At the start of the pandemic, Ontario Premier Doug Ford explained that the crisis was forcing politicians to use the skills they had learned before being elected.
Her new best friend in the federal Liberal government, Chrystia Freeland, was putting her old journalism skills to the service of networking with prime ministers on COVID relief plans. Meanwhile, Ford said he was “dusting off the old black book” and getting back into the sourcing and procurement business, as he did when he worked in the Ford family’s printing house.
“It’s the same – how journalism has helped her, the procurement and supply chain work I have done for 30 years here and in the United States has also helped me,” said Ford in an interview.
He might think of himself as old Doug Ford these days, but many Canadians think they see a new man.
Prior to the pandemic, Ford might well have been considered the Canadian politician most likely to be compared to Donald Trump and he was, in fact, one of the few leaders here willing to say nice things about the polarizing US president. Trump and Ford are both rough-cut conservative populists; elected on the basis of their promises to break leftist institutions in politics and bring their business acumen into the corridors of power.
But then COVID struck – and ruling in a crisis revealed how different Trump and Ford are as businessmen turned politicians.
Trump is a big company, bragging about the deals he makes, the competition he faces, and the trade wars he intends to win. Ford, on the other hand, is a small business – connecting with customers, wading around the shop, explaining why neighbors need to continue to get along. Trump is White House Inc .; Ford is the corner store in Queen’s Park.
These distinctions between small and large companies say a lot about how their respective reputations fared during the pandemic. Overall, Trump’s approval numbers have plummeted over the past six months, as the coronavirus continues to wreak economic and health havoc in the United States and a national response from White House Inc. appears to be lacking .
But Ford’s position in the polls has increased. In July, the innovative research firm conducted a broad inquiry into the state of Ontario politics and found that the premier had indeed connected with the public during the crisis on some important small business fronts.
Between March and July, Ford saw its rankings more than double for traits such as “cares about people like me” – from 14% at the start of the crisis to 30% in the summer. Ford also increased his support among voters Lyle categorizes as “thrifty moderates” and “business liberals.”
Canadians like small businesses much more than large businesses. This may not be quite right, but it is a reality at a time when banks, tech giants and multinational corporations are seen as too powerful elite institutions, often disconnected from their roots. clients.
In November, a survey conducted for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business with Angus Reid showed that small businesses enjoyed the respect of 95% of respondents, compared to 48% of large companies.
Dan Kelly, chief of CFIB, believes that a large part of this discrepancy is due to proximity to customers and employees: in large companies, there are usually many layers between decision-makers and those affected by those decisions.
But “small business owners work side-by-side with their employees and customers all day,” Kelly says. “They are therefore attentive to the concerns of their employees by living with them… and consequently, they are all the closer to the field. They also have this personal contact most often with their clients. “
Ford’s press conferences during the pandemic were peppered with references to ordinary Ontarians he spoke to, as well as a small business owner chatting to customers at the store. Trump, on the other hand, has generally used his media appearances to talk about himself. Ford deferred to its public health experts; Trump often contradicted or ignored the advice he was receiving. If voters care who has their ear to the ground, Ford’s public appearances on the matter have surpassed Trump.
Kelly believes the pandemic has only highlighted the differences for Canadians regarding the differences between small and large businesses, as well as how it exposed the gap between Trump and Ford.
“Usually in times of economic turmoil, the damage starts with the big companies and then trickles down more slowly to the smaller counterparty,” Kelly said. “The pandemic has really hit smaller businesses first.”
Many small business owners have spoken to Kelly of their frustration with the uneven distribution of economic damage during the lockdown. They bristled at the number of department stores that remained open during the lockdown as small places were closed – meaning shoppers could walk into Walmart and buy a TV or tracksuit while local suppliers of that same merchandise were forced to walk into Walmart. to close their stores for months.
Additionally, the scope of the pandemic is global, but its effect is hyper-local. Confined to their homes and neighborhoods more than ever, people have gained a new appreciation for their convenience stores and local businesses.
COVID-19, in short, has likely done a lot to separate small and large businesses in the eyes of Canadians.
Likewise, he drew a similar line between populist leaders like Trump and Ford, who have used their business skills in widely divergent ways since March.
It will be much more difficult to see Ford as Canada’s response to Donald Trump in the future. Like the convenience store and the global mega-corporation, the two populists have very different businesses.