How will the ‘Freedom Convoy’ affect the Ontario provincial election?

Photo Credit/ Liam McCurry. Freedom Convoy supporters at Vaughan Mills as the convoy passes through Toronto, Ont.

While Ontario Premier Doug Ford was announcing the removal of tolls on highways in the Durham region, a massive police response to the occupation of Ottawa began.

By the end of the weekend, thousands of police officers from across the country had arrested some 170 protesters and removed hundreds of vehicles that had ground the downtown core of Ottawa to a halt for weeks.

Sam Andrey, the director of policy and research at the Ryerson Leadership Lab in Toronto, Ont., said, “the Ford government, despite Ottawa being in Ontario, sort of got away with taking a back seat on it, even though policing is their jurisdiction.”

“The feds felt compelled to invoke the emergencies act because when the province did it, it didn’t have its intended effect.”

Robert Bothwell, a historian and professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, called the convoy an “insoluble dilemma.”

“The basis for conversation is absent. There are no common facts,” he said.   

The provincial party and their leaders had a hard time cutting through the noise during the freedom convoy fighting with many stakeholders and storylines, Andrey said.

There is speculation that Ford and his cabinet must be at odds with each other on what to do with anti-vax protests. Cabinet meetings go on for long periods must mean there is some disagreement on how to react, Bothwell said.

Could there be an opportunity here for the smaller fringe parties of Ontario?

It’s possible the Freedom Convoy’s coverage increased the number of people aware and sympathetic to the cause, but it is also likely their actions turned people off as well, Andrey said.

He also believes there are more questions than answers surrounding the small fringe parties such as the New Blue party of Ontario or the Ontario Party.

“Will they have candidates in every riding? If you assume that’s the voting base of the parties, will they split it even further?” Andrey asked. 

“I think you saw it play out federally with the Peoples Party that got a notable number of votes but still relatively small,” Andrey said.

These parties may try to create a wedge in right thinking conservatives, these parties will run almost exclusively on anti-vaccine, and against restriction measures, he said.

Andrey said it’s not very likely any of these parties will win a seat. But it still is “a noteworthy phenomenon.”

Election donations tell a similar story. The Ontario Party has a similar amount of 2022 donors and funding as the Green Party of Ontario, and the New Blue Party is lagging both in the number of donors and the amount of funds raised.

“Party membership does not mean party activism. What you need is people who will actually pound the pavement,” Bothwell said.

The current leadership for anti-lockdown measures is suspect, he said.

Randy Hillier, an MPP that, was kicked out of the conservative caucus and a prominent voice against public health measures. He mirrors the extreme problems with the right-wing in the U.S., “the delusions are pretty well the same,” Bothwell said.

Ford’s latest approval ratings from the Angus Reid Institute show he is currently at the lowest of his tenure, with a 30 per cent approval rating as of Jan. 2022.

“I do think Ford will try to end restrictions to try and scoop up votes that could’ve gone to the other parties, but still will come at a time when restrictions would’ve been lifted anyway,” Andrey said. “And try to position the other parties as the parties of lockdowns.”

The fringe parties will undoubtedly claim these lifting of restrictions as a win for the anti-public health measures movement, he said.

“They haven’t announced enough of their plan to know where they are running and know exactly how much of a factor they will be,” Andrey said.

A problem for Ford would be if a new variant or any backsliding could change the campaign come May, he said.

Evidently, the province took a back seat in their jurisdiction to the federal government. Maybe they didn’t want to be the bad guy, “I’m not sure if the rest of the province will remember that, but certainly Ottawa will,” Andrey said.

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