Ontario election results: populist Doug Ford to become premier

The brother of troubled late former Toronto mayor Rob Ford to become leader of Canadas most populous province

Doug Ford the brother of controversial former Toronto mayor Rob Ford is the new leader of Canadas most populous province, winning a majority government in a local show of strength for the divisive wedge politics that have rattled much of the world.

Ontarios Conservatives, led by Ford, won 76 of the 124 seats in the province, with 99% of the polls reporting. Buoyed by promises that included slashing income taxes, reducing the price of gasoline, boosting spending on healthcare and transit and repealing carbon pricing, the Conservatives won 41% of the vote, bringing an end to 15 years of Liberal rule in the province.

This victory belongs to the people, Ford told supporters on Thursday. Together we made history. We have taken back Ontario, we have delivered a government that is for the people.

Ford a businessman who rails against the elite and regularly peppers his speeches and interviews with boasts and falsehoods is the brother of the late Rob Ford, the former Toronto mayor who made headlines around the world after he admitted to smoking crack cocaine while in office.

In his victory speech, Ford thanked his brother. I know my brother Rob is looking down from heaven. Im just getting chills talking about him right now, he said. I know Rob is celebrating with us tonight. We owe so much to Robs legacy.

Throughout the campaign Fords brand of populism prompted a slew of comparisons to Donald Trump, as the Canadian leader took aim at safe injection sites and opposed legislation to create protest-free zones outside abortion clinics. But in contrast to Trump, he campaigned hard among Canadas immigrant communities who hold considerable sway in several ridings in the province.

He has long been a controversial figure in Canada; during his one term as a Toronto city councillor he refused to attend the citys Pride parade describing it as middle-aged men, with pot bellies, running down the street buck naked and lashed out at a home for developmentally disabled youth, labelling it a nightmare that had ruined the community.

Ford also gained a reputation as his brothers most aggressive defender, lashing out at Toronto police and journalists as Rob Ford fended off claims he smoked crack.

Doug Ford himself was plagued by drug-related allegations; in 2013, the Globe and Mail reported he had sold hashish for several years in the 1980s. Ford has denied the claims.

Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Ford will now lead Ontario, a province that is home to nearly a third of Canadas 36 million residents as well as much of the countrys financial and manufacturing sectors.

In some ways, Fords win echoes the rise of populism in countries such as Poland, Hungary and Italy, said Ian Lee, a professor at Carleton University. Hes very much a populist, he said.

But he pointed to different underlying reasons. I dont believe that this is part of the bandwagon or the trend that were seeing in the US, in Poland, in Hungary, in other countries in Europe. Instead he saw Fords victory as a rejection of the governing Liberals, who had steered the province to the left.

The Liberals, led by premier Kathleen Wynne, were reduced to seven seats one seat shy of the eight needed for official party status. Pollsters had long predicted that voter frustration about growing inequality, the rising cost of living and economic uncertainty would take a toll on her party.

As the results came in, Wynne, Ontarios first female premier as well as its first openly gay premier, announced she would step down as leader. There is another generation, and I am passing the torch to that generation, she said.

Some of the deep clamour for change emerged simply from the fact that the Liberals had governed for 15 years a lengthy stretch for any political party, said Cristine de Clercy, a political science professor at Western University in southern Ontario.

But the dizzying pace of initiatives rolled out by Wynnes government might have also played a role, said de Clercy, citing a rise in the minimum wage and reforms in workplace legislation and education. She asked Ontarians to embrace many initiatives very quickly and I think certainly in some sectors people pushed back.

What few predicted, however, was that the race would become a battle between the Conservatives and the left-leaning New Democratic party (NDP); pitting rightwing populist politics against promises to increase government spending and raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

The Conservatives commanding lead eroded during campaigning as Ford refused to detail how his promises would be funded simply saying he would find efficiencies across the government and amid calculations that suggested his tax cuts would disproportionately benefit the provinces wealthiest.

Just days before the vote, Ford family drama roared into the headlines, as the widow and children of Rob Ford filed a C$16.5m ($12.3m) lawsuit in a Toronto court. Rob Ford, who served as Torontos mayor from 2010 to 2014, died in March 2016 after a battle with cancer.

The lawsuit accused Doug Ford of being a negligent business manager whose decisions had steadily chipped away at the value of Deco Labels, the company the Ford brothers had inherited from their father. Ford has denied all of the allegations, which have not been proven in court.

Led by Andrea Horwath, the NDP earned 34% of the vote. Voter distribution combined with Ontarios first-past-the-post electoral system translated the vote into 40 seats for the party. The party will now form the official opposition.

Its going to be a very different legislature that convenes, said de Clercy. Its worth remembering Mr Ford is a total rookie. He has not participated in Ontario politics, he doesnt know the ways and means of the legislature. There is a pretty steep learning curve for him, as there would be for any politician in his shoes.

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