The Ontario election campaign is heading for a wild finish.
After the last leaders’ debate, this writer commented on Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne’s dignified performance. She had taken on both the New Democrats and the Doug Ford Conservatives, but her rapier-like attacks on the latter were more persistent and effective than her polite disagreements with NDP leader Andrea Horwath.
It appeared, at the time, that Wynne had decided not to heed the many Liberal insiders who were discreetly arguing they’d be better off, as party, with a Premier Ford than a Premier Horwath. Now, it looks like the Liberal leader has decided to go along with the faction in her party that wants a PC victory.
During the last week-and-a-half of the campaign, the Liberals have been running strident ads attacking the NDP. The ads look and sound as though the Ford war room created them. Some Liberal supporters have told this writer they find this particular Liberal tactic to be puzzling and distressing -- although not distressing enough to take down their Liberal lawn signs and substitute NDP ones.
Now, it is one thing to argue it is a mistake for a political leader to entirely forego the option of back-to-work legislation to end a public-sector strike. Indeed, in reality, the recourse to back-to-work legislation is a highly nuanced issue. Laws ordering striking workers back on the job are measures one should take only in extremis. After all, there is no point in governments allowing workers the right to strike if they remove that right the minute workers exercise it.
In practice, Wynne showed that she understood that nuance. Her approach, as premier, was to respect the collective bargaining process and, especially, the rights and legitimate role of unions.
The argument the Liberal ads make is not, however, in any way nuanced. The ads do not make the legitimate point that the NDP might be mistaken in absolutely foreswearing a last resort, but legal, measure to end a long running work stoppage. The Liberal ads, for those who have not seen them, are openly and brazenly hostile to unions and to unionized workers. They crudely depict unions and the workers who belong to them as shadowy, dangerous, self-interested and subversive forces. They appeal to fear and distrust of an antiquated and non-existent bogeyman -- an NDP that is doctrinaire, old-line socialist and union-dominated.
The Liberal anti-NDP ads, this writer is sad to report, seem to incarnate a kind of latter day McCarthyism. In the 1940s and 1950s, U.S. senator Joe McCarthy warned of the red menace, of secret communists who had infiltrated and were busy subverting government at every level. Wynne’s Liberals warn of the dreaded union menace. Elect the NDP, the ads say, and schools and hospitals will close, while garbage piles up.
The Liberals are using a shameful scare tactic, which does not become them. Ironically, for Wynne and her team, the ads have probably not helped much, if at all. If the Liberal attack ads have helped anyone, it is probably Conservative leader Ford and his party.
The Liberals were engaging in this slander campaign just as Wynne announced, on June 2, that she knew she could not win the election. Her only wish, the Liberal leader said on the Saturday before the vote, was that Ontarians would return enough Liberals to the legislature to ensure a minority government.
Having earlier stated that New Democrats and Liberals share many of the same values, while the Progressive Conservatives do not, Wynne was now treating the two parties as equivalent.
And so, this writer must take back the complimentary words he wrote about Wynne following the last debate. Those who consider themselves to be progressive, wherever they live in Ontario, should think long and hard before they reward Wynne and her party’s unprincipled and opportunistic behaviour in the closing days of the campaign with their votes.
A very scary result is very possible on June 7
Today, a day before the election, Ontario’s first-past-the-post electoral system is quite likely on the verge of awarding a majority of seats to a political leader who is ethically challenged, has difficulty with the truth, shows no sign that he has the vaguest understanding how government works, and refuses to provide any details about what he plans to do.
It is disconcerting to consider that Doug Ford could be heading to a major victory, despite his significant and obvious personal shortcomings. Loud-mouthed, simplistic, populist candidates seem to be immune to the kinds of slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that normally afflict more conventional politicians.
As the campaign comes to an end, Ford appears to have successfully brushed off accusations that one of his Toronto area candidates sent threatening e-mails to citizens who complained about that candidate’s failure to take part in all-candidates’ debates.
Then, on Friday, June 1, Renata Ford, widow the PC leader’s late brother Rob, filed suit against Doug and his brother Randy. That suit only came to light, publicly, on Monday, June 4.
Renata Ford claims her brothers-in-law have not given her and her children the financial support to which they are entitled. She argues the Ford brothers have also mismanaged the family labelling business, which, her lawsuit says, is now seriously in the red. That mismanagement, the suit claims, has undermined Renata Ford’s bottom line, because she inherited a piece of the company from her late husband. Meanwhile -- according to her statement of claim -- as the company has been losing money, Doug and Randy Ford have continued to pay themselves generous salaries.
This suit may or may not pan out in court. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, however, the mere fact that this action is taking place says something about Doug Ford’s management style -- and that something is not good.
The PC leader, and other members of his family, took such a high-handed and confrontational approach with a widow who has few resources and two small children to care for that she believed she had no other recourse but the risky and potentially costly step of going to court. A business executive and politician with strong interpersonal and managerial skills would never have allowed the relationship to his brother’s widow to get so out of hand.
Companies and organizations regularly fire people, including senior people, for all kinds of reasons, varying from a change in strategy to personality issues. But when those organizations or companies are well managed they do not allow such partings-of-the-ways to become causes célèbres. They have the skill and wisdom -- the seychel, to use an untranslatable Yiddish expression that combines common sense, knowledge and morality -- to manage those awkward and difficult human situations without public fuss and bother.
Doug Ford not only lacks a detailed fiscal plan and demonstrated understanding of the issues, he also, to all appearances, utterly lacks seychel.
If the PC leader wins on Thursday it will be worrisome not only for the policies he would implement, but, more important, for the many basic qualifications for the job of premier he manifestly lacks.
Good luck, Ontario.
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