Abstract: The 2018 Ontario provincial election marked a decisive shift in the political direction of Canada’s most populous province. The election brought an end to the long reign of the Ontario Liberal Party (2003–2018), whose government devolved into a series of scandals that resulted in a third-place finish. The Liberal’s defeat came at the hands of the Progressive Conservative Party led by former Toronto city councillor, Doug Ford. The Progressive Conservative’s victory was propelled on the back of Ford’s deeply populist campaign where he promised to reassert the interests of ‘the people,’ expel the influence of elites and special interests, and clean up government corruption. This campaign discourse led many political opponents and media pundits to accuse Ford of importing the nativist, xenophobic, and divisive rhetoric of other radical right-wing populist leaders. This article advances the argument that rather than representing the importation of ‘Trumpism’ or other types of radical right-wing populism, Ford’s campaign is better understood within the tradition of Canadian populism defined by an overarching ideological commitment to neoliberalism. In appealing to voters, Ford avoided the nativist and xenophobic rhetoric of populist leaders in the United States and Western Europe, offering a conception of ‘the people’ using an economic and anti-cosmopolitan discourse centred upon middle class taxpayers. This article makes a contribution to both the literatures on Canadian elections and populism, demonstrating the lineage of Ford’s ideological commitment to populism within recent Canadian electoral history, as well as Ford’s place within the international genealogy of right-wing populism.
Keywords: Canada; neoliberalism; political leadership; populism; right-wing politics