Trudeau and Ford's death embrace is a sign of political posturing to come

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That was a bizarre, vast, cabinet shuffle at Queen's Park this week, since the only genuine problem was the unshuffled premier. How so?

Well, Monday's City Hall Raptors party became the de facto Liberal launch for October's federal election. It didn't start that way; it happened when Doug was booed and Justin, cheered. Justin will now go full DoFo till the vote. It's his best, maybe only, hope.

It probably shouldn't have happened. Doug, man of the people, champ of The Little Guy -- at a Raptors celebration? Those were his "folks." But Justin has horseshoes. It's like that boxing match he shouldn't have agreed to yet won. He may've been ready for boos too -- but they never came.

Meanwhile Doug can't buy a break. "What boggles my mind," he whines, "we're pouring money into autism." But he can't shake those parents' anger.

Students get a few dollars off tuition but lose thousands in loans. Now landlords get their biggest rent increase in years -- so there go tenants. He's cutting more health jobs -- after swearing there'd be no losses -- along with teachers, who like all pubic servants will get only tiny, sub-inflation raises, unlike landlords.

After a while, people notice he has only one trick: slashing. He halved Toronto's council, killed the money-raising carbon tax, cut tree planting, stem cell research, class sizes.

There was a heartbreaking story on high school courses cancelled. But school's all about your teachers. It's like being a kid: the point isn't having parents, it's the actual ones you have. There's so much, you can't recall everything but impressions linger, leaving a residual sense of disgust in your brainpan. Like his effort to have his cop pal named OPP boss. Or the ignominious standing O's required in Question Period.

Fall from grace? He never was in a state of grace, he just thought he was. People didn't want Doug, they wanted Wynne gone. There's no evidence his actual appeal is any greater than his nephew Mikey, who inherited the family seat on council. If things stay this bad, they might try subbing Mikey in.

And because this is Ontario, he's denied the central weapon of role models like Trump, Boris, or Orban: weaponizing whiteness against immigrants. Pauvre mec. It's as if he's fighting with one of his right hands tied behind his back.

Justin must thank God for Doug. What else has he got? He's the last neoliberal standing and he's not running on it, he's burdened by it. All that frantic dickering to renegotiate NAFTA and Trump makes an exquisite mockery of it by setting tariffs based on "national security." What was the bloody point?

The weirdest part of the Justin-DoFo death embrace is who gets left out: Andrew Scheer, in theory the Conservative running for PM, and Andrea Horwath, rumoured opposition leader in Ontario. They're like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Hamlet. R and G were, if you don't recall, reported dead about halfway through the play. Maybe they can find a way to run against each other.

Scheer, who's incapable of not taking a nerdy picture -- if he weren't, we'd surely have one by now -- must want to distance himself. But this week's climate non-plan cemented him firmly to Doug, in a kind of Mikey role.

The mystery about Horwath is how DoFo works for Justin but not her. She was poised to take him out a year ago and more or less passed. She got 84 per cent support at last week's NDP convention, not a healthy sign. If her party were serious about power, there'd have been more dissension.

What's encouraging is that people seem to have made up their own minds on Doug, contrary to all the alarm about the majestic power of social media and algorithms in politics. Politicians say they keep hearing about Doug "at the door."

Why pay attention at the door if social media determine everything? Or are those mighty technologies still largely slapdash and guesswork, while people can still think and draw conclusions? Then the party pros discover that reality, and proclaim it online as if they created it. "These are miraculous days," PEI poet Milton Acorn wrote: "Worms sing!"

Things change in politics. But for this election, DoFo is Justin's gateway.

Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star. This column originally appeared there.

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