Published On: Sun, May 13th, 2018

The telling messages of the small moments on the campaign trail

Veterans of election campaigns know it isn’t always the grand events that seal the deal, the carefully staged policy announcements, the speeches read from TelePrompters, the choreographed rallies for partisans.

It tends, often, to be the unscripted comment, the spontaneous reaction, and the accumulation of small vignettes from which those voters who are persuadable form conclusions about a candidate’s competence.

You can tell the power of such unplanned moments – and usually they are gaffes rather than charm – by how diligently campaign planners and handlers work to avoid them.

Before the TV debate of the three main Ontario party leaders last week, on the eve of the June 7 election call, there was one such image.

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne, PC Leader Doug Ford and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath were drawing balls for stage placement and speaking order.

Horwath reached into a bag, pulled out a numbered ball, and said with evident delight: “It’s just like bingo!”

In those few words, with the instinctive connection to that iconic pastime, there was more authentic affinity with working-class sensibilities than any number of assurances by Ford that he’s “for the little guy.”

In that moment, Horwath revealed precisely the personality and perspective that had most analysts concluding a few hours later that she won the debate.

Another such moment came on the first day of the campaign when Ford was unwilling or unable to answer a reporter’s question as to whether he knew how a bill is passed.

“I know that this is a gotcha question and everything because that’s your game, big smile on your face,” he snapped.

The response suggested Ford did not, in fact, know.

On the face of it, the question is unimportant. If elected, Ford will have all kinds of staff to shepherd legislation through the parliamentary pipe. The details will not be his job.

Still, his response does say rather a lot that’s important about a man who most polls suggest is the front-runner and who is under intense scrutiny for the first time.

Ford boasts that his family has been in politics for 30 years. His father was an MPP who dealt with provincial legislation. His late brother was a Toronto mayor whose relationship with the province and its treasury was crucial.

You would think Doug Ford couldn’t have helped but pick up a few basics about how Queen’s Park operates. It appears not.

That speaks, disturbingly, to his interest in and capacity for learning – which is what the job he is campaigning for essentially involves.

The responsibilities of the provincial government are vast and complex. To master one portfolio, let alone many, is demanding. To her credit, Kathleen Wynne, like most premiers before her, is a voracious learner.

After Ford’s event, radio panels discussed whether or not the question was impertinent. It was anything but.

As Cristine de Clercy, an associate political science professor at Western University, has said, “it’s worth remembering he just got this job” as PC leader.

“It’s a test of leadership. Does he have the gravitas, control and focus to show what he’ll do as premier?”

So the question asked by Queen’s Park Briefing reporter Chris Reynolds revealed something about Ford – not least of all his temper – and elicited a comment that, once again, revealed the perils of spontaneity.

“I’m going to show you how many bills we’re going to pass,” Ford said. “We’re going to pass endless bills down there.”

Which is presumably not what conservatives – who find regulation, red tape, government intervention anathema and prefer to hear verbs like cut, repeal, reduce – would applaud.

The episode also invites an inevitable comparison.

Ford invariably sells himself as a canny businessman. But if a candidate interviewing for a senior post at Deco, the Ford family company, was similarly innocent about the details of marketing adhesive labels, would Ford be hiring?

More impertinent questions for all candidates please.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

TORONTO STAR

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The telling messages of the small moments on the campaign trail