Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.

Political leaders face many challenges in office. But as the old saying goes, the true test of leadership occurs during a time of crisis.

Case in point, Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

He’s the older brother of the late Rob Ford, the former mayor of Toronto who became a cause célèbre in 2013 after he admitted to smoking crack cocaine during one of his “drunken stupors.” The right-leaning Progressive Conservative has also had his share of controversies, including patronage appointments, reducing the number of Toronto city council seats and fighting the federal carbon tax.

Yet, the Canadian left’s favorite lightning rod for controversy has undergone a stunning transformation during the coronavirus pandemic. Doug Ford has turned into one of the most trusted political leaders in not only Canada.

Ford’s leadership has been been described as being strong, compassionate, calm, honest and transparent. His news conferences have expressed everything from empathy and concern to open and honest discourse. He has thanked front-line workers and medical professionals. He has spoken highly of the media — once his mortal enemy — including a cameraman who responded in appreciation. He praised American Sign Language interpreter Christopher Desloges as a “rock star” on his final day on the job and invited him to the podium to speak about his work with the deaf community. He went to Markham to help load 90,000 masks donated by a local company, Dental Brands, on his truck, and didn’t even inform his staff.

Ford was also commended for releasing covid-19 projection numbers in Ontario last week. He acknowledged the scenarios were “really stark,” but he still felt “we have to be fully transparent with the people of Ontario, no matter how hard it will be.” (Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn’t done this on a national scale to date.) Ford has also kept the lines of communication open with opposition leaders, and said in the Ontario legislature, “Now is the time to put politics aside. No matter what our political stripe, we must all be Team Ontario and Team Canada.”

Ford blasted President Trump for stopping exports of 3M’s N95 face masks to Canada. “I just can’t stress how disappointed I am at President Trump for making this decision,” Ford said last week. “When the cards are down, you see who your friends are.”

The political left’s days of comparing Ford to Trump may finally be over.

This helps explain why Ford’s leadership has received praise from across the political spectrum. Most notably, the list includes Liberal Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who told Toronto Star columnist Susan Delacourt, “He and I have actually come to describe one another as each other’s therapists.”

CBC News recently gathered together some public opinion polls to determine which world leaders have handled covid-19 the best. According to a March 20-23 Angus Reid Institute poll, Ford was at 74 percent. That’s behind Quebec Premier Francois Legault and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but ahead of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Trudeau and Trump. I would assume Ford’s poll numbers are even higher today.

Ford’s switch from polarizing political figure to respected political leader has been much to the surprise (and, one assumes, chagrin) of left-leaning opponents, critics and perpetual naysayers. Many can’t believe they’re praising a man they’ve despised for so long. A few sense it’s an act and wait impatiently for the other shoe to drop.

Will things change when the coronavirus pandemic is over? Absolutely. In politics, there are times to be proactive — and times to be combative.

But make no mistake about it: This transformation isn’t an act. As several commentators, including me, have previously pointed out, there’s more to Ford than meets the eye. He’s intelligent, plain-spoken, friendly and engaging. While he understands political strategy and retail politics, he respects honesty and transparency far more than his political rivals give him credit for. As well, he now realizes his political past doesn’t have to define his political present or political future.

Great leaders emerge in difficult times, even if that leader isn’t someone you would have naturally considered for that role. Doug Ford has proved this in spades.

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