It’s seemed only a matter of time, following the selection of Doug Ford as leader of provincial Progressive Conservatives, before Ontarians would be exposed to the type of incarceration-themed discourse that marred the 2016 U.S. election and aided in the rise of Donald Trump.
To be clear, Ford is no Trump. He has not emulated the Donald’s race-baiting rhetoric and, in fact, seems to draw considerable support from diverse ethnic communities. While he has been seen as unsupportive of women’s rights (recent Tory leaders have avoided pandering to the party’s social conservative factions; Ford, like his predecessor Patrick Brown, embraced them, at least long enough to get elected leader) and has been known to disparage the media (no campaign bus for you), there are no fair comparators in Ford’s record to Trump’s most misogynistic statements or deceptive cries of “fake News.” However, in some ways, the differences seem to be more about scale than substance.
Roughly three decades in the News business have made me a bit of a political junkie. I can count David Peterson, Mike Harris, Ernie Eves, Dalton McGuinty and Bob Rae as premiers I have covered in person and I’ve crossed paths with more high-profile wannabes than I care to recount here. So it was curiosity as much as coverage that drew me to Mildmay last Thursday for a Ford “rally” in that community. Maybe it was even the term “rally.” I was as interested to see what type of energy the candidate generated as I was in what he might say.
My take? For a man with a reputation as a “populist” Ford seemed less charismatic in person than in some television appearances and generated only a lukewarm response from an audience, which clearly came primed to be primed. Even though organizers packed an overflow crowd into a mid-size auditorium, despite the availability of an adjacent empty arena, there didn’t seem a lot of heat generated and only a few individual shout outs were heard in the audience despite the proximity.
Probably the most controversial statement Ford made was repetition of his pledge to call for an audit of Ontario’s finances and to see to it that any “political insiders” caught in illegalities would be “going to jail.”
Audit the books if you like, but I think most Ontarians would just as soon leave it to the police and the justice system to deal with criminals. When politicians do it, it’s is called authoritarianism. Incidentally the OPP seem to have done a pretty good job investigating the McGuinty-era gas plant scandal, with prosecutions conducted and, in one case, a jail sentence issued, despite the fact the Liberals have been in power since the issue first arose.
About half Ford’s 20-minute talk seemed devoted to his plan to fire the admittedly overpaid CEO of Hydro One, despite the fact all evidence indicates it would cost twice as much to turf him as to let him do his job.
Among the few specifics Ford discussed was a pledge to reduce Ontario’s corporate tax rate, currently tied with the Northwest Territories for lowest in Canada, from 11.5 to 10.5 per cent and provide a tax break to minimum wage earners (without mentioning intent to cancel a planned minimum wage increase nearly all analysts believe would be more beneficial).
Ford has also pledged to fight the federal carbon pricing initiative and thus won’t be able to use cash from a carbon tax to fund campaign promises, as Brown had planned.
The planned revenue reductions make Ford’s promise to find “four cents on the dollar” in unspecified cuts in government spending, without laying anyone off, interesting to say the least.
In this regard, it does appear the Tories have learned from the experience of the last campaign, when Tim Hudak’s pledge to layoff 100,000 civil servants was felt to be the prime reason they managed to turn a commanding lead in the polls into a Liberal majority.
Still, Hudak was at least honest about his plan and, indeed, appeared to have one.
Ford, who apparently does not intend to release a costed election platform, seems to be counting on blind faith and voter fatigue with an over-ripe government.
Ontarians deserve better.