Sleep­walk­ing into Ford’s traps

Vot­ers de­serve to know about mi­nor­ity pos­si­bil­i­ties

The Hamilton Spectator - - Opinion - MARTIN REGG COHN Martin Regg Cohn is a colum­nist based in Toronto cov­er­ing On­tario pol­i­tics. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @reg­gcohn

Doug Ford is try­ing to re­write the rules of Cana­dian democ­racy by dic­tat­ing who gets to gov­ern as premier. In ad­vance.

No sur­prise there. Stephen Harper tried the same trick as prime min­is­ter to fend off a coali­tion chal­lenge in 2008, and got away with it — brow­beat­ing the gov­er­nor gen­eral, bul­ly­ing his ri­vals, and bam­boo­zling the peo­ple about the sup­posed il­le­git­i­macy of par­lia­men­tary al­liances that dare to thwart Tories.

Is his­tory about to re­peat it­self in On­tario? It shouldn’t, be­cause this prov­ince has its own dis­tinct and dig­ni­fied track record of demo­cratic power-shar­ing in one form or an­other.

Re­mem­ber mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment? Ford’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives are try­ing fu­ri­ously to forget.

“The peo­ple of On­tario want change, not some back­room deal by the NDP to keep the Lib­er­als in power,” Ford de­clared in a Trump-like tweet this week.

Bad enough that Ford wants us to erase our own po­lit­i­cal his­tory to ad­vance his own par­ti­san fu­ture. What’s worse is that his Lib­eral and NDP ri­vals are danc­ing to his tune for their own self-serv­ing rea­sons.

NDP Leader An­drea Hor­wath promptly took the bait, bad­mouthing the idea on cue: “I have no in­ter­est in a coali­tion gov­ern­ment with the Lib­er­als ... I am un­equiv­o­cally say­ing I have no in­ter­est in part­ner­ing up with that party.”

Lib­eral Leader Kath­leen Wynne played along, re­fus­ing to say “who we’re go­ing to work with or not work with.”

Ford says Boo! And they both jump high. All three lead­ers are be­ing too clever by half, in equal mea­sure. That doesn’t mean the rest of us — the press and the peo­ple — have to play along with their cyn­i­cal game of elec­toral put-downs, one-up­man­ship and one-up­wom­an­ship that keeps us all in the dark.

No one yet knows the elec­tion out­come, let alone all those pollsters who pub­lish pre­cise per­cent­ages. But we as vot­ers still de­serve to know the pos­si­bil­i­ties and pa­ram­e­ters of mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment with­out the politi­cians try­ing to shut down the con­ver­sa­tion in mid-campaign.

Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate Ford’s campaign team. Led by Harper veter­ans, they know how to set the agenda — whether in the re­cent PC lead­er­ship race or the cur­rent gen­eral elec­tion campaign.

Make no mis­take, mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment is the sleeper is­sue in this campaign. But what’s un­nerv­ing is how fool­ishly Ford’s er­ror-prone op­po­nents sleep­walk into his traps.

With the wind in her NDP sails, Hor­wath dreams of soar­ing into the premier’s of­fice on the wings of a ma­jor­ity all her own — Or­ange Crush reprise, Bob Rae re­dux. Ig­nor­ing the head­winds, Lib­eral Leader Kath­leen Wynne fan­ta­sizes about cling­ing to her cor­ner of­fice at Queen’s Park.

High on his own hubris, Ford grasps at a “man­date from the peo­ple” even be­fore the votes are counted. Yet he knows full well Ford Na­tion’s lim­i­ta­tions, for the more On­tar­i­ans get reac­quainted with him the less they seem to like him.

Based on his pub­lic mus­ings (and pri­vate polling), Ford is fear­ful of fall­ing short. And wor­ried, with good rea­son, about whether any other party would prop him up.

Would Hor­wath’s New Democrats, whose 2018 plat­form is di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed to ev­ery­thing Ford stands for, keep him in power? What about Wynne’s Lib­er­als, whose pre-elec­tion bud­get is no less left-of-cen­tre? If Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner wins a seat, he’d be the last one to em­power Ford’s Tories to end the fight against global warm­ing.

What then? If Ford lost a vote of con­fi­dence in the leg­is­la­ture, he might de­mand fresh elec­tions to break the dead­lock — a redo.

Or the other party lead­ers could do the right thing — the demo­cratic thing — and find a path for­ward to re­spon­si­ble gov­ern­ment that re­spects our leg­isla­tive legacy. That could mean ad hoc sup­port for com­mon leg­isla­tive goals, a for­mal al­liance, or a full-fledged coali­tion that shares cab­i­net seats.

Ei­ther way, it’s not for Ford to say who gov­erns in a mi­nor­ity scenario. Even as the self-pro­claimed in­car­na­tion of Ford Na­tion, he has no in­nate power to de­clare him­self the win­ner with a man­date from heaven or the grass­roots.

In our leg­is­la­ture, it’s a sim­ple ma­jor­ity of MPPs that de­cides the out­come. Un­der our con­sti­tu­tional form of gov­ern­ment, it’s Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor El­iz­a­beth Dowdeswell who plays ref­eree in a dead­lock.

If Ford thinks the vice-re­gal role is elit­ist, he can tell it to the Crown. And re­write our con­sti­tu­tional rights if he dares.

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