Fix­ated on Toronto, Ford needs to see big pic­ture

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - OPINION - Ran­dall Denley is an Ot­tawa po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor and for­mer On­tario PC can­di­date. ran­dallden­ RAN­DALL DENLEY

Pre­mier Doug Ford is pur­su­ing the is­sue of Toronto city coun­cil’s size with all the judg­ment and en­thu­si­asm of a dog chas­ing a ball into traf­fic. That’s not good news for fans of ra­tio­nal gov­ern­ment, Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive sup­port­ers or peo­ple in the rest of On­tario who won­der when the new pre­mier will re­turn his at­ten­tion to things rel­e­vant to them.

There was a brief mo­ment when it looked like the new Ford gov­ern­ment would en­dorse fact-based de­ci­sion mak­ing. Its plan to can­cel cap and trade was sup­ported by a dev­as­tat­ing cri­tique of the plan pre­pared by the prov­ince’s au­di­tor gen­eral. Al­ter­ing the pre­scrip­tion drug plan for youth so gov­ern­ment didn’t pay for ser­vices al­ready cov­ered made sense, too.

Then came the out-of-the-blue de­ci­sion to shrink the size of Toronto city coun­cil in the mid­dle of the mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion cam­paign. There was no com­pelling rea­son to do it, other than Ford’s be­lief that a smaller coun­cil would work bet­ter.

A rea­son­able per­son would have to won­der how this hy­po­thet­i­cal im­prove­ment got to be one of Ford’s first pri­or­i­ties, given the bud­get, the deficit and health care seem a lit­tle more im­por­tant to the ma­jor­ity of On­tar­i­ans, who don’t live in Toronto.

Ford end­lessly re­minds us that ev­ery­thing he does is “for the peo­ple,” but for the peo­ple who live out­side of Toronto, the size of that city’s coun­cil is less rel­e­vant than the price of cod. His fix­a­tion on a purely lo­cal Toronto mat­ter cre­ates the un­easy feel­ing that this gov­ern­ment is go­ing to be all about Toronto, just like the last one.

PC sup­port­ers are the ones who should be most con­cerned about how their guy got off the rails. The party spent 15 years in the po­lit­i­cal wilderness, in part be­cause the last long-term PC pre­mier couldn’t re­sist the de­sire to pick fights. Now Ford is show­ing the same ten­dency. It’s the kind of thing PCs who voted for the other lead­er­ship con­tenders feared.

The On­tario PCs have a golden op­por­tu­nity to set them­selves up for a good long run as the gov­ern­ment. The Lib­er­als are in an ex­tremely weak po­si­tion, and will be for years. The NDP couldn’t win with their cur­rent leader, even when the Lib­er­als col­lapsed. There isn’t much that stands be­tween Ford and a sec­ond term — ex­cept him­self.

Part of what ought to worry PCs is Ford’s lack of po­lit­i­cal skill in han­dling the Toronto city coun­cil is­sue. His plan was hasty and didn’t in­volve any con­sul­ta­tion. That’s not a good start, but when his gam­bit un­rav­elled in court, he un­rav­elled, too. Ford’s de­fence of his plan has been weak and his ac­tions to ram it through dis­pro­por­tion­ate to the im­por­tance of the is­sue.

The best way to un­der­mine Judge Ed­ward Belob­aba’s rul­ing was to point to its lack of a le­gal or log­i­cal un­der­pin­ning. It’s a long stretch to de­ter­mine, as the judge did, that re­duc­ing the num­ber of seats on city coun­cil re­duces peo­ple’s right to free speech and ef­fec­tive po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

In­stead, Ford chose to at­tack the foun­da­tion of our ju­di­cial sys­tem. Sure, Ford was elected and Belob­aba was ap­pointed. Should we just ig­nore the courts be­cause of that?

Then Ford hauled out the not­with­stand­ing clause to over­rule the court. That’s a tool you save for some­thing re­ally big and im­por­tant.

As a po­lit­i­cal leader, Ford has some strengths — de­ter­mi­na­tion is one of them. Un­for­tu­nately, there is a fine line be­tween de­ter­mi­na­tion and act­ing like an au­to­crat.

Ford needs to step back and re­mind him­self of the big pic­ture. Peo­ple elected him to do se­ri­ous, im­por­tant things, not get tan­gled up in triv­ial fights. No doubt he will get to those big things, but when it comes to pub­lic per­cep­tion, the style in which he han­dles change is as im­por­tant as the sub­stance. If Ford doubts that, he can ask Stephen Harper.

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