The election of Doug Ford as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party brings a new and vastly different dynamic to the campaign leading up to the June 7 provincial election.
Prior to Patrick Brown’s sudden resignation from the PC leadership in January, it appeared that the Conservatives would be running a campaign designed to alienate as few voters as possible. Brown had already released his platform in the form of a glossy magazine-style book called the “People’s Guarantee,” promising such things as investments in mental health and dental care for seniors. He had abandoned the social conservatives who had helped propel him to the leadership, calculating that he would gain more votes than he would lose by moving his party toward the centre. To the extent that it’s possible for the Progressive Conservatives to be a “big tent” party, Patrick Brown was trying to make it appear to be just that.
Doug Ford however, is an entirely different animal. He is, by his very nature, a polarizing figure. He has a love-him-or-hate-him personality, and with a lot of help from media outlets that thrive on conflict, it’s his personality that draws most of the public’s attention. To those who dislike him, he is undereducated and unrefined—perhaps even oafish. He lacks eloquence and seems largely clueless about social, environmental and equity issues. But for those who embrace him, he is the straight-shooting populist champion of ordinary working people—people, who in Ford’s narrative, have been abandoned by the political and social elites.
All of this can make for good entertainment of a sort. The danger, as we’re already seeing, is that Ford’s personality can easily become the primary focus of the campaign, relegating policy issues to a distant back seat.
All Ontarians owe it to themselves, and to each other, to look beyond the tribal rhetoric of populism and seriously consider what a Doug Ford government would mean for Ontario. Unlike Patrick Brown, Ford has said very little about what he plans to do if he becomes Premier. So far he has made just one major promise: to cut $7 billion from the province’s budget. When asked how, he says only that he will find “efficiencies.”
He doesn’t mention that making cuts that deep would cost Ontario somewhere in the neighbourhood of 75,000 jobs. There is no doubt whatsoever that thousands of those jobs would be cut from the education sector.
Ford hasn’t yet said much about what else he’d do as Premier, but if his record as a city councillor in Toronto is any indication, we can expect deep cuts to public services and a war on unions like we haven’t seen since the dark days of the Mike Harris government.
As OSSTF/FEESO members, we know that we can’t afford to let ourselves be fooled by populist rhetoric. But neither can we afford to stand by and watch while our friends and neighbours fall into that trap. We need to become informed about the issues, and we need to be as engaged as possible in the political process. With the prospect of a Doug Ford government, it’s simply too dangerous to just sit back and watch.