Less than six months ago, Doug Ford, who served one term as a Toronto city councillor between 2010 and 2014, was planning to run for mayor of that city.
Now Ford is a few days away from being sworn in as premier of Ontario after leading the Progressive Conservative (PC) Party to a majority government in the June 7 provincial election. The New Democratic Party (NDP) became the official opposition, and the Green Party – which had never held a seat before – elected its first MPP.
A huge story was the utter collapse of the Liberal Party of Ontario. After winning four elections since 2003, they struck out and were reduced to just seven seats, not quite enough for official party status in the legislature.
I attended the meetings the Jewish Federation of Ottawa held with local candidates from the three major parties and offer here a few observations and opinions beyond the reporting I did on the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin website before the election.
All Ottawa-area candidates for each of the three parties were invited to the meetings, which were scheduled to suit the parties. Each party was asked the same set of main questions provided to them in advance. These questions on combatting anti-Semitism, support for the vulnerable, community security, Ontario-Israel ties, and preventing genetic discrimination, were drawn from the Ontario election guide prepared by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. A question about funding for faith-based schools was also asked at each of the meetings.
The Liberals sent four candidates – all incumbent MPPs, three of them cabinet ministers: Bob Chiarelli (Ottawa West-Nepean), Natalie Des Rosiers (Ottawa Vanier), John Fraser (Ottawa South) and Yasir Naqvi (Ottawa Centre).
As experienced MPPs, the Liberal candidates were well versed on the issues and offered full or qualified support to Jewish community positions or requests on the main questions. It was only on the issue of funding for faith-based schools that the Liberal candidates diverged from the community. While they would not pledge support for changing the status quo (in which Roman Catholic schools are fully funded while all other faith-based schools receive no funding), the candidates did say they would personally be open to future discussion on the issue.
Des Rosiers and Fraser were among the seven Liberals across Ontario to retain their seats and Fraser became interim Liberal leader following the resignation of Kathleen Wynne.
The NDP was represented by two candidates: Eleanor Fast (Ottawa South) and Chandra Pasma (Ottawa West Nepean).
Fast and Pasma did seem engaged on some of the issues and unfamiliar with others. Neither offered any promise that an NDP government would revisit the issue of funding for faith-based schools.
The white elephant in the room during the NDP meeting was Ottawa Centre candidate Joel Harden and his support for the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Although the meeting took place at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre, which is located in Ottawa Centre, Harden did not attend.
Fast and Pasma – neither of whom was elected – pointed out that BDS was rejected by the federal NDP and is not a policy of the provincial party, and both said they had voted against BDS resolutions at policy conventions or in their riding associations.
Harden, though, was elected in Ottawa Centre and it now remains to be seen what kind of relationship he will develop with the Jewish community. Clearly, outgoing Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi, who was supportive of many community initiatives, will be missed.
The PCs were represented by just one candidate, Colleen McCleery (Ottawa Centre). While she was friendly enough, McCleery seemed unprepared for the discussion and was largely unaware of the issues, including school funding. Clearly, the PCs would have benefited from the presence of more serious candidates like Lisa MacLeod (Nepean) or Jeremy Roberts (Ottawa West-Nepean).
Despite the slimmest of platforms, Ford’s key to winning power was the collapse of Liberal support after 15 years in government, and a populist message. Winning, this time, was seemingly easy. Now he’ll have to govern – and that will be a lot harder.