Although the magnitude of Doug Ford’s election victory was surprising, the fact that he won was hardly shocking. Voters often reward first-term governments with another term.
Now for the tricky part – the second term.
Second-term governments are strange animals. On the one hand, those in power better understand the intricacies of governing. At the same time, the novelty having worn off, voters are generally less patient and more open to the most frightening word in the political dictionary for those in power: change.
How should the Ford government approach the next four years?
Having lived through several second-term governments as a member of the Prime Minister’s Office staff and Cabinet Minister at Queen’s Park, allow me to offer some free advice.
The first involves humility. Much of politics depends on luck and timing. Ford conservatives should realize their victory doesn’t mean they’re the best thing since sliced raisin bread and resist the temptation to believe their own election ads.
My advice: Start each day by reciting an easy mantra: 60% of voters did not support us.
That doesn’t mean they should ignore whoever sent them to Queen’s Park. They must “do it” by consistently delivering on their election promises. But the Ford government must also recognize that there are those with different perspectives. Find ways to meet them halfway and use the next four years to earn the trust of at least some of them.
To that end, his government should reach out beyond the usual suspects for advice. The Ford government should lift the hiring freeze on new public servants and start recruiting bright young people with creative ideas. The list of problems waiting to be solved is so overwhelming that they need a public service to match.
Ford needs to find an effective way to engage his caucus. Unless he appoints an 80-member cabinet, he’s going to have a lot of disappointed Conservative MPs who feel they deserve a government car and driver. Get them to work quickly to fix the long list of issues facing our province.
By doing all of this, avoid getting caught in the Queen’s Park bubble. It is easy for second-term governments to resent citizens who seem unable to understand the complexity of the issues. The answer is not to retreat to comfortable government conference rooms. You need to work harder in your interactions with ordinary Ontarians, listening as well as talking.
Stop campaigning for a while. We live in the age of the permanent campaign where, from day one, everyone is trying to gain partisan advantage. Voters are tired of politics and politicians. Ford just needs to govern for the next few years and not start running the 2026 campaign the day after this election.
Finally, one of Ford’s greatest strengths was that he seemed to understand what it meant to be a Progressive Conservative in Ontario in the early 2020s. Second-term governments are notorious for losing the narrative of their own history and the big test is whether he and his party will figure out who they are four years from now.
Remember, if you don’t know what you are, how can you convince voters?