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EDITORIAL: Let cabinet do its job (August 2019)

September 2nd, 2019 · No Comments

After a five-month break from public scrutiny, enabled by not having a sitting legislature, the provincial government of Premier Doug Ford should emerge from the rock it has been hiding under.  A new modus operandi is needed, one that respects cabinet and treats ministers as more than mere Premier’s pawns. 

After a tumultuous first year in office Premier Ford’s embrace of populism, reflected in the sentiment “governing for the people” is running thin. We are not really certain what “populism” means, but it must surely include some element of popularity?  He has set records though; last month we reported that according to MainStreet Research, his rating was “falling harder and faster that than any incumbent premier has ever seen this soon after being elected.” Even if those who supported him had not lost their fervour, is this any way to govern? How did we get here? 

Former leader of the Ontario PCs, Patrick Brown, had a serious platform prior to his dramatic fall from grace. The hastily convened leadership convention which followed it saw Christine Elliot win the popular vote, but due to the mechanics of the party’s electoral system, Ford got the leadership. 

That’s how we got here: to a place where the person running our province can’t even make it to page two of his briefing notes. Ford should take note at both how quickly things can change and how others enjoy wide support from within the Conservative party.

By an unfortunate coincidence, we are at a time when the practice of cabinet-style government is on the wane and the extreme concentration of power (in this case in the premier’s office) is the norm. It’s a perfect storm really, pairing unbridled power with an unqualified, disinterested leader. To further cement the catastrophe, Ford selected Dean French as the Premier’s Office Chief of Staff. Though he is as unqualified as Ford, French was more engaged (unfortunately). He is rumoured to have lectured cabinet members on subjects such as the need to rise in the legislature to give standing ovations upon the Premier’s every utterance. French’s reckless use of the levers of power ultimately cost him his job. 

The actions of the Ford government in the first 15 months in office have demonstrably offended its audience. To campaign on the notion that Ontario was in a fiscal death-spiral and then deliver a budget that does not have austerity as its central focus indicates that the emergency was either forgotten or fabricated. 

How are PC members of the legislature who face their constituents in a little more than two years’ time going to justify the actions of this government? The electorate did not vote for the agenda Ford put in place now which is neither “progressive” nor “conservative”. Ford has pulled the carpet out from his own elected colleagues. Relentless attacks on everything — Toronto even has people in Wawa puzzled over the outpouring of hate. 

But what about PC back benchers and cabinet ministers, many of whom are professional and competent? What about the expert bureaucracy, who have served government of every stripe? It’s time to take advantage of all this talent, it’s time to press the pause button. The province should reverse course on cuts to education, its relentless attack on Toronto, its losing battle with Ottawa over cuts to carbon emissions, and its billion dollar battle with the Beer Store all to bring a six-pack to the 7-11. Cabinet can play a role in this reversal and help the government adopt a more modest tone: we hope they have listened, learned, and wish to chart a new path. It does not have to end in implosion. If Ford fails to widen his circle and allow others to do as they are elected and appointed to do, the Progressive Conservative Party should call a leadership convention and select a new leader. That person would automatically become the new premier, and the party and the province would be all the better for it.

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