Tory divisions flare after Durham by-election win

In this current era of hyper-partisan political theatre, voters want politicians who can find solutions to their problems and not just score political points. Pictured: Newly elected MP Jamil Jivani, former Ontario health minister Christine Elliott, Premier Doug Ford and Energy Minister Todd Smith. Photo Credit: CityNews. 

Usually, political by-election winners make a breathless victory speech.  They thank voters for bestowing this honor, praise the hard work of their devoted team, compliment their party and their leader and then take a few shots at the opposing party, predicting that this particular victory is the beginning of their downfall.

Jamil Jivani, newly elected Conservative Member of Parliament federally, for the riding of Durham, in the east Greater Toronto Area, did all that. But then his speech took an odd turn. 

He took shots at those he labelled “liberal elites,” a common enough attack from Pierre Poilievre Conservatives, but one usually directed at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government.  Jivani chose to include Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government in the characterization.  

Now Ford has been called many names by his critics, but “liberal elites” is not usually on the list. “I am also talking about the liberal elites who run the Ontario Ministry of Education in this province,” Jivani intoned.

The attack is not new. He has previously called Ontario Education Minster, Stephen Lecce “an incompetent minister…. a woke liberal in conservative clothing who has turned his back on parents…(offering) the kind of virtue signalling that Ontarians came to expect from the previous Liberal government.”

Ouch. Last time this author checked, it was Lecce who was trying to corral the “woke” forces who freely roam some of the province’s school boards. 

Both the Premier and the minister tried to stay somewhere near the high road when asked for comment by the media. Ford pointed out that he had given Jivani an important opportunity to further his political ambitions by hiring him in the Premier’s Office to undertake community outreach, a helpful platform for someone planning to run for office themselves. 

“He wouldn’t even be where he is if I didn’t give him that opportunity…..So I just want to wish Jamil all the best,” Ford said. 

Lecce, who was busy announcing his latest settlement with one of the teacher unions said: “I’m a minister focused on getting deals…..and I want to celebrate the fact that kids are in school.” 

So what gives?

There are clearly tensions between the federal and provincial Conservative parties, spanning several months.  For example, the federal Conservatives neglected to mention that they had poached one of Ford’s cabinet ministers to run federally.  But spats between the parties have happened in the past. Breaking out into the open, as it appears to be doing, will not be helpful to either organization.    

Jivani was a prize catch as a federal Conservative candidate, winning over 57 per cent of the vote.  Son of an African immigrant, graduate of the prestigious Yale Law School, cancer survivor, author, media commentator, founder of an advocacy organization working to improve policing and community safety – he ticked a lot of boxes.

But there are two important lessons in all of this that Jivani may wish to consider.   

First, voters want politicians who stand for something of course.  But in this current era of hyper-partisan political theatre, they also want politicians who can find solutions to their problems and not just score political points.  

It is a lesson that Ford has often heeded, showing a willingness to work with any level of government, whatever its politics, in an attempt to get benefits for Ontarians.  He has signed deals on health and child care with the federal Liberal government and on infrastructure with Toronto’s Mayor, Olivia Chow, widely regarded as an NDP supporter.  

“I have no problem working with absolutely anyone as long as it’s in the best interest of Ontario,” Ford has said.  

Secondly, the media likes nothing better than juicy stories about political party infighting, particularly when it is Conservatives circling the wagons to shoot inward. It can overshadow proactive messages the party is trying to get across to voters and it can undermine the party’s desire to appear as a competent government in waiting.   

If the polls are to be believed, Canadians are more than willing to throw out the current federal Liberal government.  But they will be looking for a party that is laser focused on the issues that matter to them – the cost of living, community safety, the crumbling health care system, the lack of childcare, lower taxes – not in picking fights with other levels of government over the culture wars.  

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