Fixated on Toronto, Ford needs to see big picture
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.