Doug Ford is a nice enough guy, but he is a bad provincial leader.
Possibly a controversial take, as some liberals won't agree with the first part, while some conservatives won't agree with the end of that sentence. So stick around to find out why I said that.
For those who don't know, Doug Ford is currently the leader of the Conservative Party of Ontario. He was elected premier with a majority government in June 2018, after fifteen years of Liberal government (under McGuinty and Wynne).
For those who DO know, and who have already made your decision for June 2022, I doubt I'm going to change it here. Some people are staunch conservatives, some always lean liberal, and this article isn't likely to convince you otherwise.
But for those who are undecided? Please read on.
Please, PLEASE use this summary as part of your decision making.
Heck, even if you have decided, I would encourage you to stick around too. Maybe there is something in here that you have forgotten. It may deepen your convictions, or help you to understand the dire circumstance that many believe Ontario is in as a province right now.
I now present my top three reasons why Doug Ford is a bad provincial leader.
3) FORD IS A BULLY
Being a bully is not necessarily a bad quality to have in a leadership position. True, one could argue that it's better for a leader to persuade others, rather than intimidate or coerce them into action. But if stuff has gotta get done, in particular during a pandemic, "do this or else" is a pretty solid take.
Some have accused Justin Trudeau (Prime Minister of Canada) of using similar methods.
For an example, in 2019, Ford capped the wage increases of provincial employees, including nurses and teachers, at 1% per year (below inflation). That's Bill 124. The Ontario Nurses' Association met with Ford as recently as February 2022 (considering the pandemic, staff shortages, and everything since the bill went into effect), but he's not budging.
Alternatively, in mid-April 2021, Ford closed all outdoor spaces, including playground and golf courses. While he did reverse course on playgrounds, golf courses remained closed right through May, despite criticism that outdoor activities posed a lower risk than indoor ones. Despite that, Ford was convinced this was the right call.
As long as Ford thinks something is worth doing, he'll make sure it gets done.
The problem is, Ford's motivations are often not in the best interests of the people living in the province.
For instance, part of the reason you haven't heard much from the Ontario Liberals in the last four years (other than the fact that the NDP is the official opposition) is that they are NOT OFFICIALLY A PARTY.
The 2018 election was so bad for them that they won only 7 seats; they needed 8 to have official party status. Meaning they don't get funding for staff salaries, they're excluded from debates, and basically must operate as independents.
The Liberals asked the PC government to grant them some accommodations. This is not unheard of; the NDP received some funding from the Liberals themselves back in 2003, when they failed to achieve party status.
Doug Ford's response was to not only keep funding away, but to RAISE THE SEAT THRESHOLD, so that the Liberals would need 12 seats in this next election, rather than 8. The claim was that 10% of seats was necessary after the size of the legislature increased.
Anyone can come up with a good reason for the things that they do, but the optics of the situation remain. Why is it better for Ontario to have only two official parties?
And speaking of elections, remember the 2018 Toronto mayoral election?
Registration for candidates closed at the end of July 2018. (Doug Ford, former city councillor and runner-up in the 2014 election, had planned to challenge the office but then sought the provincial leadership instead.) In August, Ford passed legislation to cut the size of Toronto's council down to 25 wards, instead of 47.
Sure. In the middle of an election, let's have almost half the wards, doubling the size of the territories, making candidates campaign in areas of the city where it hadn't previously been necessary.
A judge said that was unconstitutional. Doug Ford said the hell it is, I'll invoke the Constitution's notwithstanding clause if I have to. He called an emergency session, and the public gallery had to be cleared of spectators when he tried to revive the bill. The NDP banged on their desks to try and drown out the reading, and they were kicked out of the House.
Ford didn't care, Toronto stayed at 25 wards, and he took this one all the way to the Supreme Court. Where, to be fair, he won in a 5-4 split decision that said he did not violate the Constitution. And he didn't invoke the clause (that time).
But how was any of that in the best interests of democracy? What was so pressing, so urgent about the size of Toronto's council that a local election HAD to be disrupted?
The final decision was also close, perhaps could even have gone the other way, so let's quickly revisit a more famous judicial loss.
Under the Liberals, Ontario enacted a cap-and-trade program in January 2017, to attempt to achieve greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. Doug Ford killed that as soon as he could, but Justin Trudeau (the federal Prime Minister) had said there would be a federal carbon tax for provinces without their own carbon pricing system.
That came into effect in April 2019, in Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan. It meant a cost increase of gasoline (and propane), but with a rebate at tax time, making this tax revenue-neutral (though some Canadians would pay more in taxes than they would gain from rebates).
Doug Ford's response? Well, you can't bully a bully. He required all gas pumps to show a sticker saying "The Federal Carbon Tax will cost you", which showed a poorly scaled graph, with no mention of the rebates. He then fined gas stations $10,000 per day if they didn't comply. (A judge would lower that penalty to $150 per day.)
An Ontario Superior Court judge ultimately struck this down as unconstitutional, saying that while a government can call out another tier of government for their actions, they cannot legislate that private retailers do the same.
The Ford government's response to this was to say the stickers could be left up or taken down, whatever. Meaning by the law of inertia, many of them stayed up. With the stickers themselves and the court challenge coming out of taxpayer dollars.
Another unnecessary fight that has not benefited the people of Ontario in any way.
The Supreme Court ultimately ruled 6-3 that the federal government was in their rights to impose nationwide pricing standards, considering the great threat of climate change.
But the problems with Ford go beyond bullying those at various levels of government.
2) FORD DOESN'T LISTEN WELL
I mean, he DOES listen. To everybody. In fact, one of the great selling points of Doug Ford is that he takes calls from the common person, theoretically at all times of day. Isn't that great? To have a premier who will listen to YOU personally? Who will take the time to talk directly to YOU?
This is part of why I said that Doug Ford is a nice enough guy in my entry statement. Even if he IS a bully, well, if you had been hurt by Somebody, wouldn't you want a guy like Ford in your corner? A guy who could tell Somebody to stay the hell away from you or else?
Two major problems with Ford's "everybody" philosophy.
The first problem is that anecdotes are not data. Just because one person is doing well, doesn't mean everybody is, and conversely just because one person is doing poorly, doesn't mean the whole province needs an overhaul.
The second problem is that the opinion of experts should really carry more weight than that of Joe Somebody who lives down the block. In much the same way that we have experts build bridges, and not Joe Somebody (unless he's an engineer, I guess).
See, a leader MUST determine WHO they should be listening to and WHEN, rather than opening the floor to everyone in every case. Because that leads to picking key moments of random conversations as lynchpins for provincial policy. And then we get grade schoolers revamping the education system.
To start June 2021, Doug Ford trotted out a story of a kid named Arthur who dropped off a letter at his house. Ford went to visit him, where Arthur explained how he'd rather go back to class in June instead of summer camp. (Context: Ontario schools had been shifted remote since the "April Break". The 2021 mid-month week off of school, which Ford had previously shifted out of March, because... reasons.)
Doug Ford negotiated (bullied?) his way towards Arthur wanting a graduation day instead of a return to classes. A graduation for all grades, not just Grade 8 and Grade 12.
Ford then trotted this out as a policy the following day, outdoor graduation ceremonies for all students in the province. Stated at the start of June. Without any consideration for the time it would take to organize that amid a pandemic, with the variability of weather and other logistics like cohorting, crowding and expenses.
I suppose to be fair, Doug Ford has never listened to anyone in the teaching sector. (Unless you count the anecdotes he spouts of teachers who are "fed up with their union".) So this wasn't much of a change. He didn't even listen to the NDP official opposition, when they tried to cap class sizes at 15 in September 2020 on account of the pandemic.
I mean, Ford also halted the implementation of Indigenous curriculum almost as soon as he was Premier, without consultation. There was then no discussion over forcing students to do online classes (before the pandemic). No consulting about policies (like who gets RAT tests during the pandemic), or about his making the EQAO Chair a full time position (that's the agency doing standardized testing in Ontario, which subsequently did squat because testing couldn't run in the pandemic), or about closures... I could go on, but it seems I digress. Sorry.
My point was experts should dictate policy, not random conversations had by Doug Ford.
(For full transparency, there has been some question over whether Arthur actually exists. I suspect he does, because I don't think Ford has that much imagination, plus we can then give him SOME credit for changing the name of a minor. Though if Arthur doesn't exist, we are then left with the question of who is giving Ford advice that sounds like it came from a grade schooler.)
Let's now look at another time when Ford didn't consult with experts.
Ontario white licence plates have used the slogan "Yours to Discover" since 1982. In April 2019, less than a year after the June 2018 election, Ford announced new plates. The new tagline would be "A Place to Grow" (though commercial plates could use "Open for Business"), and the plates would be blue, coincidentally the same colour as used the PC Party.
Oh, right... Americans? In Canada, Liberals use red and Conservatives use blue. In fact, pretty sure that's the standard in most of the world. Just saying. Anyway.
It was stated that by February 2020, ALL new licence plates issued would use the new plate design, and Ontarians could voluntarily purchase them. I have no idea who was calling for this, but the standard joke is that Ford met someone in a Tim Hortons.
Problems began almost immediately that February. With the plates, I mean.
A police sergeant in Kingston tweeted out that the plates are virtually unreadable at night. CTV backed this up with a comparison lighting test, using a prototype they'd received in 2019. The government insisted the prototype had been improved upon.
But there's more. Canadian border officials weren't even sent a demo plate until after the rollout. The OPP and RCMP did receive plates to test, but still got complaints from their officers (for instance, handheld scanners couldn't read the new plates). The 407 ETR (toll highway around Toronto) had to adjust camera angles to catch the plates.
It was a mess, and ultimately the Ontario government discontinued the plates in May 2020, during the first wave of the pandemic. A disheartened Ford told reporters, "I'm just not ready to put any more resources towards this."
I feel like maybe more resources should have been put in place prior to the rollout. (They did earmark half a million dollars for plate consultation in the 2019 budget.) Again, assuming this is even something that needed to be done in the first place.
Part of me even wonders if Ford recently scrapped the cost on licence plate stickers, giving everyone a refund in March 2022, not because he wanted to bribe everyone with money (that could have been better spent on heath care). But rather, because he wanted a search on "ontario licence plates" to turn up THAT, and not the plate-gate from 2020. Too cynical?
One last anecdote, again to try and show that this lack of listening to the right people is a pattern of behaviour, and not simply a fluke.
The Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table was formed in July 2020. It's been described as "a group of volunteer scientists who have provided independent advice", and was overseen by a school of public health out of the University of Toronto.
Dr. Peter Juni, the director of the table and a physician and epidemiologist, almost quit the table in April of 2021. That was over the Ford government's pandemic response.
The Advisory Table had advocated for things like paid sick days for front-line workers. Doug Ford instead gave that mid-April announcement I mentioned much earlier, shutting down golf courses, while giving police sweeping new powers to stop people at random and demand to know why they were not at home.
Oh, right. That police stuff was walked back a day later, when several police services said they would not do random stops (Waterloo, Peterborough, Guelph, London and Ottawa), plus the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) said they were preparing to go to court. In case you're wondering why that never became bigger news.
My point again, however, is why not listen to an Advisory Table of Experts, rather than whomever wanted to chat with you that day?
Related, in March 2022, when mask mandates were lifted after March Break, there was talk of the Ontario government again not listening to the Science Advisory Table. Ford stated that he was instead following the advice of chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore... and Moore was consulting with the science table. Was he? He certainly wasn't consulting CHEO, who wanted masks to stay on in schools for at least another couple weeks.
As to Dr. Peter Juni, he stayed on through 2021, stating that leaving "would make things even worse because that would be a vacuum". He ultimately did step down as director in mid-March of 2022, to be closer to family in Europe. Having stated earlier that month that it was too soon to tell whether it was safe to end masking in Ontario after March Break.
Before the end of March 2022, Public Health Ontario assumed control of the table.
I feel like that's not a coincidence. If you don't want to listen to the experts, maybe instead you can bully the experts into listening to you? This brings me to my final point.
1) FORD BELIEVES HE IS ABOVE THE LAW
Even as a bully, if you bow to a higher authority figure, there is hope. Even if you don't listen properly, if you can use your other senses, there is hope.
We don't have that here.
Ford thinks that he is the authority. And as far as self-education goes, among other things, he unfortunately seems to be technologically incompetent.
Again, this doesn't necessarily make Ford a bad guy. Sometimes you need to buck the system in the name of the greater good... once you've learned what the greater good is.
For instance, right now, the law in Ontario says you don't need masks except in hospitals, long-term care homes and public transit. Some are saying hell with that. Hamilton-Wentworth board temporarily re-imposed masks after the Break, and Ottawa-Carleton board brought them back in April.
To venture into an even more controversial topic that's active right now, ectopic pregnancies are fatal for all involved. You need an abortion to save the mother. So again, hell with anyone who says you can't abort in such cases to save a life.
To be clear, I'm not saying the reverse - like saying hell with the law and NOT wearing a mask where you SHOULD - is something to celebrate. It's again that aspect of greater good, and listening to experts. (No, watching that one guy on YouTube does not make YOU an expert. Sorry.)
For one last abrupt tonal shift, Batman is seen as being above the law, and he's a good guy. But let's be clear, Doug Ford is no Batman.
Let's start with Ford's mandate letters. All premiers use them to lay out the orders for his/her ministers once they take office. They used to be secret, but have generally been made public since 2014, at all levels of government. Ford's government has now been fighting to keep them hidden for four years.
Some believe that there's great secrets inside them. Others believe they're embarrassingly short, given how few things Ford actually committed to in the 2018 election. I rather think Ford just doesn't like the idea of being challenged.
How DARE you want to see the orders I give my ministers. You shall not be allowed to criticize. Away with you.
Ontario's former information and privacy commissioner (IPC) ordered Ford to disclose the letters. By request, the Divisional Court reviewed the case and, in September 2020, upheld the decision. Then in a 2-1 decision that took until January 2022, the Ontario Court of Appeal found the IPC's decision was reasonable.
At that, the Ford government waited the maximum length of time, 60 days, before filing an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada in March. Which basically assures there's no chance of us seeing these mandate letters until after the election (assuming the Supreme Court rules the same way as everyone else).
As this former Liberal MPP writes, the whole thing is strange. At this point, there's been new mandate letters anyway (as recently as Fall 2021). But maybe it's less strange when you think Ford simply doesn't like being challenged? He certainly doesn't like being criticized.
"It's like listening to nails on a chalkboard, listening to you," Doug Ford said to Andrea Horwath in February 2021. Because how dare she criticize him in her role as Opposition leader, where that's literally her job. No apology given there either, because how could Ford be wrong in any statement he makes?
To add credence to this holier-than-thou attitude, Ford's government has already lost more than a dozen court cases. From trying to get post-secondary students to opt out of paying for "non-essential" services (read: unions), to scrapping the incentive program for purchasing electric cars, the Ford government is having taxpayers foot a lot of legal bills.
Because Ford MUST be right in the end, yes?
Granted, the press secretary has said the Ontario government is involved in thousands of lawsuits each year, not just those few. But shouldn't there come a time when you stop appealing the decisions? This seems really costly.
And while we're on the subject of money, there's the fact that Ontario failed to track over 4.4 billion dollars in Covid-19 pandemic relief spending, from March to June 2020. That's $4,400,000,000 dollars. Because ministries were unable to track when front-line workers actually began to receive pandemic pay.
Fast forward to January 2021, and Ontario was sitting on more pandemic-relief funds than any other province, at 6.4 billion still unspent. That's $6,400,000,000 dollars. And a report in late 2021 found that Ontario did not spend any funds from a new $2.7 billion dollar Covid-19 response program in that first quarter of 2021, during the third wave. That's $2,700,000,000 dollars.
Is seems Doug Ford does not like spending money, even if it would save lives... unless it's on court cases? (I know, that's a false equivalence, the money for the pandemic is NOT being used in the courts. But it DOES call into question his ability to budget, doesn't it?)
Let's take a quick look at the trucker blockades too.
For three weeks in February 2022 (starting Friday, January 28th), Canadians(?) opposed to lockdowns and vaccine mandates occupied downtown Ottawa. The "Freedom Convoy" protesters set up a hot tub, a bouncy castle, put way too much propane in one place contravening fire codes, even roasted a pig. They blared truck horns at all hours in residential areas, prompting a 21-year-old to file a class action lawsuit against the occupiers.
On February 4th, Doug Ford said the Ottawa situation was "not a protest anymore, it's become an occupation", when speaking about protestors planning to arrive in Toronto. He then went snowmobiling at his cottage. (Uh, timing?) On February 11th, Ford finally called for a state of emergency in Ontario, calling Ottawa "a siege". This only after a new blockade in Windsor at the Ambassador Bridge began to impact the Canada-US border economy.
On February 15th, Ford admitted his own daughter (Krista Haynes, nee Ford) supported the Freedom Convoy. Which was a surprise to nobody. Police finally cleared Ottawa streets during a three day operation that ended on February 19th.
I'm not sure on this one. Was Doug Ford merely pleased to see others fighting against the federal government too? Or was there some family friction that contributed to his apparent "your laws don't apply to me and my friends" attitude?
Perhaps capitulating to the protestors, Ford then announced on March 9th that mask mandates would be lifted across Ontario. But that he would keep his mask on "for the first few days" after, in the legislature. Yet that school boards better stick to the decision to drop mandatory masks because "they aren't medical experts". But that it's okay for private schools to keep masks.
Again, rules for you, not for me.
Which finally brings me to the notwithstanding clause.
Honestly, I feel like this alone should be enough to deem Doug Ford unfit to be a leader.
The clause, aka Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, gives provincial legislatures or Parliament the ability to override certain portions of itself for a five year term. The five year term is to ensure the public has the chance to challenge a government's decision to use the clause in a general election before it can be renewed.
This is what's allowed Quebec to prohibit public sector workers in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols.
Doug Ford is the first ever Ontario premier to invoke the clause. He did it to ensure third parties can only spend $600,000 in the 12 months before an election is called. He said it was necessary to protect elections from outside influence.
But wait, this gets stupider.
Third parties were ALREADY prohibited from spending more than $600,000 in the six months preceding an election writ. All the Ontario legislature did (in February 2021) was double the time period, to 12 months. Then an Ontario Superior Court Justice decided (in June 2021, after a court challenge) that it was unconstitutional for Ford to double the period while keeping the spending limit the same.
Doug Ford lost his cool.
The legislature had risen for their summer break on June 3rd, with a planned return of Sept 13th. Doug Ford called everyone back for an emergency weekend debate on election finance law on June 11th. They pushed through Bill 307, using the clause. It passed on June 14th, reinstating the 12 month framework, even as the NDP attempted to introduce some pandemic-related issues. Then the legislature went back on break.
Until October 4th. Because Doug Ford prorogued everyone until after the Fall federal election. Incidentally, also his first prorogation.
So in September, when health care workers were dealing with the fourth wave of the pandemic, when schools were returning and dealing with yet another new curriculum put out by the Ford government, when that report about the lack of spending for Covid-19 release in early 2021 came out... no legislature.
But when you need to extend third party spending limits from six months to twelve? All in, to override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I just... WHY? Because Ford wanted to stick it to one particular judge who thought Ford was in the wrong? How was Bill 307 more urgent than, I mean, literally anything else going on in 2021?
I cannot believe more people are not talking about that.
It's been said that Ontario's election "will be a referendum on Doug Ford". A lot of polls also show the Conservatives poised to take government again, possibly even with another majority. In fact there's a better than two-thirds chance of that.
That's scary. I do not think the province will survive another Doug Ford majority.
I mean, I think it would be bad under Conservatives anyway, but Doug Ford?
Yes, Doug Ford is a nice guy who listens to the common man. But he is also a bully, who does not listen well, believing he knows best, even if the law tells him otherwise.
That's not good leadership.
Remember, Doug Ford himself only won the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2018 by 51% over Christine Elliot... who had actually won the popular vote. (I blogged about that previously...) How soon we forget?
I wonder if, because Ford lacked the popular vote, he is trying to leave behind some sort of legacy now. So what do we want that to be? At present, it amounts to navigating us through the pandemic, perhaps introducing destreaming to education, and activating the notwithstanding clause. That's not terrible.
After all, in ten years, many people won't remember the empty promises, the waitlist for children with autism doubling, the hidden costs of the new Highway 413, and so forth. Because one presumes the next government will fix a lot of that.
Except if Ford gets another four years? I think his legacy will be so much worse.
He may be the guy who privatized healthcare. The guy who invoked the notwithstanding clause twice, to really stick it to the unions (and keep the minimum wage low). The guy who made a trillion dollars vanish, while giving the common Ontarian money back for their latest passport photo.
I mean, if you actually DO want those legacies for your man Ford... I'm pretty sure you're not still reading.
And the thing is, as much as you might want to vote for the Conservative in your individual riding, and as much as some of them are pretty great (Michael Chong, looking at you)... that is also a vote for Doug Ford. And they cannot control him. No one can... except maybe us. The general public.
AND ONLY NOW.
Doug Ford is the wrong choice. He is the wrong leader. And yet he's not going anywhere.
I'm worried about that. And you should be too.
Please, vote accordingly in June 2022.
Thank you for getting all the way to the end. Additional thanks to my wife and mother-in-law for entertaining the little one for a full day, giving me the time to write this.
If you prefer some lighter fare after all that, I've been reposting math pun stories over on my other blog, like "Quantum Loop". Yay!
Please take care of yourselves, and of each other.