When CEOs take office, they are commonly told they have three months to produce a plan, if not action. The idea arose during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famed first 100 days in power in 1933, and three months is now a fairly common milestone for all leaders. Doug Ford, chief-executive-turned-premier, will now step into that leadership spotlight.
The transition to power is a rational process, with obvious steps, but carried out in a frenzy. Mr. Ford seems to live life in a frenzy – certainly he has since being the first to boldly jump into the PC leadership race while others dithered – but his version of rationality isn’t yet clear. That is perhaps because he had erected such a strong protective barrier in the campaign - keeping the media at bay and doing few interviews – or because he prefers to rely on his gut instinct. Bill Davis he is not.
Leadership boils down to people, policies and communications. Mr. Ford is an outsider as leader. He has no direct experience with Queen’s Park and the government apparatus he heads. His experience within his own party is not the deepest either. And he now has to scramble to organize his cabinet.
He will need to be disciplined and keep control, while facing inordinate demands on his time. David Peterson told me that after he came to power suddenly in 1985, with an inexperienced crew, every decision of importance was made in his office, in meetings he presided over or, when simultaneous sessions were needed, with attorney-general Ian Scott in command of the second group in a nearby alcove.
Mr. Ford will have help, if he wants it, from the government bureaucracy. But often populists and Conservatives – and he is both – scorn the bureaucracy, seeing them as just more aloof elitists, probably with a liberal (if not Liberal) bent.
The top tier of the civil service will have spent the campaign period studying the platforms of the PCs (and NDP) in detail, looking at how best to implement the stated policies – what are the stumbling blocks, what can be quickly implemented, what are the items that will need considerable study to make more workable?
But not even Progressive Conservatives can be sure of what their party’s platform is. The platform of the Patrick Brown era was quickly jettisoned as the new leadership race kicked off. Under Mr. Ford, it has been more directional than specific, relying on a general approach of being more frugal with the taxpayer’s money and ensuring business and the economy is firing on all cylinders.
It’s hard to imagine a party coming to power in recent years with a less defined platform. But Mr. Ford knows himself and his instincts, and seems comfortable with them. That can work well in a corporation, where there is little challenge to authority. Politics is, however, about daily challenge, even when you have a majority.
The first rung of people, formally, will be the new cabinet (although his own aides will presumably have more power). He has many veterans and promising newcomers to choose from. Ultimately, most governments come down to just a handful of key cabinet ministers who must perform well. Finance may be his toughest or most critical choice: whether to go with veteran Vic Fedeli or Rod Phillips. Either way, with them and Christine Elliott – long-time friend, very recent rival – Caroline Mulroney, Lisa McLeod and former interim party leader Jim Wilson, he has some obvious key people. A mix of loyalty, friendship and competence will determine the key ministers.
Drawing political staff to back the ministers should be easy, with the Conservatives so recently in power in Ottawa, but choosing from them is always a tough task for a new government. Indeed, two basic dilemmas inevitably arise, whether to pick them even before the cabinet ministers are picked or after, and whether the premier’s office or the minister’s office makes the choice.
Words are not Mr. Ford’s strong suit. Queen’s Park is in some ways a political backwater, not gaining much attention compared with Ottawa and, in Toronto, city hall. But as leader of the most populous province, Mr. Ford is now a national player.
People, policy and communications. Even if he gets it right – or mostly right – in the first 100 days, it can still fall apart badly, as his predecessor and many CEOs have learned.
A leitmotif of Doug Ford’s campaign was that he makes quick decisions – something he and his main spokeswoman repeated over and over. Jean Chrétien also prided himself on his ability to make decisions. Former U.S. president George Bush called himself The Decider. In recent days, Justin Trudeau has also had to make some tough decisions, on the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tariffs. Leadership requires decisions; quick is good, but so is contemplative. Being right is best.
Mr. Ford grew up in his family business, Deco Labels, and knew it intimately as CEO. In some ways, he grew up in politics as well but he has not distinguished himself with his grasp of details. An interesting model for him would be the one Brian Mulroney adopted from business, with him as CEO and – for a period – Don Mazankowski as chief operating officer. Mr. Ford seems like a one-man band, but so in many ways was Mr. Mulroney; however, he knew enough to have a COO.
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