The Longer I’m Premier: What You Can Expect from the First Year of a Ford Government and Why That Should Worry Team Trudeau

In the wake of this landmark Conservative victory last night, there will be, among progressive voters, prognostications about Ford’s reign that paint a rosy scenario for the next federal election campaign. The revelations of sundry legal and ethical challenges a number of Tory candidates weathered over the last two months are just a precursor to the wealth of tabloid fodder the new Conservative caucus will provide over the next four years – so is the thinking. To make matters worse, the fact that Ford did not release a substantive, costed platform or provide any reassurances he had a solid grasp of complex policy questions in the Leaders’ debates bode ill for Bay Street and an investment community quickly going skittish given that Trump is now Tweeting wildly about us. By the time Trudeau is on the hustings in Ontario next summer, the next federal election will be shaping up as a referendum on a chaotic Ford administration and a Tory brand damaged beyond repair in Ottawa.

This may sound, on the face of it, like a compelling argument based on all we’ve observed from Ford’s years in municipal government and all that an embattled Liberal war room worked hard to communicate over the last three months. But take this from a Liberal here in Ottawa who heard many a well placed “advisor” and pundit trot out a similar scenario to brighten the mood of Liberals smarting from Harper’s victory back in 2006, it ain’t going to happen.

What you will see is a Ford majority that will govern like a minority in the Legislature for its first two years. You’ll see strong caucus and message discipline, no Tanya Granic Allen moments where centrist voters start to get worried about an emerging ideological agenda gaining a stronger voice within a Ford cabinet. If Christine Elliot does indeed take on the job as Finance Minister, you’ll see an emphasis on sound fiscal management, with no drama around ‘radical’ tax cuts or – more pertinently for nervous municipalities – cuts to their transfer payments.

However, with a strong alliance that could form with Alberta and Saskatchewan, you will see a Ford government inflict some major damage where it matters federally – deep sixing Ontario’s cap and trade program and its lockstep support for an ambitious pharma care plan. These bold moves will be red meat for Ford’s base and provide him with strong bona fides to say he’s living up to his promises. More important, it will signal that Harper’s legacy project of incrementally fashioning a Conservative vision that Ontarians can warm to, continues apace.

For the many Harper staffers working on Ford’s team, this is the real victory scenario. Last night’s result is the first beachhead recaptured, Kenney’s Alberta will be the next. With firm, seasoned hands keeping caucus discipline in place and devising a slow and steady incremental legislative agenda, the Harper strategy is dusted off and ready to be put in use once again. If all goes to plan, you’ll begin to hear that the Trudeau victory of 2015 was really just a temporary setback for the larger plan at work in Ontario and across the country.

I would submit it’s time for Trudeau’s team – staffed with many veterans of Queen’s Park – to start taking this larger vision seriously. One look at the scorched earth around the 905 and in Toronto itself should provide a sobering moment enough today.

A former director of communications for the Liberal Research Bureau, John Delacourt is Vice President of Ensight.