Ford Nation? Tea Party North? Whatever it’s called, it’s probably not worth much
On Saturday morning the Toronto Star broke the story that Nick Kouvalis, the man who ran Rob Ford’s winning election campaign last year, is putting together what he calls “an advocacy group for the taxpayers of Toronto. It will be something like: Respect for Taxpayers Action Group.” But the rest of Toronto quickly started calling it “Ford Nation”—the Star’s attempt to call it “a quasi Tea Party North” doesn’t seem to have gotten very far.
It’s not exactly clear what Ford Nation will do that will be that special: plenty of right-wing groups out there “commission research, advocate in political campaigns, buy advertising and release opinions on the issues of the day.” All we can say is there will be some attempt to leverage Rob Ford’s popularity into something wider and more permanent to influence politics, at first locally, and then, eventually, nationally.
But that could well be what holds this plan back. As Martin Regg Cohn notes in the Star, picking a fight with Toronto has always been good for some political juice. And Rob Ford, whatever his other merits, will still be the mayor of Toronto, the city that the rest of Canada loves to hate. Elsewhere in the Star, Liberal MPP and former finance minister Greg Sorbara says, in so many words, that the Liberals aren’t worried. They are so un-worried, for the record, that they made sure to speak to the Toronto Sun about it, too.
Over at the National Post, their political panel chews over the news and comes away with opinions ranging from skepticism to outright mockery. In particular, we want to highlight this point by Chris Selley, who says that it’s a mistake to talk about the “Tea Party” as a coherent organization, and that it’s just as much a mistake to talk about Ford’s supporters in the same light: “Kouvalis can start a movement that’s all about government efficiency, outsourcing and symbolic austerity measures by politicians, but that doesn’t mean there’s such a thing as ‘Ford Nation’…”
Meanwhile—and this is kind of relevant to the whole discussion—the actual Tea Party in the U.S. isn’t nearly as effective as its media success might make it seem. Basically, almost all of its political success can be attributed to winning Republican races in Republican seats. There’s almost no evidence of the Tea Party winning Democratic seats, and there’s substantial evidence of them costing the Republicans easy wins because of their extremism. Not exactly the model that Canadian conservatives want to follow, unless building a more perfect echo chamber is part of the plan.
Finally, the idea that somehow Ford’s popularity will let the Conservatives win any seats in Toronto (federally or provincially) needs to be put in some context: when one poll shows them getting close to majority territory, the Conservatives could win a handful of seats in Toronto, even if David Miller was still mayor. On the flip side, if they’re lagging in the polls, then Ford probably can’t help them much. Seats in the 416 are going to be some of the hardest seats for the Conservatives to win—meaning that if they do pick up more than a few, it will only be in an election where they’ve already stomped all over the 905 and probably won a majority based on that alone.
While we’d love to see both parties wooing Toronto with cash and favours, instead of a “vote-rich must-win” area for the Conservatives, Toronto might be irrelevant, no matter who the mayor is and how much gravy-infused tea he drinks.
• Building Ford Nation [Toronto Star]
• Posted Toronto Political Panel: Can Ford Nation be Canada’s Tea Party? [National Post]
• Cohn: Why Ford Nation won’t slay McGuinty [Toronto Star]
• Provincial politicians skeptical of ‘Ford Nation’ advocacy group [Toronto Star]
• Liberal downplays Ford Nation threat [Toronto Sun]
• Why Rob Ford might not want to ape Leafs Nation [Toronto Star]
• Politics by threat [Ottawa Citizen]