In June, incumbent Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne takes on the Ford Dynasty. It will be as much a vote of confidence for the premier herself as it is for the federal Liberals — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and company will face their first defence of the leadership of our country next October as well. By the end of 2019, the country could be navigating under entirely new direction.
Should that happen? Has Wynne run out of chances? Does Trudeau deserve at least another one? And perhaps even most pressing — is there a good alternative to the current Ontario premier or prime minister?
If not Ford, who?
Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford is no stranger to the spotlight. A cornerstone of Etobicoke and Toronto politics, the highs and lows of the Ford family played out as if they were part of a mockumentary. Provincially, it's new territory for Ford, whose run may have a smidge of Trump-like appeal. He denies it, but he'll always be more Kevin O'Leary than Stephen Harper.
Wynne isn't exactly at peak performance, but when last can we say she has been? Whatever you think of her or her methods, she's proven herself unbeatable so far after taking over the party in 2013. But when does it catch up to her? Even the mightiest fall, eventually.
Will Ontario finally throw up their arms and take a chance with Doug Ford? If not now, when? And if not Ford, who?
That question is like a warm glass of milk for Justin Trudeau.
The Conservative contenders
Andrew Scheer, the current federal Conservative leader, resembles a sleep aid more than a lightning rod. The PM has more charisma in his hair than Scheer has in his being. Scheer's policy-forward campaigning may have worked in the Stephen Harper days, but the last election proved personality counts.
Unfortunately for Conservatives, they're running a horse with a broken leg in next year's federal election. Trudeau is facing his lowest approval ratings yet, but has some breathing room as Scheer and New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh find their footing.
(With due respect to the NDP, I haven't addressed them because I don't see them as serious contenders in either race.)
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All is not lost
My prediction is there will be more people defecting to the right rather than the left. The Liberal parties on both levels of government have done enough to capture the left and keep some of the NDPers who backed them in 2015.
Much of their disapproval is around their insistent identity politics, a gamble that risks isolating those on the outside. That outside group is not looking to further left. They're looking to go more centre, in some cases more right. But there's a Trump-style playbook there for both Ford and Scheer — they can gain the trust of those who don't hear their name when Wynne or Trudeau speak.
All is not lost for them, though. A more neutral approach to policy and culture would help both the provincial and federal Liberals. Inclusive politics only appeals to so many communities. They are either extremely confident in those groups carrying them along, or keeping the faith that the deserters will be muted.
Wanted: a conservative hero
Are Ford and Scheer good enough alternatives? We live in a world where voters put a reality TV clown in the most powerful chair in the world. Anything can happen. Can Ford separate the sideshow from the stump speeches? Can Scheer become a household buzz like Trudeau was during his triumphant run?
Kathleen Wynne is facing her biggest fight yet in June. If Doug can separate himself from the Ford family follies (which he has already started doing), he could really turn some heads. We need to see a mature and serious campaign from him, which is already a given from Scheer. The Ford name just doesn't have the same ring to it as it used to. It's up to Doug to repair that image.
As for Scheer and the federal Conservatives, they could emulate Trudeau's cross-Canada tours. Get Scheer out in the trenches with common Canadians, and give them a chance to both vent and meet him up close. Scheer may never have the pizzazz of Trudeau, but he could use that to his advantage. Like Trump, the PM's dramatic flair can wear people down. In 18 months, the country may be desperate for boring policy and minimal photo ops.
If neither succeeds at toppling their respective Liberal opponents, it'll be back to the drawing board and years before they get another shot. There is no Trudeau-like wunderkind in the Conservative wings, though. Conservatives aren't and shouldn't rest easy yet. Doug Ford and Andrew Scheer have been deemed heroes in their own circles. Now it's just a matter of finding out what everyone else thinks.
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