Damn Right He Could!
“To the people of Ontario I say that relief is on its way, and to Kathleen Wynne I say your days as premier are numbered.” – Toronto businessman and politician Doug Ford, upon learning late this past Saturday, March 10th that he had won his bid to lead the Ontario PC Party in to this spring’s provincial elections.
A Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted March 11th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
Is it possible that we could wake up this coming June 8th to the news that Doug Ford, the Toronto area businessman and politician, and brother of Toronto’s late captain-of-chaos mayor, had done such a successful job of selling Ontario voters on his ‘Ford Nation’ brand of alt-right, slash-and-burn populism that he was now on his way to forming the next provincial government?
If you are out there, laughing at the mere idea of a Ford government in Ontario, if you are waving your hands and saying; ‘Come on Mr. Draper. That will never happen,’ then I’ve got two words for you – Donald Trump.
There was a time in the United States of America – from the moment in the spring of 2015 when Trump descended that escalator in his Manhattan tower with promises to “make America great again” and wall off ‘rapists, drug traffickers and other criminals’ from Mexico, and right up to the day of that country’s November, 2016 federal election – when many people in his country and around the world laughed off any possibility of him winning too.
And just look at where we are now with all of the fire and fury, the threats of a trade war, the ripping up of climate agreements, and tweet after tweet after imbecile, off putting and often incendiary tweet. All while millions of reality TV fans in the rust belt regions of America, who (as he boasted) would go on supporting him if he ‘stood out in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shot somebody’, cheer on.
On that note, veteran Canadian news columnist Susan Riley who, on a Sunday morning CBC news program this March 11th, aired just hours after it was announced that Doug Ford had won the leadership of whatever is left of Ontario’s ‘Progressive Conservative Party’, warned that those of us out here who are progressives or are not of Ford’s political persuasion would be “making a big mistake” to laugh him off or to not take his candidacy for the highest office in the province seriously.
I fear that that Susan Riley is right.
Like America in 2016, there are enough pockets of people in Ontario – many of them older people and aging Baby Boomers of my generation – who harken back to those ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ times five or six decades ago, when the world around them seemed more and prosperous and promising, and when the price of gasoline at the pump was 29 cents a gallon, not $1.29 a litre. They compare that to the way things are going now, and they angry.
And don’t get me wrong. I agree that there is plenty to be angry about.
But countless numbers of these people are so consumed with anger that they may be willing to make like Joe Pesci in a gangster movie and take a Louisville Slugger to whatever or whoever they think is the cause of today’s problems – even if it risks crippling or killing some of the programs and services they need to assist them through rough patches in their lives.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd came face to face with that kind of anger in 2016 when she talked to some of the people who were yelling for that wall and for Hillary Clinton’s imprisonment at Trump’s campaign rallies. She reported that when she asked if they were not concerned that Trump might also swing that bat in ways that are ultimately not in their best interests, their reply, in so many words, went as follows.
Trump might not be their ideal choice for a batter, they said, but he was the only one still out there, swinging at the status quo after others (like Bernie Sanders, whose candidacy had by the summer of 2016, been snuffed out by the mainstream media and by the Clintonites on the Democratic side) who might stand up for them and fight for real change had e dropped out of the race.
So now, here we are in Ontario, facing our own Trumpian moment. And just like the Tea Party and other alt-right populism, not to mention all of the past administrations that failed to respond seriously enough to the financial insecurity and job losses facing growing numbers of people, that set the stage for a Trump presidency, Doug Ford’s ascendancy to the leadership of the province’s Tory Party, making for a pathway to the premiership, has not occurred in a vacuum.
There was his own brother’s ‘we’ve-got-to-burn-the- village-down-in-order-to-save-it’, 2010 to 2014 stint as Toronto’s mayor – one that many Torontonians supported, by the way, before Rob had his drug and alcohol soaked meltdown – that was a warm-up act for this.
And before that, there was Mike Harris, premier from 1995 to 2002 and long-time friend and mentor of the Brothers Ford, and his “common sense revolution” which, like the Tea Party movement in the States, helped create a culture where an even more unhinged member of the slash-and-burn caucus could take the helm.
When Harris first ran and won the premier’s job in 1995, I remember asking people – many of them Baby Boomers – who supported his promises to cut taxes and slash government spending if they weren’t concerned that some of these cuts might come back to haunt them. More than a few of these people were school teachers who assured me that in spite of all the negative things Harris was saying about teachers’ unions, he would never really go after them. He’ll just pick on – as they put it – ‘people on welfare that sit home and drink beer’.
Well, guess what. Staying true to his word, which is one of the things that make populists so popular, Harris went after the teachers and their unions. And regardless of how we might feel about some of the over-reaching demands teachers unions make – especially during times of recession when others in the working world are facing cuts in their hours, wages and benefits – the way Harris and company went after the teachers caused a good deal of collateral damage for the kids and their parents with school closing and children that had to be bussed to schools further from home, where the classrooms were overcrowded and there fewer resources for libraries and extracurricular programs.
Between the chaos in the schools and all of the slashing and downloading of health care and other services, it finally dawned on members of my Baby Boom cohort (many of who were enjoying some of the last of the good paying, full-time jobs of the last century) that, just as e our parents who grew up in the Depression era tried to warn us, there really is no such thing as a free lunch, and only political equivalent of a snake oil salesman would tell you that you can have your tax cuts and keep all your services and entitlements too.
But memories are short, aren’t they?
So here we are a few decades on with Doug Ford, all jacked up and ready to go, like Mike Harris on steroids. Here too are the aging Boomers, many of them now retired or about to retire after all their years of big cars, vanity homes and expensive vacations, and weighed down, according to repeated National Bank reports, with limited savings and heavy debt loads and no end of complaints about how much they pay in user fees and taxes.
How many of them will fall for Doug Ford’s pitch to “cut government spending and put more money back in their pockets?”
If they do and Ford wins, whose services do they expect to see cut?
How about health care services where by virtue of their numbers and increased reliance on, aging Boomers are placing an unprecedented cost burden on? Are they willing to accept more cuts to health care and other services they use or will they expect younger generations of people, who they outnumber two or three to one (depending on the demographic) and who are coming out of school with use debt loads and challenges Boomers could never image four or five decades ago when it comes to landing secure, decent-paying jobs?
If the answer is ‘I want more tax cuts and all of my services and entitlements too, and oh, by the way, to hell with saving forests and wetlands and fighting climate change, then get ready for what the late American economist and senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once predicted, under those conditions, could be “generational warfare.”
If that happens, this Boomer is going to be on the kids’ side. My generation grew up at the best of times with options and opportunities galore. Members of our generation have held the levers of power, both in and outside of government, and many still do, and look at the mess we are in.
So it is going to be a very interesting spring leading up to this June 7th’s provincial election.
We’ve had a big fill of Donald Trump across the border, and now we have our own reality show, right here in Ontario.
What role are you and I and the rest of us going to play in it?
Please do yourself and others around you a favour, and give the choices we have before us in this Ontario election some very careful thought.
To read a related opinion piece on this issue from the March 11th Sunday edition of The Toronto Star, click on – https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2018/03/10/after-a-wild-pc-leadership-race-dont-rule-out-premier-ford.html .
For another take on the Doug Ford win, click on – http://torontosun.com/opinion/columnists/parkin-with-ford-the-winner-now-is-the-ndps-big-chance .
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