With the passing of Rob Ford last week, many people are commenting on the powerful support he got from many Torontonians, which he dubbed “Ford Nation.” Over the six months since Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister, people have also commented on the strong support he continues to get from many Canadians, even with the challenges his government has faced. The support that Ford and Trudeau received makes for a very interesting comparison. Both men have enjoyed devoted support from many voters, but for different reasons.
Justin Trudeau, much like his father Pierre was during Trudeaumania, is admired by many people for his youth (by political standards), wealth and glamour, including his photogenic wife and loving family. Pierre was also known for his intellect and his fierce criticisms of Quebec nationalism, which convinced many people that he was the man who could defeat separatism. Today, Justin’s “sunny ways” and optimism can be argued to appeal to many people who are uncertain about the future, and that he is the best person to tackle these problems today.
Rob Ford’s appeal, on the other hand, arguably came from his “everyman” persona. His sometimes rumpled appearance in public, his sometimes rough-edged personality, and his personal issues could appeal to people who felt that he was “one of them,” and who could see themselves having a beer with him in a local bar. His loud criticisms of what he considered Toronto’s entrenched downtown elites also appealed to people who felt like the established politicians didn’t care about their problems or opinions.
Justin and Pierre Trudeau arguably appeal to many people because they are what many people might aspire to be – wealthy, dynamic, photogenic, and charismatic. They have the kind of appeal that celebrities might, drawing admiration because of their success, and because of how much they seem to stand out from the crowd.
Rob Ford arguably appeals to many people because he came across as a flawed individual. While he wasn’t perfect, he wasn’t ashamed of this fact, and it reinforced the perception that he was just like many of the people who supported him, and that he shared their values and concerns.
What we can take from this is that different people can support different politicians for different reasons. It is not an urban versus rural thing, since many of the same areas of Toronto that supported Ford also supported Justin Trudeau. Instead, it has more to do with the different ways politicians create, maintain and expand their electoral bases. Different approaches will work well for different politicians – Ford’s “everyman” persona works well for him, and the Trudeaus’ “dynamic” persona worked well for them.
Building a persona is often an important aspect of political success, but maintaining and keeping that persona can be another challenge altogether. The support many people have shown for Rob Ford shows that he managed to maintain his persona up until the end. Over the next four years, we’ll see if Justin Trudeau can do the same.
Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.