[Élection ontarienne] Can parties to Doug Ford’s right break through?

At least four parties will try to stand out on the Progressive Conservative Party’s right in Ontario’s elections, which begin next week. These parties, based on a platform primarily focused on resistance to health measures, will try to channel the energy of the trucking movement to gain support at the provincial level. The task promises to be difficult, due to the admission of one of their candidates.

The Parti Ontario, whose leader Derek Sloan was kicked out of the conservative caucus in 2021 for accepting a donation from a white supremacist, is one of the most organized fringe political clans in the race, with its 48 riding associations and its 90 candidates. Notably, if elected, the party wants to pass a law that would prohibit the government from imposing lockdowns and health restrictions.

To support him in his campaign, Derek Sloan announced the hiring of former President Donald Trump’s political adviser Roger Stone. “He’s been advising the entire team for about a week,” explains Derek Sloan. Embracing conspiratorial ideas about the origins of COVID-19, the American political figure was sentenced to 40 months in prison in 2020 for, among other things, lying to Congress. “I think his trial was a witch hunt,” says Derek Sloan.

“Maybe it’s just a publicity stunt,” says McMaster University political science professor Greg Flynn. Right-wing politicians in Canada have tried to import elements of the American right in the past, the political scientist recalls, but rarely succeeded. The Ontario Party has one MP in Queen’s Park: Rick Nicholls, who was kicked out of the Progressive Conservative caucus in December 2021 for refusing to be vaccinated.

Parti Ontario will primarily fight with the New Blue Party to get votes to the right of Doug Ford. The party was founded in 2020 by Jim Karahalios and his wife, MP Belinda Karahalios. The latter was also banned from the Progressive Conservative caucus for her opposition to a health measure. The party pledges to end all public health requirements related to COVID-19 if elected. However, there is only one requirement left in the province and that is wearing masks in hospitals, long-term care facilities and on public transport.

A split vote?

Labor Party candidate Mike McMullen, who lives in London, admits he has little hope of being elected in his constituency, or even seeing other MPs alongside Doug Ford. “Many of us share the same opinion as Doug Ford, but the vote is fragmented,” admits the person who received just 1.6% of the vote in 2019 as the People’s Party of Canada candidate. According to Martin Masse, spokesman for the People’s Party of Canada, party supporters are scattered across Ontario.

In December, PPC leader Maxime Bernier urged the New Blue Party, Parti Ontario and Ontario First Party to unite under one banner, led by MPP Randy Hiller. However, his party, the Ontario First Party, has been inactive since he announced his retirement from politics in March. “At this stage, it is probably too late to hope for a united opposition from right-wing parties,” said Martin Masse.

According to political scientist Greg Flynn, Ontario’s anti-sanitary movement also lost a figurehead when former Progressive Conservative MP Roman Baber entered the Conservative Party leadership race. “Randy Hillier and Roman Baber could be the faces of this movement,” he says. Their departure works in favor of Prime Minister Doug Ford.

Eric Merkley, professor of political science at the University of Toronto, has doubts about the long-term popularity of these parties. “As the pandemic fades, campaigning about health measures becomes less relevant. These parties will lose their stamina,” he analyzes. Canadian institutions and the parliamentary system make the far right less influential in Canada, says Eric Merkley.

In the short term, these parties will enter the race at a time when the vast majority of health measures in the province have already been lifted. Greg Flynn doesn’t expect a far-right candidate to win, even in rural areas, where the People’s Party of Canada had more support. “They may have a good show, but the Progressive Conservative Party usually wins rural areas by such a big lead that it doesn’t affect the outcome,” he explained.

This story is supported by the Local Journalism Initiative, funded by the Government of Canada.

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