Those who see politics as a tactical game are gushing over Ontario’s new Conservative Premier Doug Ford.
In a piece for the Toronto Star, Jaime Watt, a long-time denizen of Conservative back rooms, waxes euphoric over the way Ford grabbed the reins of power.
Ford’s assertiveness, Watt writes, comes as something of a surprise to the premier’s friends and foes alike.
“Instead of the clumsy, disorganized government that common wisdom said it would be,” says Watt, “[the Ford government] has demonstrated itself to be a deft and capable one that is far more at home with the machinery of government than might have first been obvious.”
The Conservative leader, Watt gushes, “has carried his campaign for premier, which was driven, focused and on-message, into his government — a government with action as its hallmark.”
In support of this ringing endorsement, Watt cites the firing of the Hydro One CEO and Board, the reduction in the price of beer to a buck, and the closing of green energy plans without a lawsuit.
Except, while there might be a change of leadership at the top of Hydro One, we have not, as yet, seen any hint of a plan to reduce electricity rates for anyone. And while Ford has reduced the minimum price breweries can charge for beer, he has not reduced the price of beer overall, even if we were to assume that cheaper beer would be a boon for Ontario, which is far from self-evident.
And as for ending green energy programs, to the point of betraying people who made major financial commitments based on the previous government’s environmental incentives — that, together with the decision to abandon the well-functioning cap-and-trade system Ontario shared with Quebec and California, is a success only in a negative sense.
More study needed, except when it is not
Unlike the Trumpsters in Washington, the Ford government claims it accepts the science on global warming. Ford insists his only quibble on climate change is with regard to methods, not goals. He says his government wants to tackle the climate crisis in some way other than a market-oriented price on carbon — the solution most economists prefer.
But while Ford has moved swiftly to end all existing Ontario climate change policies, his government has said nothing about what it might offer as an alternative. Not too long ago, Ford’s environment minister, Rod Phillips, assured a CBC interviewer he was earnestly studying the matter. That’s as far as they’ll go.
When it comes to destroying what it does not like, the Ford government has demonstrated no inclination to study anything. It does not worry about facts, evidence or the niceties of consultations.
A case in point: Toronto city council is too big, or, at least, so Ford decided — although he never shared that view during the election campaign. Now, instead of electing 47 representatives, Torontonians will get to choose 25 in this fall’s municipal election. Ford consulted nobody on his decision to curtail electoral democracy in Canada’s largest city, least of all the Toronto city council itself. There were neither hearings nor any other opportunities for public input. The premier made no effort to present the public with a fact-based case, buttressed by anything resembling reliable evidence. He simply made some subjective and insulting comments about the way Toronto city hall works and that was that. It is government by fiat.
Conservatives like to describe measures such as cutting nearly half the city councillors of Toronto as “reducing the number of politicians.” When former premier Mike Harris cut the size of the Ontario legislature in 1996 he dubbed his enacting legislation the “Fewer Politicians Act.” A more accurate label would have been the “Less Democratic Representation Act.” Ford is following in Harris’s footsteps, and then some. Harris cut the legislature by less than a quarter of its members. Ford reduced Toronto city council by more than 40 per cent.
Endangering people with addictions; killing guaranteed income pilot
Safe injections sites have proven themselves to be an effective way to reduce the harm of opiate addiction, but that evidence does not impress Ford and his gang. They are putting the safe injection program on hold in order to allow for — you guessed it — further study.
Ford’s people needed no study whatsoever to determine the value of Ontario’s guaranteed annual income (GAI) pilot project. After unequivocally committing to keep the pilot project going to completion, Ford’s minister of social services, Lisa MacLeod, killed it in mid-stream, without warning. That decision leaves 6,000 people who had planned their lives around the GAI in the lurch. To add insult to injury, MacLeod cheerfully admits she and the Ford government have brazenly broken an election promise.
Ford’s newfound admirers would no doubt frame MacLeod’s betrayal as a case not of dishonesty, but of tactical boldness. After all, for this government, “action is its hallmark.” The same admirers would also likely consider the social services minister’s demonization of asylum-seekers as illegal queue jumpers to be an effective appeal to Ford’s little-guy voters. (It must be disappointing to the Ford folks that the touted tsunami of refugee claimants from Trumpland south of the border has not materialized.)
It is the same story with sex education. In order to pander to a noisy, obscurantist minority, Ford cancelled an updated sex education program. The Conservatives have offered no alternative to the new curriculum, however. They have simply restored an out-of-date, 20-year-old program. Not much evidence of serious study in that decision.
When it comes to a new, planned Indigenous curriculum for schools — a key recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — Ford and his gang have taken a sneakier, passive-aggressive approach. They claim they are going ahead with the new curriculum; but, then, in July, the new education minister, Lisa Thompson, cancelled an important planning meeting with Indigenous leaders. The flimsy excuse was that the travel necessitated by the get-together was too costly for this frugal government.
The truth is that the key decision-makers at Queen’s Park believe, perhaps with reason, that their core supporters have no interest in the needs and rights of Indigenous people.
Male and 55
The Globe and Mail‘s John Ibbitson is no critic of the Ford government. Like Jaime Watt, the Globe columnist admires what he sees as Ford’s tactical acumen. He gives the new premier credit for his “strong start.”
But in praising Ford, Ibbitson also provides a chilling portrait of the narrow, ignorant and selfish worldview that informs the entire, frenetic flurry of Conservative government initiatives we’ve seen this summer.
Ibbitson tells us that, according to polling, the typical Ford voter is male, 55 years of age, and lives in a suburb. Of this Ford Man, Ibbiston says: “He doesn’t care about global warming or about recognizing the rights of Indigenous Canadians. He doesn’t like all the sex talk in the curriculum. He thinks governments should support the police and not worry so much about racial discrimination.”
And what turns the Ford Man’s crank? “He does care about the time and cost of his commute to work,” Ibbitson tells us, “about how much his hydro has gone up and about how much the government is spending on everyone except him.”
Ford, Ibbitson reports, “gets this voter.” He is the new premier’s “little guy.”
Now you know.
Karl Nerenberg is your reporter on the Hill. Please consider supporting his work with a monthly donation. Support Karl on Patreon today for as little as $1 per month!