Sleepwalking into Ford’s traps
Voters deserve to know about minority possibilities
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.