipate another four years of him after next week’s election. So what accounts for Ford’s apparent — albeit relative, at roughly 35 per cent — strength among voters? I have a theory.

There’s something impressive about people who can change what seemed like unlikeable but deeply rooted ideas and personal traits. When Ford took office, he arrogantly changed the rules for Toronto city council in the middle of an election, tried putting a crony in charge of the OPP, said he’d use the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to push through whatever he wanted, and more. He justified that garbage by saying he’d been elected so shut up, the rest of you. He was obstinate, reckless, ignorant and stupid — related but distinct qualities.

The voters gradually grasped who they’d installed. After being booed at the Raptors’ victory celebration, he grasped what they’d grasped — already a change for a guy who’s clearly not highly self-aware. Then he began to really change. He stopped reflexively dumping on Justin and the feds, worked with them on COVID, didn’t join right-wing choruses on the convoy, etc. It wasn’t a full personality transplant, but it was unexpected movement if you’re Doug Ford.

It seems to me this might be what’s getting rewarded in the polls, though I have no polling to prove it. When Rod Phillips and Christine Elliott said they weren’t running again, it may’ve been that Doug looked likely to repeat, but also because he’d begun to implement the Bill Davis-style politics they’d planned to bring back themselves.

In a recent interview with the Star’s Martin Regg Cohn, Ford said, “I’ve evolved, absolutely — 100 per cent. You evolve into your role.” Then he said people had simply gotten to know him, which is in glorious contradiction to what he just said re: evolving. OK, he may not actually know what “contradiction” means. And yet.

I’m not looking forward to four more Doug years, if they happen. We’d see more underfunding and privatization in health and education, including higher ed, which Doug only views as prep for jobs to serve his awesome private sector. He’ll continue doling out public favours to his tawdry cronies. But if the people who booed him wind up voting for him, it’ll be because he gave them some reasons.

How about voting for people who lead real lives? Jessica Bell happens to be my neighbour and also an NDP member at Queen’s Park. The Liberal and Green candidates would make good MPPs — Tories are non-starters in my riding — but Jess is the one living closest to a normal, ordinary, what used to be called working class, life. She’s a renter, like 60 per cent of people in Toronto. And not your high-renter; she’s rent-controlled.

Her building is poorly maintained, she says, and even an MPP can do little to hold a landlord to account, which is why the laws must change. When wading pools shut down one hot summer, she pressed to get them open, in part since her two young kids were sweltering, their building had no AC. She gets it.

In the past she was a longtime community organizer or executive director of non-profits, like her husband. She says till this “job” — an interesting term to use — they together earned about $80,000, the Toronto average. So we’re not talking about poverty, and believe me, there’s no hint of self-pity in her. But moving on up, socially or economically, is simply no kind of priority for her.

In a previous election, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, a feisty bunch to say the least, were running a candidate. The NDP asked them to withdraw, making a “progressive” win more likely — which made sense. OCAP said yes, but conditionally: if the NDP won, their member would accept a salary only up to what average workers in Toronto make, and give the rest to worthy causes. How come that sounds so exotic?

This article was originally published in The Toronto Star.

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Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.