I Had U.S. Election Déjà Vu with the Ontario PC Leadership Vote

Prepare for a very polarizing race to the Ontario provincial election

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The Ontario election will be a race between NDP leader Andrea Horwath, newly elected Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford and Liberal incumbent Kathleen Wynne

The Ontario election will be a race between NDP leader Andrea Horwath, newly elected Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford and Liberal incumbent Kathleen Wynne (Photos: Getty)

Watching the results of the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership vote this weekend felt like  to November 2016. Two candidates—an experienced, measured woman versus a pulls-no-punches populist man—faced off in a to the finish. The night ended with a : Doug Ford squeaked out ahead of Christine Elliott with the majority of riding points, while Elliott won more voters overall.

Elliott , and took until Sunday afternoon to  in the name of a united fight against Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne. But what will that fight look like in the run-up to voting day June 7, where Ford must also beat NDP leader Andrea Horwath to become Ontario premier? Can we expect even more ?

Prepare for a VERY polarizing race

Doug Ford, brother to the recently deceased former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, is a very divisive figure, seen as anti-establishment despite having spent most of his life in politics (he was Toronto city councillor from 2010–2014, and  after Rob was too sick to continue his campaign).

“What was most surprising about Saturday’s result was there were two truly formidable candidates, women who are massive success stories in their own right [both ] and yet somehow [the winning candidate has been] known to make misogynistic, sexist statements, who’s part of a family wrought with controversy,” says Liberal political commentator and public relations and communications expert .

Almost half of Ontario voters don’t like Ford as PC leader, according to  (which also found that women really don’t like him—50 percent said they’re  to vote for the Ford-led PCs). But, according to the poll, the Tories could still win a majority government if the vote happened today—change is on the wind and plenty of voters have had enough of the Wynne Liberals.

This time around, Ford has so far smartly steered clear of gender-specific attacks, and he’d be wise to stay on that train, says , a senior consultant at Summa Strategies who has been involved with the Ontario PCs for the past decade. “Doug will want to be careful not to be seen as a bully on stage against two women,” she says. “I don’t think he needs to resort to personal attacks at all because the electorate is already in a place where they’re anxious for change.”

That said, Ford doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to respect for women, Alvaro says (remember when he called a Toronto Star reporter a ), adding that the Tories in general are  in their campaign advertisements. She doesn’t expect this high-stakes campaign to be any different.

Get ready to see more women involved in provincial politics

In the year after Trump’s U.S. election win, women started signing up in droves to either , volunteer or at the very least, commit to vote. There could be a similar motivation in Ontario, says Alvaro, given the risk to education, childcare and healthcare inherent in Ford’s economic austerity message, not to mention his willingness to  for young women.

Harrison says the fact that three women ran in the PC leadership race alone is a testament to the eagerness of conservative women to get involved in provincial politics. “I’ve seen a noticeable uptick in women running as candidates for us in key winnable ridings,” she says. Expect to see Elliott and Mulroney on the frontline of the PC’s election campaign, she says (social conservative candidate  may also get a political thank you of sorts for sending her supporters to Ford after she lost on the first ballot). Putting strong conservative women candidates front and centre would also be a smart move on Ford’s part in response to criticism, in light of the allegations levelled against Brown, that the party is hostile to women, Harrison says.

The risk and opportunity for the NDP

Unlike the U.S. election landscape, where it was really a one-on-one smackdown, there’s a third player in the race for Ontario premier. This election will be Andrea Horwath’s third as NDP leader, and she’ll benefit from not being as well-known, or as polarizing, as Wynne or Ford, Harrison says. “People don’t have a lot of hard and fast opinions about Andrea Horwath, and I think that’s an opportunity, especially in a change election.” But what will happen with the Ontario working class and northern votes this time around? The Liberals have been working hard on the progressive vote both provincially in Ontario and federally, so it’ll be a challenge for Horwath to sell her party to them, and to the “soft middle” voters who might be ready for a change from the Wynne government, but aren’t super stoked on the idea of Premier Ford.

Related:

Why We’re Happy This MP Is Leaving Politics (and You Should Be Too)
Meet the Millennials Who Are Shaking Up the Conservative Party
Two of the Frontrunners for Ontario’s PC Leadership Are Women—and That’s a Big Deal

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