Trouble for Trudeau? Canadian liberals brace for impact of populist Doug Ford win

Doug Ford, the brother of the infamous Rob Ford, has emerged as a winner in the recent regional parliamentary elections in Canada. The victory of the ‘Trump-like’ politician can be a warning sign for the Canadian Liberals.

Doug Ford, the head of the Canadian Progressive Conservatives, has become a premier-designate in the country's most populous province of Ontario, which has almost one-third of Canada’s 36 million population.

On Thursday, his party took 76 of 124 seats in the provincial legislature following what was described as a sweeping victory at the regional elections, where it received 41 percent of the vote.

The elections ended the 15-year rule of the Liberal Party in the province. The Liberals managed to receive just seven seats in the legislature following the vote.

Ford, who has never taken up any political posts at the regional level and only served as a Toronto city councilor for four years, is described as someone who has little political experience. He also embraced a number of seemingly populist slogans, which range from slashing income taxes and reducing the price of gasoline to boosting spending on healthcare and transport.

“Tonight, we have sent a clear message to the world. Ontario is open for business,” Ford told a victory rally in Toronto on Thursday. “We will reduce your taxes, reduce your gas prices and keep more money in your pocket,” he added.

However, he is probably best known as the brother of the controversial late Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Robert Ford achieved global notoriety while in office after video footage emerged that apparently showed him smoking crack cocaine in 2013. He then admitted to using the drug but resisted attempts to have him removed from his post, prompting the Toronto City Council to strip him of his powers.

Doug Ford was also plagued by some drug-related allegations back in 2013 when the Canadian Globe and Mail reported that he allegedly sold hashish for several years in the 1980s – something that the politician vehemently denied. Still, he arguably never reached the same level of notoriety as his brother.

Instead, his rampant criticism of “radical downtown Toronto elites” and his frequent attacks on the media have led to him being compared to Trump. However, unlike Trump, Ford apparently did not employ anti-immigrant rhetoric, as he won the elections by gaining support from the immigrant communities in particular.

Still, Ford might prove to be a problem for Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The politician has already vowed to fight the prime minister’s national plan to impose a tax on carbon emissions to meet the landmark Paris commitment on climate change.

He particularly made the abolition of the cap-and-trade program in Ontario one of his election promises. The politician also once said on a Canadian TV show that Trudeau “is totally incompetent to be prime minister.”

At the same time, Ford also pledged to support Trudeau in his trade war with Trump. "I'm very sincere when I say that. United we stand as a country,” he said, commenting on the issue. Trudeau, meanwhile, already congratulated Ford on his election, adding that he “looks forward to working together to create jobs and opportunity.”

Other Canadian politicians did not seem to be so pleased with Ford’s electoral success. “Getting rid of the Liberals is good, but replacing them with a party that will weaken … public services, privatize and weaken the state, [will] not worry about the environment - that’s worse,” Jean-Francois Lisee, the head of the Quebec’s Parti Quebecois, said, as cited by local media.

With the defeat of the Liberals in Ontario, Trudeau lost valuable allies in Canada’s most populous province. Meanwhile, the sweeping victory of the right-wing populists might yet prove to be a sign of Canadians’ fatigue with the Liberals, just a year and a half ahead of the national parliamentary elections.

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