Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Image: FordNation/Facebook

Doug Ford had a Margaret Thatcher moment last week — and why not, for any of us watching season four of The Crown, with Gillian Anderson’s portrait of a riveting and lushly psychotic Thatcher.

“That’s not their jurisdiction,” bellowed Doug, about rumours of Justin Trudeau declaring a national emergency to get control of the virus. “We don’t need the nanny state telling us what to do.” Then, going all Trump: “I’ll tell you he’d have a kickback like he’s never seen.”

Doug is into nanny-stating. In 2013, he used it to smear a proposed smoking ban. Last July, he said, “I’m dead set against Big Brother and the nanny state telling you what to do.”

Yet Doug loves telling us what to do, and he’s the state personified. He can’t intervene enough, preferably alone, like hopping in his pickup to go get some personal protective equipment. It’s his favourite part of governing. In his heart, he’s a nanny running a state.

He’s a natural scold, which is part of the nanny caricature Thatcher created in her decimating attacks on the nanny, i.e. welfare, state in the 1980s. It’s his default mode. He objects when people say they’re “fine” with things like a 100-person birthday party at a storage facility, and says he’ll tell them how fine it is, because he’s done with it — so give your head a shake!

He loves defining what not to do. “Do not go into work. Do not go into public spaces,” he said in March. “Do not have birthday parties, do not have sleepovers, it’s dangerous, it has to stop,” he said on Wednesday. He’s a fine whiner. “Guys, get it together … I’m at my brink.”

Thatcher was famous for using the term while embodying it. In fact, you get the sense that anyone who rattles on about the nanny state like she or Doug either wants a nanny to tell them what to do, or wants to be one. I wonder if he ever went out as a nanny on Halloween, before he banned all that, when people used to reveal way too much about themselves through their costumes.

The true sign of his nanniness is a love of lecturing people for being “very very very naughty,” as the widowed dad in the 2005 film Nanny McPhee put it. Ford decries “bad apples” who fail to stop the virus on their own, while failing to take public actions within his power.

His record on long-term care is abysmal; his government hasn’t implemented an increase in personal support workers — as Quebec has — or banned part-timers from servicing multiple locations. At schools they’ve bizarrely not gotten around to mandating 15-person classrooms.

On CBC Radio, a restaurant owner asked if Doug really feels for people as he claims to, then why doesn’t he lock those places down and support them with subsidies so they can survive till the vaccines put an end to it all? Good question.

Doug’s not attuned to that kind of governing, where you don’t need to fumble for your phone at 3 a.m. or pile into your pickup. Instead he whines about how much he cares, how he wakes up thinking about these things, and nobody worries more than he does.

What a maladroit moment. If there’s any time not to demean “the state” in utterly clichéd terms, it’s now. He’s clueless enough to unsheathe the nanny-state weapon at the very moment when governmental action is the only recourse, in a time of virtual — and literally viral — war. There is no substitute for the state in a war. Milton Friedman said he tried for decades to find a way to privatize the armed forces and finally gave up the effort.

Doug should capitalize on his nanny fixation, starting with a rewatch of Nanny McPhee. The titular character has an underlying politics. “I am a government nanny,” she tells the amazed dad. She says, “When you need but do not want me, I must stay; when you want but do not need me, I must go.” It’s a subtly radical manifesto.

It was the lesson of the last two centuries: if you want to avoid barbaric wars and economic cataclysms, (nanny) state action will be necessary, though not forever. Marx himself, in the little he wrote about achieving a socialist utopia, foresaw an eventual “withering away of the state.” But only after it had served its unavoidable purposes.

Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image: FordNation/Facebook


Rick Salutin

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.