Doug Ford and Unifor President Jerry Dias shake hands.
Doug Ford and Unifor president Jerry Dias shake hands. Credit: Doug Ford, Twitter

We begin this tour of the Doug Ford mental exercise facility with his minimum wage rise announcement, flanked by approving union leaders. It was a blazing reversal of his stance three years ago, when he killed a planned rise because it would be a job-killer — a concept so discredited it belongs in the Debunked Hall of Fame. He said it wasn’t a reversal because 2018 versus today is apples to oranges. That’s vintage Dougthink. Give him a phrase to yank out of his memory bank and he’s at peace.

He thinks he’s expressing an idea. He doesn’t know the difference between ideas and phrases, so there’s no need to ever rethink. And it’s way easier to reverse positions when you lack an actual thought process.

What’s really apples to oranges, if you think on it, is the gap between a $0.65 rise in the minimum hourly wage today and how much more it would’ve meant three years ago. Even the business spokesbodies say it’s basically the rate of inflation now.

Maybe the union people balked at backing him for that Dickensian raise and bargained (it’s what they do) over, say, paid sick leave, which Doug recalled he’s totally against. So they proposed a liquor servers’ wage rise or index to inflation, which they got. We’ll probably never know, but it’s fun to speculate.

As for the shocking sight of labour leaders praising Doug, good for them. The NDP’s taken them for granted too long. In 2014, Andrea Horwath betrayed them on minimum wage because she was, as the Star’s Martin Regg Cohn says, “courting” small business, the eternal source of NDP wet dreams. Labour should be hard bargaining with all parties, especially since the NDP shows no urgency about taking power. Horwath had a golden shot in 2018 and slept right through it.

Moving to the mental weight room, Doug says he’ll run in June on building highways and bypasses that disregard traffic and environmental studies. Yet he continues saying (“I’ve always said…”) equivalents to “the worst place you can give your money is to the government.” It is a line that makes unintended sense here, since those construction projects will mainly benefit Doug’s developer cronies who’ve bought up plots along the route that’ll increase in value.

True, he’s always said stuff like that and always will; the phrases have rattled round in his brainpan since the dinner tables of his youth. “The private sector is the greatest engine of growth… the gravy train… government is the worst place…” It’s why thoughtful Canadian conservatives are embarrassed by him and don’t include him in their pantheon alongside Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney, who know the difference between ideas and phrases that tumble out of your mouth when it flaps open.

And thence to the cardio machines of his mind. Doug says he won’t require vaxxing of health-care workers, since it would undermine hospitals’ ability to function. Yet many hospitals have imposed mandates and Doug won’t disallow those so, er…? The truth is the 1.4 million eligible unvaxxed simply are his peeps.

He’s identified with them since the outset. He swore there’d be no required vaxxing and when he finally caved, showed far more sympathy for them than for the vast majority demanding jabs — and he’s already offering them an out by promising the mandates he’s reluctantly imposed will be lifted in mere weeks.

It’s true he needs their votes. They’re his base, the heart, or some vital organ, of Ford Nation, to the extent it’s not another meaningless term; and their rhetoric about freedom, wearing yellow stars, etc. echoes the tone of the empty lingo clattering around his drafty psyche. He never wanted to deny them because it would “divide” the Ontario of his mind. That’s like saying you don’t want to divide Ontario so you aren’t going to enforce any of its laws.

Let me end with some unrationality of my own. I do sort of understand that demonic, demonizing freedom rhetoric. It’s hateful and ignorant, but it’s also an attempt to be political and social versus isolated within family or self. It’s a politics of passionate emptiness and even death, but it’s still, y’know, politics. Maybe there’s some way to move on from there if we can somehow… engage?

This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

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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.