Doug Ford has slowly begun to emerge from his self-imposed month in political hell and crawl out from the hole he’s dug for himself. The premier showed up for a photo op at the Doses After Dark vaccine clinic in Mississauga on Monday. And a couple of well-timed leaks out of Queen’s Park are promising good news ahead.
With the current stay-at-home order set to lift June 2, the word is the province plans to release its plan to reopen for good, including for recreational activities, “very soon,” according to Health Minister Christine Elliott.
But for many Ontarians, Ford should probably just STFU, at least for a little while longer. After the cataclysm he’s made of the province’s response to a third wave of the pandemic, the public has tuned him out – maybe for good. Ford’s handlers find themselves in a large pickle.
On the one hand, the premier needs to be seen as being in charge. On the other, it’s safe to say most Ontarians are sick of his blame game. They’re not buying it.
Ford was at it again on Tuesday, this time pointing to domestic flights for the spread of COVID variants in the province after blaming international travellers (and the feds) in PC attack ads the previous week. It’s all feeling a little tired.
And with the feds’ vaccine supply rollout picking up speed – almost 70 per cent of Canadians will have received at least one jab by week’s end – Ford has been caught out again after attacking the Libs for not providing vaccines fast enough.
Some Queen’s Park observers are suggesting it may be curtains for Ford even though we’re a year away from the next provincial election.
According to EKOS, 68 per cent of Ontarians disapprove of Ford’s handling of the pandemic. Last year at this time, more than 80 per cent of Ontarians approved. Now only 19 per cent approve. It’s a massive reversal. Just when it couldn’t get any worse for Ford, a new Mainstreet poll released this week puts the PCs just ahead of the NDP and Libs.
Ford has a trust problem. And a once in a lifetime pandemic is not the kind of crisis you come back from like other political failures. More than 8,000 Ontarians have died of COVID-19. And the more Ford tries to deflect responsibility, the more desperate he looks. It’s become a vicious cycle from which there may be no getting out –especially as more ill-considered policy decisions come to light.
There’s a lot of time for Ford to turn things around before Ontarians go to the polls sometime next spring. Canadians are a forgiving lot. (See Trudeau. See Blackface.)
But the election is likely to be a referendum on Ford’s handling of the pandemic. And the prospect of families of people who died in long-term care showing up at PC campaign stops holding poster-sized photos of their dead parents, for example, will present challenging optics for the PCs.
Also, a federal election is expected before a provincial one. Will Ford be able to take credit for the vaccine rollout after Trudeau does?
There are other issues looming in the wings for Ford, including a fight with teachers unions over online schooling and a charter challenge launched by public sector workers – including those health-care workers and nurses Ford likes to call heroes – over the government’s move to cap wage increases at one per cent.
There’s not much room for error. And while a year is a lifetime in politics, there’s just as much time for the Ford government’s bad policy decisions to sink in – not to mention remind voters of the mismanagement and conflicts of interest.
This week, for example, Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk reported that the Ford government failed to track some $4.4 billion in COVID relief spending and that pay increases promised to frontline health care workers in April didn’t start flowing until June.
It was also reported in March that Ford’s head of pandemic response, Emily Beduz, was a paid lobbyist for Shoppers Drug Mart, which has been vying for government contracts and began selling COVID testing kits this week. Ethics questions have become an all-too-familiar theme for the Ford government.
So far, members of Ford’s caucus have circled the wagons. But that could change if MPPs start to see their re-election chances slipping.
While the Ford government enjoys a sizeable majority, some two dozen seats they won in 2018 are attributable to the Liberal collapse and Liberal-NDP vote splitting in others. Ford’s political future hangs on a proverbial knife edge.
In some ways, his tenure as PC leader is beginning to resemble the last months of former federal counterpart Andrew Scheer as leader of the Conservative Party – dead man walking.
It was Scheer who didn’t want Ford campaigning for him in Ontario during the last federal election for all the negatives that would mean for Scheer’s chances. The irony is that the guy that was behind the campaign to turf Scheer after his electoral fail, Kory Teneycke, is now trying to save Ford from himself.
For Ford, however, outrunning his own record – and shadow – will prove an even trickier proposition.