Doug Ford was sworn in as Premier on June 29. Many of us had been holding on to the hope that, once secure in power, he would govern more rationally and maturely than his campaign behaviour suggested. He hasn’t! Our American cousins had similar hopes for Donald Trump, which his subsequent behaviour likewise proved to have been naïve wishful thinking. When populists come to power, they tend to double down on their divisive, disruptive approach to governance.
So what will that mean for Ontarians over the next four long years? The major consequence is that rational, evidence-based, long-term decision-making will be replaced by a far more dangerous version of the petty, chaotic, rancorous and toxic political circus which characterized Toronto City Hall under the Ford brothers. It’s more dangerous because this time because Mr. Ford has a majority government which means that, as long as he keeps the PC caucus in line, the only limits to his near-dictatorial powers are the courts. But they can only strike down decisions that are contrary to the Charter of Rights or encroach on federal jurisdiction. As the Official Opposition, the NDP will continue to bluster about holding the government accountable, but the reality is that they will be eminently ignorable.
People, especially those of precarious means, will be hurt. As evidenced by how long it took to undo the damage done by the populist Mike Harris Conservatives, Ontario will underperform its potential as an economy and a society for many years to come. As further evidenced by Mr. Ford’s abrupt cancellation of Ontario’s globally-significant basic income pilot project, the province will seek to terminate any research likely to produce evidence contradicting narrow right-wing conservative orthodoxy. Ontario will be divided between “the people” (those of the 40% who voted PC who continue to unquestioningly believe everything Mr. Ford says, no matter how unfounded) and the enemies of the people (all the rest of us). Ontario will not only fail to address complex, overarching issues such as climate change and ever-increasing income inequality but will exacerbate them.
What can and should Liberals do? Blustering and fulminating isn’t going to help. Instead, we must objectively project and track the consequences of every flawed Ford policy and decision, documenting who wins and who loses, and propose effective alternatives as part of a coherent narrative that lays out how the next Liberal government will go about undoing the damage and moving Ontario forward again. We’ll need to re-embrace fiscal prudence in a way that is consistent with Liberal values of equality of opportunity. We must rebuild the finances of our party and our riding associations while restoring meaningful grassroots democracy. And we must commit to a variety of electoral reform which works for Ontario and ensures that this calamity never happens again.