Late Saturday night, after many hours of delays and concerns about “voting irregularities,” Doug Ford was named the new leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives.
The selection of Ford, who was named the victor on the third ballot of a complicated voting system, could have a big impact on the riding of Simcoe North, says Liberal candidate Gerry Marshall.
“A guy like Doug Ford, I don’t think, can spell Penetanguishene let alone find it on a map,” Marshall told OrilliaMatters Sunday. “My fear is a person like that in that kind of position is not going to be thinking much beyond the borders of the GTA and that’s problematic … to have an opposition leader with a very narrow perspective.”
Local Conservative candidate Jill Dunlop, who first backed deposed leader Patrick Brown and then threw her support behind perceived front-runner Christine Elliott, says the coronation of Ford might not play as well in rural ridings such as Simcoe North.
“I personally don’t know (Ford), so it will be about getting to know him,” Dunlop said. “He doesn’t know a lot about our riding, either, so I think it would be great to have him up here and to see the great things we’re doing … and things we need more provincial funding for, so that’s what I will be trying to do.”
She said prior to Saturday’s decision, the riding was split 50/50; half supported Ford and half supported Elliott. Dunlop said she backed Elliott “because I thought she had previous experience in provincial politics and what I was hearing from other people, door to door, was that it was time for a female leader.”
Dunlop was in Markham for the conclusion of the leadership contest. She said it was “disappointing” to be sent home before getting a result. Ford was finally announced as the party’s leader at about 10 p.m. after party officials considered, then rejected, a challenge from Elliott over the results.
“I think the party has spoken and … it’s exciting for the party to have a new leader,” said Dunlop. “It’s important for me to get to know Doug, so I can get behind him in my riding here. It is a strong Conservative riding and he needs to meet the people and get their support.”
Marshall said Ford “has no relationship with Simcoe North. I don’t think he has a sense of small-town communities. I don’t think he has a sense of our lifestyle that’s important to us … that’s problematic for anyone north of Highway 7.”
Local NDP candidate Elizabeth Van Houtte said the last two months have revealed deep divisions within the PC Party.
“It’s an indication of a party that can’t govern itself and that doesn’t bode well for a party that wants to govern this province,” said Van Houtte. “They’re divided. We need a party that’s all on the same page, has a good platform and can promote the well-being of the people of Ontario. The PCs have not shown any leadership and (Liberal premier Kathleen) Wynne has not been good.”
Van Houtte knows Simcoe North is a Tory stronghold. “So, I ask people at the door if their life is better today than it was 15 years ago when the Liberals were elected? Is it better over the last 20 years since the PCs have been elected in Simcoe North? The answer is always no,” she says. “It is not going to improve if people vote for the status quo.”
That’s a sentiment shared by Green Party candidate Valerie Powell. “I have this sort of sinking feeling in my stomach about the way politics are being done,” said Powell. “We like to laugh at the U.S., but we’re not laughing any more. This is serious.”
She said she fears the erosion of the “democratic process” and the “negative type of campaigning likely to follow.” It’s important, she said, to remember that populist politics “doesn’t solve the problem and doesn’t make the province or country better. It divides the populace. It’s frightening.”
Powell said the discord in the Conservative party and the angst over re-electing the Liberals presents an opportunity for voters to focus not on divisive leaders, but policies that can improve the province. She said the Greens believe in a sustainable environment, protecting water at the source, supporting small business, affordable housing, the creation of a basic, liveable wage, among other polices.
“We base our policies on our values,” she said. “We’re not fiscally irresponsible and we’re not a socialist party. It’s time to talk about platforms and policies – not personalities.”
Marshall also likes to talk about experience – something he feels he brings to the table. The long-time Penetanguishene mayor who has also served as the Warden of Simcoe County, said he would be a “strong person” at Queen’s Park who makes sure issues important to residents of Simcoe North do “not get lost in the shuffle.”
Marshall says he is a “small-town, rural Ontario champion. I’m running to stand up for, really, what’s important to smaller communities: we need our hospitals open, we need our schools open, we need infrastructure investment, affordable housing – those kinds of things. That’s what I will champion.”
Van Houtte said voters should fear a Conservative government led by Ford, who vows to “slash and burn” his way to the premier’s job. She noted Patrick Brown’s People’s Guarantee called for “$6.1 billion in cuts and (Ford) is saying it needs to be more than that. That’s going to be cut from essential services like health care and education. Longtime PCs have to consider and think if that’s the leader they want for the province.”
Dunlop, however, said people want change. “The overwhelming feeling is people want change at Queen’s Park and they want to see Kathleen Wynne gone. In Simcoe North, we are working extremely hard to ensure that happens and to do our part.”
Powell said she is more determined than ever to spread the Green Party message.
“I was thinking about this this morning. Initially, I was feeling kind of down and then I was thinking, this makes me want to campaign harder,” she said, referencing the situation in B.C. where the Greens hold the “balance of power” in the midst of the political unrest in that province. “If it’s close between the Liberals and Conservatives here, if we got one or two Greens elected, we could have a huge influence on policy in Ontario … That’s why it’s so important to vote. And I urge people not to vote strategically, because that never works. Vote for policies and platforms that will make Ontario better.”
Van Houtte said part of her campaign is reminding voters, especially young people, that their vote can count.
“People feel so defeated. They feel like they haven’t been heard and they haven’t, but I remind them they have a voice,” said Van Houtte, who said she has not encountered anyone, while door-knocking, that is “interested in the Liberals.” Similarly, she noted, many are unhappy with the Conservatives.
Speaking Saturday with an elderly couple worried about the prospect of Ford as leader, Van Houtte asked them a simple question: “How has voting for the PCs worked for you?” She said, at the least, she hopes to get people thinking before they head to the ballot box.
“I’m letting them know there’s a party advocating and supporting a platform to make life better for Ontarians,” said Van Houtte, noting the NDP will return Hydro One to public hands by 2028. “There are tough choices for voters to make this time around.”
The 42nd Ontario general election is scheduled to be held on or before June 7.