Doug Ford: Year One
The challenge for Ford and his government will be if they can withstand public pressure and stay focused on their agenda of ensuring they make life more affordable while protecting what matters most and being true to the people who sent them to Queen’s Park.
People can accuse Doug Ford and his young Progressive Conservative Government of a lot of things; but resting on the laurels of their convincing majority government victory is not something you’ll hear from even Ford’s more ardent critics.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of Ford’s election as Premier of Ontario and the break-neck pace that they’ve moved to execute their five key priorities is nothing short of remarkable. More than 80% of their agenda has been accomplished or is on track which could leave us wondering what year two will bring.
Protecting what matters most
The crowning achievement of any new government would be the passage of their first budget; Protecting What Matters Most – Ontario Budget 2019, which received Royal Assent on May 29th. The path to this budget led the government through a meticulous process of a line-by-line audit, the formation of a special committee of MPPs as well as the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry, all to review the province’s finances.
All these actions helped paint a picture that the province was in a dire financial state and that sacrifices were needed to ensure long-term sustainability. Protecting What Matters Most was a way to articulate that spending $30M per day to service Ontario’s $338B debt meant either spending less on healthcare or education; adding to the debt burden or making difficult choices.
A common refrain in the halls of the legislature is; “start with why”. The budget kicked-off a litany of media stories highlighting government cuts and spending reductions which are bound to continue through the next year. The Ford government hopes when people ask ‘why’ they made the decisions they did, it an obvious answer; to protect what matters most.
Retail politics for the people
People need to know what motivates their politicians. Ford is at his strongest when he is among the people, seen fighting on their behalf. Ensuring that message cuts through is an entirely different thing. This can explain the barrage of tweets with PC MPP’s lined up on the eve of the Carbon Tax getting gasoline before the 4.5 cent increase, or most recently, at their local corner store looking feverishly for beer and wine.
When Ford extends the hours of alcohol sales, he isn’t hearing this from a young millennial in the city, he’s responding to a factory worker who is on midnights and wants to have a drink after their shift.
When he reduces the minimum price of beer, he isn’t speaking to craft beer aficionados or public health officials, he’s answering to the construction worker who stops at the Beer Store on his way home to get a case of Carling.
When Ford focuses his attention on beer sales in corner stores, he’s speaking to his core motivations of making life more affordable, giving people choice and treating them with respect.
Part of Ford’s election platform was to make life affordable. He promised to reduce gas prices by 10 cents per litre, partly through ending Ontario’s Cap and Trade program. Many look down their nose at a 10-cent fluctuation in gas prices, but he’s heard the cries of commuters during long-weekends. Of course, a carbon tax will have less effect on someone who lives in downtown Toronto and takes public transit every day then a suburban commuter family who sits in gridlock on their way to and from work and takes their kids to hockey, all with no real option of public transit. These Ontarians pay attention to gas prices, they have to manage the family budget and are looking for someone who will fight to make life more affordable for them in terms they are familiar with.
The divide in the affordability message is clear; the carbon tax and beer sales are two of the most obvious examples where Ford has drawn a line in the sand. Ford’s success will depend on whether he can remain the champion of affordability that elevated him to the highest office in Ontario.
The success of Ford’s first year will remain hotly debated well into their second year on the job. One thing that is surprising and often overlooked is just how willing to listen and take advice this government is. From Economic Development Minister Todd Smith circling the province looking for ideas on how to cut red-tape, to the government’s surprising about-face on retroactive reductions in municipal programming, Ford has positioned himself as a pragmatic leader willing to listen, take advice and adapt. This shouldn’t have been surprising coming from a politician that returns hundreds of calls from average Ontarians on a weekly basis.
When the government was wrapped up in the backlash from the Autism community, many thought changing course was out of the question. They were wrong. Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod laid out a thoughtful and compassionate path forward with more funding commitments and a phased consultation plan to hear directly from parents.
Governments of every political stripe hold consultations. Governments that listen to help shape public policy are rare to come by. The challenge will be if Ford can tow the line of pragmatism, not indecision.
In this lies an opportunity. While results may vary, Ontario businesses, job creators and community organizations have a reinvigorated sense of optimism when engaging with the government.
For sectors like technology that were heavily courted by previous governments, it means regrouping and reshaping government advocacy to address solutions for creating jobs, while improving the lives of workers particularly in manufacturing who are being disrupted by technology.
The challenge for Ford and his government will be if they can withstand public pressure and stay focused on their agenda of ensuring they make life more affordable while protecting what matters most and being true to the people who sent them to Queen’s Park. Success in year-two will depend on it.