Elec­tion over, let’s see if Ford can gov­ern bet­ter than his cam­paign in­di­cated

The Woolwich Observer - - COMMENT - ED­I­TOR'S NOTES

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

“Au­to­ma­tion may be slowed down here and there for a while, but even­tu­ally it will elim­i­nate at least half the ex­ist­ing jobs...” Gwynne Dyer | 8

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