As Doug Ford took the podium to accept the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, one of his ostensible rivals, Tanya Granic Allen, stood behind him beaming. Despite the fact that she came in last place, Granic Allen was right to feel delighted.
Just a few months ago, the social conservatives that she represents were watching from the sidelines as Patrick Brown trampled over everything they believed in. Now they’re standing at the threshold of power.
For all the loyalty of Ford Nation, the premier-in-waiting couldn’t have won the nomination without the voters that Granic Allen mobilized, who overwhelmingly chose Ford as their second choice.
In other words, he owes them one.
Throughout his campaign, Ford hit hard on social conservative talking points.
He promised to entirely scrap the sex-education curriculum, one of the only policy issues he was clear on, falsely claiming that teachers are indoctrinating children with this “ideology” about “six different genders and all the nonsense.”
He wants to require parental permission for minors who want to get an abortion, a frightening proposal that could see children being forced to give birth if their parents disapprove. Nevermind that it’s certainly unconstitutional.
Charles McVety, Ontario’s high priest of homophobia, was an enthusiastic Ford-backer from the very beginning. McVety believes that updates to sex education are an attempt by LGBT people to prey on children.
“Unfortunately they have an insatiable appetite for sex, especially with young people,” he said on his TV show in 2010. “And there’re [sic] not enough of them, so they want to proselytize your children and mine, our grandchildren and turn them into homosexuals.”
Ford also went out of his way to get the endorsement of Paul Melnichuk, an evangelical pastor who was recently acquitted of sexually assaulting two women in his congregation.
In the 1980s, Melnichuk was taped during a sermon going on a vicious anti-Semitic rant, which he later apologized for.
“I would never pray for a Jew; I think they’re the most miserable people in the whole world,” he said. “The old crooked Jew, as soon as he sees you he’s wondering how much money he can make on you, and how he can gyp you.”
These are the people who helped Ford get the leadership. They will be breathing down his neck to ensure that unlike Brown, Ford remembers who got him this close to the premiership.
And make no mistake — Ford is the favourite to win the next election.
Perhaps Kathleen Wynne and Andrea Horwath will be able to remind voters of the chaotic mess Toronto endured during the Ford years. And while homophobic dog-whistling has proven once again to be an effective political strategy amongst the Progressive Conservative base, most Ontarians are wary of culture wars.
But polls show that most Ontarians want change. And Ford, despite, or perhaps because of, his bullying, fact-light, gaffe-ridden political style, would certainly be a change from Wynne’s detached technocracy.
The bigots have good reason to smile.