Doug Ford tries to spend his way to election victory
The guerrilla war to turn the next election into anything but a referendum on Ford's handling of the pandemic is in full swing
Have you seen the new Doug Ford ads? Pretty slick stuff. Just the right amount of folksy and calm reassurance to deliver the message that things are looking up.
Doug Ford can’t win the next election on his record. It was a mess before the pandemic and it’s only gotten worse since. But the guerrilla war to outspend his opponents to victory – and turn the next election into anything but a referendum Ford’s failed pandemic response – is in full swing. So much so that all signs are pointing to an election sooner rather than later in Ontario.
There was more evidence of that on Thursday. That’s when Ford government moved to recall the legislature from summer recess after a Superior Court judge ruled that legislation passed by the government to restrict spending by third-party organizations in the lead up to an election was unconstitutional.
Under the previous law passed by the Wynne government spending by third-party groups was restricted to a maximum of $600,000 and within the six months prior to an election. The Ford government extended the time period to 12 months but with no corresponding increase in the spending limit. Under the original legislation, it was groups like Ontario Proud that were the target. For Ford, it’s teachers, nurses, and unions, which is why his invoking of the notwithstanding clause is widely being seen by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and others as an attempt by Ford to undermine the ability of the government’s critics to fight the government on a level playing field.
The court decision by Justice Edward Morgan points out a number of contraventions of the Charter in Ford’s legislation. To be sure, the government’s own lawyers were having a hard time keeping a straight face arguing this case.
The Ford government is framing its move to overrule the court’s decision as an attempt to keep “big money” out of politics, comparing the spending by unions to the “billionaires and special interests” that finance Republican political action committees in the U.S.
It’s BS, of course. If any party is coddling “billionaires and special interests” it’s Ford’s PCs.
The Ford government has already tipped the election spending scales in its favour when it moved earlier this year to raise personal campaign spending limits so that the well-heeled among the PC party’s supporters can show their generosity. The PCPO has been raising cash hand over fist. And it’s been able to do that by doing favours for its friends on a scale that’s never been seen before.
At the same time, it wants to restrict the ability of frontline groups to remind voters, for example, how government-imposed wage cuts, layoffs, chronic understaffing and lack of PPE allowed the pandemic to run wild, not to mention ravage long-term care.
The notwithstanding clause has never been used in Ontario. There has been a lot of talk at Queen’s Park over the last 24 hours about what a colossal abuse of power it is for Ford to use it now. But Ford has threatened to use it before – how soon we forget – when the city of Toronto took him to court (and won) over his move to cut council in half just before the 2018 municipal elections. A Court of Appeal would later overturn that decision and the city has since appealed that to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Back then, Ford’s threat to use the notwithstanding clause was about a grab for power. Now it’s about his political survival.
Notwithstanding the use of the notwithstanding clause – and notwithstanding the fact that he’s made a mess of the pandemic – the most recent polls suggest that if an election were held today, Ford would probably win. Hard to believe given the COVID chaos in April.
But the attack ads launched by Ford against the Trudeau government over its pandemic border policies seem to have at least stanched the bleeding for Ford. Only, his personal approval ratings are still among the worst of any premier in the country. And they haven’t budged in weeks. They won’t as long as his bungling of the pandemic is the issue that continues to define him. In the meantime, there will be a shitload of money spent by his handlers to make sure that isn’t the question when voters go to the ballot box.