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Christie Blatchford: Hey Ford campaign, this is why they let the boys on the bus

May 15th, 2018 | by Richard Paul
Christie Blatchford: Hey Ford campaign, this is why they let the boys on the bus
Business and Finance


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Christie Blatchford: Hey Ford campaign, this is why they let the boys on the bus

I don’t know what happened in Smithville because, at the turnoff, where the For the People bus turned left, an alarm went off: I was almost out of gas

No media allowed: Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford’s campaign bus leaves following a stop at Stanpac in Smithville, Ont., May 14, 2018.Tara Walton/The Canadian Press

SMITHVILLE, Ont. — I did not know there was a Smithville, Ont. until Monday, when I followed Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford’s bus there.

Ford was going to Stanpac, a company that makes packaging for the dairy industry, and where, for all I know, he may have posed fetchingly by a bunch of milk and yogurt containers.

I don’t know because, at the turnoff, where the big blue For the People bus turned left on some road, a piercing alarm went off in my car: I was almost out of gas.

I hesitate to say Smithville is in the middle of nowhere, but wherever it is (around Beamsville, hard by Grimsby, on the Niagara escarpment), when I pressed Yes! when my GPS asked if I’d like it to search for gas stations, it replied, “No points of interest.”

It wasn’t whistling Dixie.

I tried the search again; again, the GPS replied “No points of interest.”

Panicking, I hailed a human being and asked if there was a gas station (in GPS-speech, this is a point of interest) close by.

She pointed left and said, “Just a tennis ball away.”

She must have a helluva arm, or a return.

But I made it, gassed up, and having missed the Stanpac photo availability — I think I was the only reporter of the pack who went there (well, tried to go), the others having stayed in Niagara Falls to file reports on Ford’s first announcement of the day, a bewildering prospect to me since I don’t recall there having been much of an announcement — I plugged in Ford’s next destination.

It was a pub called Scorecard Harry’s in St. Catharines. I think for a normal person it would have been 15 minutes away, max.

It took me 65 minutes.

I followed the GPS instructions (except for one critical bit, it turns out), but the sign for Louth St. South messed with my tiny brain. (Who names a north-south street Louth?) I would see Louth on the GPS, begin thinking with a lisp, and miss the part where I was to go straight, after a zig and a zag.

Four times — four!! — I exited the QEW at the right place, made the first turn correctly, zigged, zagged and missed the straight ahead bit. I got off the QEW Niagara, did a loop, got on the QEW Toronto, got off, did a loop and got back on the QEW Niagara.

Repeat, times four.

Anyway, I got to Scorecard Harry’s with about 20 minutes to spare.

“This is why you should have a media bus,” I told the first Ford staffer I saw. “So incompetent boobs like me don’t run out of gas and get lost.” He laughed like a madman, of course, no doubt realizing that this was the real reason the media’s collective nose was so out of joint when Ford announced there would be no press bus.

I was nonetheless cheerful, given the scale of my ineptitude: It was a warm day, Scorecard Harry’s is a sprawling place with a nice patio, and it was jammed with a raucous crowd, most of whom seemed to have come to meet Ford.

I was in journalism school when Timothy Crouse’s book, The Boys on the Bus, was published in 1973. It was the grand story of the reporters who covered the 1972 U.S. presidential election, considered with all its spin, handlers and daily doses of BS the first modern election campaign.

And now, in 2018, at least for the Tory campaign, there is no bus.

Not for the press anyway. Ford and about 10 campaign guys ride around in the For the People bus, which gives new meaning to the notion of politicians being in a “bubble.” The Ford team is in a bubble within a bubble.

Back to Scorecard Harry’s, where Ford was greeted like a star.

Dave Robitaille of St. Catharines stood in the back and watched Ford enter. He’s “generally a Conservative voter,” he said, but he also likes what he’s seen of Ford. “I like his plain talk,” Robitaille said.

Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford at a campaign stop at the Stanpac factory in Smithville, Ont. Unfortunately, Christie Blatchford was unable to find the place in time. Tara Walton/The Canadian Press

One of my wise friends says Ford’s greatest advantage is that he’s “not them” — the professional class of politicians who often seem, best intentions to the contrary, to be talking down to people.

Robitaille agreed with that assessment.

“He’s not them,” he said. “And he’s not more of the same.”

One of the audio-visual crew who set up for Ford said something similar. “You get the feeling there’s a real guy there,” he said, and mentioned how Ford astonished the crew recently when on his way out of an event, he shook their hands and thanked each of them.

Certainly, Ford was right at home in Scorecard Harry’s, among mostly friendly Tory faces. As Ray Wilkes, also from St. Catharines, said, “I’ve never met him. But I am absolutely against the Liberals and the NDP. It (the Tory leader) could be anybody.”

Ford gave a short stump speech, got big applause, shook hands, and posed for pictures. Even after most of the reporters had gone, he was still working his way through a long line of fans.

One man wore a black T-shirt with a big picture of Rob Ford, Ford’s late brother, on it, and one of his most notorious lines, uttered when he was denying reports he’d asked a female staffer for oral sex: “I have more than enough to eat at home.”

Doug Ford isn’t that bawdy. He’s not his brother. But he’s not “them”, either.

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