Election over, let’s see if Ford can govern better than his campaign indicated
COMPARISONS BETWEEN DOUG FORD and Donald Trump are unlikely to subside now that the provincial election is over. Had the Progressive Conservatives lost, Ford would have immediately hit the scrapheap, never to be heard from again, but as premier he’s now fair game for even more scrutiny.
Much like Trump supporters, Ford fans will chafe at every criticism of their man. While some of the comparisons between the two leaders are a stretch, there’s no denying that both are long on bombast and short on facts, substance and wellreasoned positions. Each is a polarizing figure that invites personal invective from citizens and an extra helping of media scrutiny.
Trump has proven to be a nightmare, living down to the worst of critics’ expectations; the jury is still out on Ford, who doesn’t take the helm until later this month. (That said, there’s a large part of the public that has already written him off.)
A fair judgment of Ford as premier – as opposed to his well-publicized personal foibles – will emerge in the coming months. Will he tone down the bullying approach of the past in favour of a more professional persona? More importantly, will he translate populist sloganeering into actual governance in the public good, an approach which has been in short supply not only in this province, but across many purported democracies, most notably of late in Trump’s America.
Sound bites about the $6-million man and cheaper beer may have been fine for the campaign trail, but the Tories didn’t provide much in the way of a platform, and provided little in the way of costing. Such promises that were made continue the years of deficits with which Ontario has been burdened.
Fearmongering by the Liberals, NDP and their public-sector union supporters talked about cuts and job losses. The Conservatives responded with denials, the anti-Hudak backlash from Liberalbacking slush funds in the 2014 election still fresh in their minds. But cuts are precisely what’s needed to get the budget back on track. And the new government will have to make large changes to the spending priorities if it wants to better position Ontario for a future of sound infrastructure and fiscal prudence.
That’s the vision that voters often buy into when voting for conservative governments – though this election was all about getting rid of Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals, not about endorsing Ford, which the party needs to take to heart – only to be disappointed in short order.
Decades of history in this province and across the country – and more disastrously to the south – have shown us that ersatz conservative governments routinely abandon good fiscal management, streamlined government and the long-term public good in favour of electioneering, misguided ideology and payoffs to corporate backers. Just like pretty much every other mainstream political party, though often with more self-righteous hypocrisy.
To continue with the Trump comparisons, Ford was not overtly ideological on the campaign trail – neither man seems particularly interested in policies and ideas beyond taking power. Our problem with Conservative governments boils down to ideology: Deep down, we don’t like what they’re selling. It’s the same reason most of us, if we had a vote, would support Democrats and not Republicans in U.S. elections.
Again, there’s a simple pattern to be found. Rightwing governments tend to cut spending on things we benefit from, spend on things we don’t, run deficits, privatize assets to the benefit of a few supporters and deregulate where a watchful eye is needed. And that doesn’t even address the distasteful fundamentalist positions and social conservatism, which have crept into Canadian politics at times.
Taking ideology out of the mix, particularly social conservatism, would be a boon to Ontarians, but we still don’t know how a Ford government will act once in power. Ideally, he takes a different tack than the Ontario PC government that preceded the 15-year Liberal reign, which followed too much of the traditional rightwing playbook. Taking a hardline stance where necessary is one thing, but constant militancy is another.
Ford should also avoid the divisiveness of Stephen Harper, which took duplicity to new depths while again failing to manage the country’s finances to the public’s benefit. In that, Harper took after his Conservative predecessor, Brian Mulroney, whose governments ran up massive deficits during good times, introduced the GST and free trade despite public opposition and spent money like sailors on shore leave, all the while widening the gap between rich and poor. The same scenario played out with other so-called fiscal conservatives at the time, most notably Ronald Reagan in the U.S. and Margaret Thatcher in the U.K.
None is a role model for Ford ... or the kind of Ford government most Ontarians voted for in jettisoning Wynne, whose regime is also a clear example of how not to govern in the public good.
Beyond being annoyed with government waste – see just about every bit of news coming out of Ottawa and Queen’s Park these days, as Ford made clear in his campaign – what’s really at stake is the legitimacy of government itself. That may sound dramatic, but if the bureaucracies are seen as bloated and self-serving, it becomes easier to write off all of the good thing that governments do. There is already a strong contingent that would downsize and eventually neuter government, which is essentially our way of working together
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