A photo of Ontario Premier Doug Ford on the day he dissolved the legislature on May 4, 20220.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford on the day he dissolved the legislature on May 4, 20220. Credit: Premier of Ontario Photography / Flickr Credit: Premier of Ontario Photography / Flickr

Ontario Conservative leader Doug Ford seems to have pulled off an amazing political feat. 

In four short years, Ford has transformed himself from an angry bull-in-a-china-shop who scared and annoyed a good many voters, to amiable and friendly Uncle Doug. 

In the months after the Ford Conservatives took power in 2018, Ford went on a political destroyer mission.

He unilaterally reduced the number of seats on Toronto city council mere weeks before municipal elections. His open and avowed goal was to get rid of progressive councillors who had been thorns in his side when he and his brother, the late Rob Ford, ran the show at city hall.

The new premier then named an under-qualified crony to head the provincial police force, passing over a number of more qualified candidates, including the interim chief. 

In order to do make that appointment Ford had to re-write the requirements for the job. When the interim chief objected publicly, Ford fired him. 

Ford proceeded to poke Ontario’s half a million francophones in the eye by canceling plans to build a new French language university which would have been the first such institution in Canada’s largest city, Toronto. 

Canada’s largest French-speaking city, Montreal, has long been home to two world-class English-language universities: McGill and Concordia.

Around the same time, Ford’s minister of social services, Lisa MacLeod, introduced changes in provincial programs for autistic children and their families with the notional purpose of eliminating waiting lists, but with the actual effect of drastically reducing services, especially for children over the age of six . 

When he was through with French-speakers and families coping with autism, Ford went after Ontario’s First Nations. 

He cancelled a rewrite of the public school curriculum aimed at incorporating more Indigenous content, part of Ontario’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

To add insult to injury, Ford’s government took aim at the Indigenous project at the very last minute, with no advance notice. Some Indigenous educators had already travelled to Toronto for curriculum writing sessions when they learned of the cancellation.

Early in their term, Ford’s team also decided to eliminate the position of Ontario Child Advocate, again without forewarning. Irwin Elman had done that job for ten years. He found out his position had been cut through media reports. Now, Elman is the NDP candidate in Don Valley West.

Ford’s government also increased investments in the discredited private sector for long-term elder care and made those investments almost impossible to reverse. 

Famously, the Conservative government brought in Bill 124 which limits all public and para-public sector wage increases to one per cent per year, way, way below the rate of inflation. 

Many nurses and teachers have responded by leaving the public sector  to seek opportunities elsewhere.

An environmental wrecking-ball

Where Ford wreaked the most havoc was on the environment.  

The Conservative leader got himself elected as the friend of suburban car-commuters, and, in right-wing cheerleader Rex Murphy’s words, “the slayer of carbon taxes.” From the outset the Conservative leader was true to his word. He proceeded with relish to cut or curtail a wide range of environmental rules and policies.

Ford cancelled Ontario’s contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions via carbon pricing, the cap-and-trade system put in place by the previous Wynne government. 

The Conservatives also: 

  • ended the former Liberal government’s financial incentives to purchase electric cars, 
  • had electric vehicle charging stations removed throughout the province, repealed the previous government’s green energy act, and 
  • ditched plans to plant tens of millions of trees which would soak up noxious carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

One of Ford’s environmentally hostile actions forced the government to pay out over $230 million in compensation for broken agreements. 

That was when the Conservative government canceled over 750 contracts with private-sector renewable power providers.  One of those cancellations, with the German wind and solar power company WPD ag, caused a diplomatic row with a valued Canadian ally and world leader in environmental technology. 

Ford did not limit his attacks on the environment to measures associated with climate change. 

Posing as the best-friend-forever of all notional “job-creators,” Ford eliminated environmental assessments for many projects; for those that remained, he severely reduced the opportunities for public participation. 

His government also pressured municipalities to eliminate or soften regulations that prevent urban sprawl. The Ford government also targeted the Ontario endangered species act,  weakening protections for owls, wolves, turtles and other threatened wildlife.

Ford even took on environmental protection systems that had the support of prominent Conservative governments.

In 2020, former Toronto mayor David Crombie resigned as chair of the Ontario government’s Greenbelt Council. 

Crombie, who had also served in Brian Mulroney’s federal Progressive Conservative government, was livid at the Ford’s attempt to do end-runs around the local conservation authorities. 

Conservation authorities had been set up decades ago as non-political stewards of wetlands, waterways and other natural habitats in densely populated and highly industrialized southern Ontario.

Back in 2005, the Ontario government established the Greenbelt in what is known as the Golden Horseshoe that wraps around the western end of Lake Ontario, extending all the way north to Lake Huron through the Niagara escarpment. The government expanded the Belt in 2017. 

The Greenbelt now consists of two million acres of farmland, forest, marsh and lakeshore. It includes precious and delicate environments such as the Oak Ridge moraine. 

Experts and authorities determined decades ago that it was necessary to maintain and preserve the Green Belt to ensure safe water and healthy natural habitats for the many wild creatures who live in it and the millions of people who live in its vicinity. 

Conservation authorities have long had some of the responsibility for protecting the Greenbelt, and have done so in a non-partisan way.

Ford decided early on that it had become too difficult for his developer buddies to get construction projects going in the Greenbelt. 

His government passed legislation to give ministers untrammeled authority to bypass environmental principles and bodies such as the conservation authorities, and allow whatever construction might suit their fancy, through a new gimmick called a Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO). 

Mad for MZOs 

Throughout this government’s tenure ministers have used MZOs with heedless alacrity. 

A bit more than a month ago, the Ford government used MZOs to bypass local rules and allow the construction of two massive condo developments, for a total of 40,000 units, in Markham and Richmond Hill, north of Toronto. 

The MZOs allowed the developers to double the density of their projects, which local activists characterize as “insane.” The activists say the new development will have a population density greater than the most over-crowded sections of Mumbai in India and the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong. 

The plan to build a new $10 billion super highway in the periphery of Greater Toronto is of a piece with this sort of environment-be-damned approach. 

When Ontario’s non-partisan Environment Commissioner Diane Saxe issued evidence-based report cards on the government’s performance the government abolished her position. Saxe is now running as the Green candidate in University-Rosedale. 

A coalition of 19 national, provincial and local environmental groups, ranging from the Suzuki Foundation to Lake Simcoe Watch to Environment Hamilton, has undertaken a campaign to raise awareness of the Ford’s record on the environment

What they have to say should be enough to motivate even voters with only a minimal interest on the state of their air, earth and water, and the fate of the planet. 

So far, however, Ford seems to have the upper hand. Indeed, his developer-friendly approach has won Ford the support of a handful of construction unions. He has even campaigned in a hard hat from the cab of a giant Caterpillar crane.

In addition, as Judy Rebick pointed out in these pages, the fact Ford did not behave like a complete Trumpian COVID-denying lunatic during the dark days of the pandemic and at least made some effort to listen to medical advice has also helped burnish the Conservatives’ image. 

The three opposition parties still hope to deny Doug Ford and his Conservatives a majority. If they do, it will be a minor miracle. 

Our first-past-the-post voting system tends to disproportionately reward the party in first place in multi-party races. It is not uncommon for a party with 35 to 39 percent of the popular vote to win more than half the seats.  

Still, the voters have not yet spoken, and there is a chance for them to at the very least deny another majority to Ford. That could result in a government in which the New Democrats, Liberals and Greens have to work together – just as Liberals and New Democrats do in Ottawa. The other parties have all said clearly that they would not support a Ford minority. 

There are no more advanced polls, so if you have not yet voted you will have to do so on Thursday, June 2.  

Voters might want to fully study the Ford record going back to 2018 – and talk about it with their friends and neighbours – before casting their ballots. 

Karl Nerenberg

Karl Nerenberg joined rabble in 2011 to cover Canadian politics. He has worked as a journalist and filmmaker for many decades, including two and a half decades at CBC/Radio-Canada. Among his career highlights...