Will 5 months rest make any difference to Premier Ford?

When at the turn of 2018 Nick Fideli emerged from the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party back room at Queen’s Park to announce the resignation of party leader Patrick Brown, shocked Ontarians were puzzled at Fideli’s broad grin as he stood at the podium.

At the time, Brown was the leader of the Ontario’s official opposition facing a Kathleen Wynne-led Liberal government. There were also strong indications that the 15-year-old Liberal government was reaching its “best before date” and needed just a push to be toppled. That, we later found out, was the source of Fideli’s grin.

The gathering storm around the Wynne government was so strong that reasonable Ontarians prepared for a PC government. However, reasonable people never saw a PC government led by Doug Ford. After all, they had seen the absurd behavior over four years of Ford, Toronto City Councillor and his brother Rob Ford, who was mayor of Toronto from 2010 to 2014.

The Fords were noted for their almost daily aggressive and abusive behavior in the chambers of Toronto City Council. There were regular, well-founded accusations of the Mayor’s alcohol and drug abuse with big brother Doug aggressively coming to his brother’s defense. There was a long investigative report written in the Globe and Mail newspapers in 2013 alleging Doug’s involvement in selling hashish in the 1980s. Ford has never been charged with any offence, nor has he ever denied the Globe’s allegations. Even so, during Doug’s time at City Hall, he hewed closely to a very conservative, law and order doctrine, while attacking unionized workers like teachers and civil servants for being overpaid and fundamentally lazy.

“Ford Nation” supporters rejoiced at his ascendency to the leadership of the OPC. But the dislike for Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government was so pronounced that even the non-Ford Nation conservative supporters knew that the PC would win the next election regardless of who they picked, including Patrick Brown. They picked Doug Ford from a field of candidates all of whom were intellectually and ethically superior to Ford. 

Ford was elected as the 26th premier of Ontario on June 29, 2018 with a large majority. Less than a year later he shut down the Legislature for five months following a collapse in his support, and under pressure from the Federal Conservative who wanted him to stay far away during their election campaign. Yes, within months of his election Doug Ford fulfilled his promise as an oaf – an attribute he established during his four years as a City Councillor. What the electorate saw in City Council chamber is exactly what they got at Queen’s Park.

In the name of cutting the budget deficit and saving “taxpayers’ money”, he entered Queen’s Park and immediately created havoc on Toronto City Council, a place he viscerally hated, by cutting the number of council members in half in the middle of their election exercise. He vowed to do the same to the other regions of the province.

Wielding an axe, he made cuts in health care programs; he cut education funding from high schools to universities, reduced funding to legal aid, arts, culture, tourism, social services, scientific research, including a number of projects designed to fight the effects of climate change…the list goes on; and all this in a province with a rising GDP and a falling unemployment rate.

This week Mr Ford emerged from isolation to lead his government in the opening of the Legislature, which had been closed for a full five months at the end of May. This has been the longest closure of the province’s seat of government in 25 years.

The closure at best is ironic coming from a man who consistently criticizes teachers for having three months of school breaks and “the best benefit package in the country.” At worst, the closure is an affront to the people of Ontario, who have suffered cuts to programs that make life bearable in what is called the “gig economy”, then to watch well-off “fiscally responsible politicians” take five months paid leave.

On the upside, we were spared the dull, inarticulate debates, the mutual abuse that passes for reasoned argument, and the constant standing ovations that follow every Fordian pronouncement however irrelevant, mendacious or puerile.