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Monday, February 12, 2018

At the Manning Conference, Doug Ford demonstrated that he's the best bet the Progressive Conservatives have to defeat Wynne

While it wasn't exactly a lion's den that Doug Ford walked into on Saturday morning, it was in front of a crowd at the Manning Conference in Ottawa more likely to be inimical than friendly.

The Manning Conference is conservative in bent, but those attending the three-day event are mainly the 'elites' in the conservative movement, the very people Ford has said have lost touch with the common person in Ontario. His disfavor among the Conservative patrician class was suggested by the disadvantageous time slot he was allocated. Eight fifteen on a Saturday morning following a Friday night of parties and entertainment at hospitality suites that went into the wee hours seemed a guarantee of a poor turnout. But interest in the populist firebrand was so substantial that Ford drew a much larger crowd than Caroline Mulroney had the day before and was about equal to the size Christine Elliott garnered at the prime time she was given just before lunch.

The interview was conducted by columnist and radio host Anthony Furey, who is one of Canada's most capable, thoughtful, reasonable journalists. He evoked Ford's approach to leadership and the person beyond just the politician. Ford's sharp contrast to  his rivals won over many of the Manning attendees. More importantly, it is likely to win over Ontarians of all political stripes.

Christine Elliott repeated that she was willing to welcome anyone who shares her "conservative values." Ford however stressed that his movement reaches out to, and and takes in, people who are politically unaffiliated as well as those who identify as NDP or Liberal. Political party membership doesn't mean acceptance of the total fiscal irresponsibility that Kathleen Wynne has brought to the province. Ford discussed the huge numbers of hard-working union members who support him, and are fed up with the incompetence and over-taxation that are key components of the Wynne government.  I can attest to that. I have friends in public service unions who are disgusted with the waste they see of taxpayer dollars at their places of work, and how increases in taxes do little that isn't for the benefit of high-paid insiders.

It was the sort of talk, along with his commitment to lowering taxes and government interference in people's lives, that won the room over for Ford. The other factor that overwhelmingly favors Ford is his sincerity. Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney seem like nice people, but they exude neither  full commitment nor total sincerity. One gets the feeling from Mulroney and Elliott that they tailor their message to whichever room where they're speaking. With Ford, you get the same message, and  know that whether or not you like what you're hearing, he means it. That's something even the Toronto Star begrudgingly recognizes.

To win the general election, the Progressive Conservative leader needs to understand how to reach out to everyone in the province. Ford knows that better than anyone. Ford Nation, which the left-wing Toronto Star enjoys disparaging, is the antithesis of the reality of the establishment who deride it. If you go to a Liberal Party meeting, you could be forgiven for confusing it with a Bay Street Bankers conference from 1972. As for the NDP, one of their their typical gatherings usually is exclusively made up of more bitter, old, upper-middle class white people than a John Birch Society meeting.

But at a Doug Ford rally, you'll find a wide mix of every ethnicity, age, and income status that you can find among the province's citizens. It's that broad-based appeal that is one of the main differences between Ford and his rivals. Beyond that is charisma and the ability to communicate a message. Those are traits that neither Mulroney or Elliott possess to the impressive extent as Ford. In fact, Mulroney's public performance was so weak that rumors are now circulating that she is planning to drop out of the leadership contest soon.

Despite being abysmal at governing, Kathleen Wynne is a formidable election campaigner. Whether Ford wins the Progressive Conservative Party by election or acclimation, one thing most people have come to realize is that he is the one candidate with the determination, the fighting skills, and the credibility to defeat the Wynne government and reverse the dire economic situation the Liberals have brought to Ontario.

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