Governing backwards

“Walking it back” is a time-honoured tradition in the never ending political/media/public news/reaction/action cycle.  

Politicians are constantly making outrageous statements or announcing a contentious policy, which the media disseminates and comments on and the public reacts to. Generally, public reaction is tepid enough that any resultant kerfuffle blows over in a few days. The statement is forgotten or the policy moves forward and it’s onto the next topic. 

Yet occasionally, the commentary and public reaction is strong enough to compel the politicos to retract or disavow the offending statement or seriously rework or even withdraw a policy.

The term “occasionally” doesn’t really apply to the current Ontario government. During their brief term in office, Doug Ford and company have done more unpleasant walk-backs than a team of tobogganers and usually end up pleasing no one. The latest episode is last week’s surprise revelation the province is open to a smaller increase in class sizes for Ontario schools than announced last March.

The Progressive Conservative government now says will it limit the average secondary school class size to 22.5 students, up from 22. Last March, in an effort to reduce the province’s education budget, it announced the average secondary school class size would increase from 22 to 28 students per teacher. 

So after a summer of school boards very publicly announcing teacher layoffs and trimming course offerings, the province is walking back the reduction, saying it was intended all along to be phased in over four years – and school boards are scrambling once again.

Within the past week, Ford and company walked back their plan to fine gas station owners who don’t put anti-carbon tax stickers on their pumps, then walked back the walk back by announcing stations would be fined, just not the maximum $10,000.

During the election campaign, Doug Ford insisted Ontario’s modernized public school sex education curriculum would be “repealed” because “The days of Liberal ideology indoctrinating our kids, they’re done.” Last week after re-introducing a very similar curriculum, Ford said his plan was “not going to be drastic changes.”

At a press conference on Aug. 23, Ford was asked about a directive to already cash-strapped conservation authorities that they should make plans to end any programs outside their core mandate, which is pretty much flood control. Yet Ford said he supports the educational work the authorities do and said they wouldn’t be shutting down “iconic” facilities like Black Creek Pioneer Village.

When the Conservative government initially introduced a treatment funding model that outraged parents of autistic children across the province, they at first stuck to their guns and insisted the program would be implemented as presented. I forget which funding model we are on now, but it’s at least the third and I still haven’t seen any reports of parents pleased with where this is heading.

Ford also had to walk back his choice of OPP commissioner, although to be fair his old pal Ron Taverner took the walk for him by declining the appointment. Another buddy, Dean French had to walk out, as well as back, as he was compelled to resign over reports he was putting too many of his buddies into cushy government jobs.

You’d think with all this walking we’d have some pretty lean government by now, but the Tories had to walk back all those deficit reduction promises made during the election campaign and are now spending more than the Liberals did, while managing to cut programs at the same time.

And of course they had to walk back (by modifying) Ford’s campaign promise that “not one person will lose their job” because it’s ridiculous to think you can find significant economies in payroll-heavy programs without getting rid of people. 

The switch to “no front line workers” will be cut didn’t pan out either, as evidenced in one example by the previously-referenced laid off teachers.

During one of his reversal announcements, Ford indicated it was an indication his government is listening to the people. In some corners they are being given credit for recognizing problems and backing up the train.

Fair enough perhaps, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a government that, just every once in a while, got it right the first time?