The rumour mill at Queen’s Park is already churning out stories of mayhem behind the scenes
As political performances go, it was one for the ages. Even some hardened political watchers in the press corp were moved by Doug Ford’s tears, taking to social media to offer how they’ve never seen a more subdued premier.
It was an emotional Doug Ford who took the podium outside his late mother’s Etobicoke home for a virtual press conference on Thursday. It was the first time the public has seen him since his lost weekend and reportedly “coming into close contact” with a staffer who has COVID, which has now forced him to self-isolate.
Ford pulled out all the stops, including getting choked up for the cameras on a number of occasions while recounting how being premier is the biggest honour of his life, and that all he has ever tried to to do during this tumultuous time is be a calming voice for us all. It was textbook damage control. The public loves a politician that can admit his mistakes. But early returns are that no one is buying it.
A poll released by Angus Reid on Friday, April 23, suggests some 60 per cent of Ontarians, in fact, believe the third wave of the coronavirus was preventable and are blaming Ford for driving Ontario over a cliff. They’d be right about that.
Make no mistake, folks, Ford is now seeing his political life flash before his eyes. His mea culpa, as some in the press are describing it, was more apologia. It’s a cover-up for a government in disarray, and Ford can’t bail fast enough to keep from sinking.
The big guns have been called in to right the ship now that Ford has “blood on his hands” – as one reporter put it to him during Thursday’s presser – over his mishandling of the COVID crisis.
Ford is not apologizing for that, mind you. To be clear, what Ford did apologize for on Thursday is his move Friday to give cops extra powers to enforce the province’s latest stay-at-home order and his directive that playgrounds would have to be closed to stem the current tide.
Ford is not taking the blame for the deaths on his watch, which reached a single-day high on Thursday of 40. Nope. He also offered no timeline for reinstating paid sick days for workers, which medical officers of health agree are crucial to getting a handle on the virus.
The Ford government was reportedly signalling Wednesday that it was now prepared to consider the measure. But that was when the shit was hitting the fan over the preem being AWOL, so giving the media hordes something else to chew made for a convenient distraction.
The Ford government was warned by its science table in early February that a third wave of the virus was gonna hit hard. Yet Ford continued to maintain Thursday that if the feds had moved more quickly to close the borders and Ontario had more vaccines, “we wouldn’t be where we are now.” The reality is that this latest lockdown could have been avoided if the premier actually had his shit together months ago and started contact tracing and vaccinating in hot spots and workplaces.
The question now is can Ford survive? History tells us to never count out a Ford. Back when he was riding high in the polls, Ford joked that people were pulling out the cherry brandy and popcorn to watch his daily COVID briefings. But it doesn’t look good for the premier moving forward. The rumour mill at Queen’s Park is churning out stories of mayhem behind the scenes.
Word is that cabinet ministers are completely out of the loop on COVID decisions being made in the premier’s office. The premier’s chief of staff, James Wallace, is also said to be on the way out. And there’s a caucus revolt among rural MPPs who view the coronavirus as a Toronto and Peel problem and see no reason why other parts of the province should be in lockdown. A cabinet shuffle is reportedly in the works to provide the appearance of stability.
The good news for Ford is that an election is a year away. Many voters may be willing to forgive and forget by then, but these are not normal circumstances. There’s no one in the province that hasn’t been touched by the coronavirus. Many Ontarians have lost loved ones, their livelihoods or their homes. The negative impression of Ford may already be too baked into the minds of voters to change now.
That’s especially true for Ford, who wasn’t exactly burning up approval ratings before the virus struck and he was busy laying waste to public services. It may only be a matter of time before he becomes too much of a political liability and former leadership rivals begin lining up their ducks for a possible coup to save the party from electoral oblivion.
It’s hard to escape the sense given the current maelstrom at Queen’s Park that this is only the tip of the iceberg. The premier’s incompetence has already made international headlines. His lack of computer skills has become the subject of derision. Former high school buds are DMing media. It’s all beginning to take on the familiar whiff of when things started going sideways for his brother Rob when he was mayor of Toronto. Queen’s Park insiders advise keeping the cherry and popcorn nearby.