Why voters were attracted to Doug Ford
The fact Doug Ford won a majority government is now old news, so let’s turn to why he won.
In the days after the polls closed, my firm, Navigator, undertook a research study to determine why voters made the choices they did. The research was based on a simple premise: If we could figure why voters made the choices they did, we could be well on our way to predicting how the new government will act.
The topline results: Ford won because voters were in a self-interested mood.
It will come as little surprise that one of the common denominators across the province was acute voter fatigue with the Liberal party. Some of it was the natural fallout of 15 years in office.
However, much of it came from the perceived sense of Liberal overreach and the party’s stubborn disregard of voters’ interests.
So, with a government that was not only long in the tooth but that was viewed as out of touch with the priorities of everyday voters, the election became a stark choice between the New Democrats and the Progressive Conservatives.
While Andrea Horwath and the NDP displayed more discipline than ever, they simply were not a viable option for many voters.
Some voters remained uncomfortable with the New Democrats and the cost of their social policies. Their leader’s insistence on never using back-to-work legislation reminded many of a rigid, doctrinaire approach to governing.
In fact, many referred to the party as “radical,” a direct echo of the messages the Liberals and Conservatives drove in their advertising.
It turns out this election was not about who had the best vision for the province, nor was it about which leader was the most premier-like. This election was not about the macro; it was all about the micro.
Voters wanted immediate relief, not grandiose promises for the future. They wanted policy that would positively impact them now.
Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives understood that.
Voters pointed to four policies that allowed the PCs to claim they were on the side of regular voters.
First, an immediate 10-cents-per-litre reduction in the cost of gas. Of all the policies Ford put on offer, nothing said “I get it” like this one. That’s why it was a shrewd decision for the PC party to announce Wednesday that Premier-designate Ford would recall the legislature for a brief summer session specifically to deal with gas prices.
Second, relief from the ballooning price of hydro power. Unsurprisingly, voters expressed dissatisfaction with the way the current system works, and indicated they were deeply skeptical about its fairness. Voters expect action on the hydro front, but they aren’t expecting miracles. They want a clean sweep of utility board members and executives as long as the cost to do so is not exorbitant.
Third, a solution to the ever-increasing tax burden. Reducing the tax burden for middle-class Ontarians emerged as core to the new government’s mandate. Voters expect the level of taxation to decline, and to decline swiftly.
Finally, scrutiny of government waste and the deficit. There was widespread support for Ford’s promise of a full external, line-by-line audit of the government, with the belief it will uncover considerable waste.
Businesses and organizations can glean many lessons from this research.
For those seeking to work closely with the new government, it is important to understand that it will be relentlessly focused on helping people who are struggling.
Organizations should now frame their case in a manner that demonstrates how it will help everyday Ontarians. They should understand that this is a government that will be extremely sensitive about undertaking any projects that harm the pocketbook or affect voters’ perceptions that the PCs are there for the “little guy.”
Put another way, much of the way organizations have been dealing with government for the last 15 years must be thrown out the window. In other words, the past is not prologue.
That’s because, at its core, the government will be going back to basics: providing tax relief for Ontarians, focusing on reducing the debt, and sticking to its knitting.
Voters want and — crucially — expect the PCs to govern for the people.
Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.