Doug Ford: for the sheeple

Two weeks in and the Pied Piper of the conservative movement has already cut a wide swath with his scorched-earth policies as he leads Ontario over the cliff

It’s been a little over two weeks since Doug Ford was officially sworn in as premier of Ontario. And he’s already made a big mess of the natural order.

From killing cap and trade, to cancelling hundreds of renewable energy contracts, to blaming asylum seekers for Ontario’s housing crisis and shooting down long-awaited policing reforms – oh yeah, and repealing sex ed – Ford’s scorched-earth policies are already cutting a wide swath. There’s a Google doc keeping score of the destruction floating around on Twitter, where the predictable outrage has hit fever pitch. (Note to those on the left: no amount of Twittering or email blasts to media to point out the madness of it all will change a thing. The election was June 7.) 

Ford’s blitzkrieg has seemingly come as a surprise to some, including too many members of the mainstream media. You gotta wonder what election campaign they were watching. Time for everyone to lose their illusions. Facts don’t matter anymore, folks. It’s the Ford shit show now. 

By the time this is over, we won’t be able to recognize Ontario. All you have to do is cast your gaze to the chaos stateside – or the turmoil over Brexit in Britain for that matter – for a clue of what the political landscape is going to look like. 

Ford may not end up laying waste to democratic institutions the way Trump is doing south of the border, but he’s already on course to destroy Ontario’s economy – not to mention, the free press. Members of the fourth estate for and against Doug who were sniping openly on social media during the election campaign have continued their war of words, Fox-versus-CNN style, since Ford’s election win. The Fox faction is winning.

Some among them are musing openly of Ford making a run for PM some day. If Don Cherry says so, then why not?

Given all the former Stephen Harper operatives advising Ford these days (and the way he is become chummy with Harper acolytes like Jason Kenney out west) it certainly looks from the outside like Ford is setting himself up for a future run.

He has talked about it in the past, but that was when he was a political outcast in conservative circles (a useful idiot for the Cons to win votes in Toronto) and no one was taking him seriously. Today, he’s the toast of the town, the second-most powerful man in the land behind the PM. It’s Don Dougie now. 

The cult of Doug

Ford is loving the newfound notoriety. Have you seen the papers? He can barely wipe the grin off his face. The myth-making has begun in earnest. 

On the day of his swearing in, Ford declared his government, the “first ever for the people.” 

The Ford-friendly Sun columnist Joe Warmington reported that Doug shook hands and took pics – in the blazing heat, no less – with the few hundred Ford disciples who showed up to take in the celebration from behind the barricades on the front lawn of Queen’s Park.

The coverage included a lengthy interview with the newspaper chain’s big cheese, CEO Paul Godfrey, who was among the invited guests who occupied the expensive seats near the front. And who better to break down the meaning of the historical moment than the guy who has been orchestrating one political fix or another in this town since he was Metro chair back in the 80s?

Godfrey seemed genuinely amazed by the adoration for Doug. “He’s like the Pied Piper,” Godfrey exclaimed, referring to the tale from the Middle Ages of the guy with the magical flute that lured rats away from the town and made all the townspeople happy. 

The tune Godfrey is singing now is different from the one he was singing when Doug’s brother Rob was mayor of Toronto and making a mess of the conservative brand. 

So, it’s not entirely clear who the rats are in the current political scenario in Ontario. And where they are being led by Ford. 

Of misfits and malcontents

The PCs under Ford do not resemble the socially progressive, fiscally conservative brand of the party that governed Ontario for a stretch of 40 years at one point.

The so-called conservative movement has been taken over by misfits and malcontents. They call themselves populists but they’re mostly just uninformed. They get their “news” from Rebel Media and think their opinion means something because they have 27 followers on Twitter and spend all day posting memes online showing how smart Cons are compared to “libtards” – that’s short for “liberal and retard” for the uninitiated. They think they’re playing three-dimensional chess while the rest of us are playing checkers. It’s a sad (and dangerous) state of affairs, when ignorance passes for considered opinion. But that’s where we’re at. 

The conservative movement’s hard turn into the alt-right happened at the federal level under Harper. And now the shift has infected Ontario. 

Former PC leader Patrick Brown’s attempt to steer the party to the political centre is what really did him in. Remember all those Brown opponents howling about “taking back the party” after he was dumped over sexual misconduct allegations?

Lisa MacLeod was among them. Ford’s newly-appointed Minister of Children, Community and Social Services has navigated the fringes of the party as the representative of rural Nepean since 2006. It didn’t take her long to show her true colours, turning a set-to with the federal immigration minister Ahmed Hussan over asylum seekers into a debate on Hussan’s Canadian credentials. Hussan was born in Somalia. 

Promises made, promises broken

#PromisesMadePromisesKept has been a familiar hashtag used by Ford supporters and PC political staffers keeping score of campaign promises Ford is checking off the list. Among them: Ford’s botched promise to oust Hydro One CEO Mayo Schmidt, the so-called “six-million-dollar man,” a name given to Schmidt owing to his seven-figure salary. 

Firing Schmidt was supposed to be Ford’s first order of business. It wasn’t. When he finally did pull the trigger last week after some goading by the media, it looked like a rush job. Turns out Schmidt is not walking away with zero severance as advertised, but some $10 million in stock options after retiring from his position.

And those promised savings ratepayers are supposed to see on their Hydro bills? Well, that’s the real shocker (or not, if you have the least bit inkling the way Ford operates). Those savings have been zapped, along with the 750-odd renewable energy projects Ford has cancelled – mostly projects affecting First Nations, municipalities and schools – which will end up costing the government something like a billion in investment. 

Cabinet question marks

Ford boasted after his election that he had many star candidates to choose from for his cabinet, which makes you wonder why he chose lawyer Michael Tibollo, whose questionable resumé includes some trouble with the Ontario Securities Commission, as his minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

We knew Ford’s cabinet was going to be small out of a necessity so he can keep a tight grip on the reins. It’s no secret that a lot of the PCs who were elected are loyal to former PC leader Patrick Brown.

Which helps explain why most of Ford’s choices were clearly made out of loyalty. Vic Fedeli as finance minister, for example. There has been a running joke about that one for some time.

Others look like pure patronage. Godfrey’s protege Rod Phillips, Ontario’s former gambling czar, was handed the environment file on which Ford has also signaled he proposes to do zilch – except administer cuts. 

Then there’s Caroline Mulroney, whose appointment as attorney general requires some serious scrutiny. Is she even qualified? No matter, since it looks like she’s already been co-opted after police accountability (and anti-racism) reforms started under the former Liberal government have now been put on hold by Ford. 

To be sure, that was some scene on the floor of the Legislature post-Throne Speech last week when the Globe caught Ford in an embrace with Toronto police union president Mike McCormack. It was like a scene out of the bad old days of policing in Toronto when the so-called Catholic mafia ran the show in the Big Smoke. They’re back.

enzom@nowtoronto | @enzodimatteo

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