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Seeing past the lure of populism

Cartoon illustration of Doug Ford using a chainsaw to cut down a bunch of trees that symbolize items such as public education

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.

7 Comments on Seeing past the lure of populism

  1. John Addison // April 20, 2018 at 3:44 pm // Reply

    Unfortunately we have seen what the traditional Liberals are capable of when they have a majority, so it really comes down to either NDP, or Progressive Conservatives. If a voter can get past the memory of the Bob Rae years then the NDP makes for a reasonable choice, but if they can’t then by the process of elimination the PCs are all that’s left. Strategic voting doesn’t work, and you cannot vote to create a minority government.

  2. Shelley Wister-Smith // April 20, 2018 at 4:15 pm // Reply

    OSSTF has no business trashing Doug Ford after all these years with the corrupt liberal governments of McGuinty and Wynne. You are taking union dues from some members who support conservative governments and I resent you using your platform to demonize a successful conservative businessman. Our hydo rates are now among the highest in North America because of Wynne’s mismanagement and her policies are hurting the working poor in Ontario.

  3. Melissa Potashner // April 20, 2018 at 7:00 pm // Reply

    And a Wynne government that has spent Billions recklessly and has been charged criminally is better??? I think not!! We can not do worse than Kathleen Wynne. We can’t afford the other options (NDP) because of their left wing policies, which will put our province more in debt. Enough is enough. Wake up and stop drinking the Koolaid. Please stop spending my union dues on spreading your left wing rhetoric.

  4. Deb Siebert // April 21, 2018 at 1:28 pm // Reply

    So …….OSSTF supports what this liberal government had done to the people of this province???????

  5. Dawn Bogseth // April 22, 2018 at 11:19 am // Reply

    Where do we find the information about the platforms? Why don’t political parties have access to the current budget figures before the election and have to present their proposed changes before they are elected?

  6. Interesting …… those whining about their union dues should show integrity and stop benefitting from it …. private schools with no dues or pension. Better still, do the honourable thing give up your job when the cuts come.

  7. Terry Ford // April 28, 2018 at 9:37 pm // Reply

    It is all but guaranteed that a Doug Ford led government will attack OSSTF. If you work in public education or your children go to public school, a vote for Ford is a vote against public education. Look at the big picture!

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