It becomes a watershed week for two Tory prime ministers as their futures pivot on a pair of defining moments.
One looks set to win a provincial election on June 2. The other seems doomed to suffer considerable personal grief, even crushing defeat, from the party he created.
For Ontario’s Doug Ford, Monday’s leaders’ debate was the last chance for opponents to knock him off his folksy podium. They missed. Another Progressive Conservative majority government is on the way.
For Alberta’s Jason Kenney, the best and worst of times are unfolding. He was in Washington on Tuesday making a compelling case for boosting Alberta’s oil exports before a Senate committee where boosting energy supply is an increasingly easy sell.
Yet he is only one day away from learning how many members of the United Conservative Party want to kill Kenney as leader. Anything less than a two-thirds thumbs-up for Kenney, a very hard number for him to get, will spark a mutiny.
All this to say that there is a staggering discrepancy between good, bad and bad political fortunes for these two conservative clones.
While Kenney deserves credit for accomplishing a mission impossible in bringing together rival right-wing Alberta parties before claiming leadership and the premiership for himself, my true friends (and former Kenney fans) in Alberta hate now the prime minister. They see him as an arrogant, out of touch and generally incompetent leader, despite the flood of oil royalties pouring into the Treasury amid signs the economy is on the upswing.
Ford, on the other hand, began his first term obsessing over strange ideological priorities before going rogue with outlandish pandemic restrictions and presiding over a troubled rollout of vaccines and equipment.
‘THE MOST BRILLIANT POLITICAL BRIBE I’VE EVER SEEN’
Then, with an election looming, he announced the most blatant political bribe I have ever seen. Even though no one demanded it, Ford ended vehicle registration fees and mailed out vote-buying refund checks for fees already paid.
It was a maddening waste of tax opportunity – and it worked like a charm.
He’s still leading the polls and I bet the debate hasn’t helped his rivals drag Ford’s popularity down the rankings.
So. to return to the central question, why the bifurcation in their respective political paths to continue as a leader?
THIS WILL BE KENNEY’S LOSS
Kenney is still one of the smartest politicians I know, but his intellectual genius, his ruthless partisanship and his all-about-me mindset will be his downfall.
Believing that the prime minister knows better than anyone, Kenney shines a spotlight on every file, turns a deaf ear to caucus disagreements, and bestows every minister with public invisibility. He is the political antithesis of the Prime Minister pal he idolizes, namely Ralph Klein.
The intellectually lighter Doug Ford, as the debate has shown, is more like Klein in that he publicly praises even mediocre ministers (yes, that’s you Education Minister Stephen Lecce), admits to having done mistakes and apologizes before changing direction, while keeping the campaign messages simple and positive.
Unlike Ottawa-bashing Kenney, Ford has learned to play well in the political sandbox, praising Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and even saluting the leader of the Green Party this week, a kinder, gentler approach offering some relief to an audience tired of endless antagonism. .
This raised the possibility that Kenney would falter, if not fail, and that Ford, which failed to even issue a new license plate for Ontario, is heading for re-election.
The likely explanation for this is not rocket science.
Politics today (and has been for some time) is about personality rather than politics in the age of social media where clever jokes and 10-second clips have more impact than a fully encrypted platform.
If or when prospective political science students write a comparative Ford versus Kenney thesis, success versus failure, several conclusions may emerge.
They’ll notice that nice guys actually finish first, especially if they admit mistakes and have a self-deprecating sense of humor. That’s why the Ford folk will likely claim victory over liberal plastics rival Steven Del Duca.
And they’ll learn that no one likes the smartest kid in the class, especially when they’re constantly making sure everyone knows it with an answer to every question. That’s why the UPC can happily sideline party founder Jason Kenney.
This is the bottom line.
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