Doug Ford’s self-inflicted wounds

Governments need to make difficult decisions, but they also need to justify them.

Ali Taghva Montreal QC

Governments need to make difficult decisions, but they also need to justify them.

According to recent polls, the province might be having second thoughts about Premier Doug Ford, as voters appear to be gravitating toward a leaderless Liberal party rather than continuing to support the Progressive Conservatives.

While polls are never perfect, this sharp drop after only one year into Ford’s tenure is notable. In many ways, it may highlight the kind of political climate that the Premier was elected in, wherein the voters at large were decidedly anti-Wynne and anti-Liberal rather than pro-Ford.

Nonetheless, the current standing of the Ford government is not just due to a weak connection to a significant portion of the voters who brought them a majority mandate.

Instead, the drop in support comes as a result of poor communication and utter failure on multiple fronts, each successively pushing away a portion of the far broader 2018 coalition.

Perhaps the most prominent and crucial of these failures has been the inability to sell what is by many accounts a mild-mannered spending plan.

The Ford government’s first budget did cut some services, putting the province on a path to a potentially balanced bottom line in five years, but it also increased overall spending by five billion dollars. The Toronto Star‘s opinion section is attacking Ford for spending more than Wynne.

With so much spending and Ontario’s debt payments representing the fourth most significant area of government expenses, this should have been a sellable budget.

So why does it seem like people are abandoning the party?

For most, the message has been drowned out through worrisome plans, which in many cases hurt those least capable of defending themselves, followed by announcements that reek of corporate welfare and waste.

For example, in February, the PCs faced massive media and public blow-back over their handling of autism policy. The Ford government’s attempt to reduce the overall waitlist for autism care managed to infuriate parents so much that some called for the resignation of minister Lisa MacLeod in an emotional town hall.

The PC party lost a staffer over their handling of the issue.

The following month the government announced it would be investing $10 million into horse racing.

The people likely saw those issues in parallel: reductions in social services alongside investments in horse-racing.

In April, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) criticized the PC government for continuing to spend out of a fund the Liberals had set up to provide financial support for businesses. According to the CTF Ontario Director Christine Van Geyn, a Freedom of Information request revealed the Ford government spent more than $130 million out of the Liberals’ Jobs and Prosperity Fund (JPF) last year  after Premier Ford promised to end “corporate welfare.”

It didn’t stop there, though. Earlier this month Ontario’s financial watchdog called out the government for lacking clarity in their cuts.

According to Peter Weltman, Ontario’s independent Financial Accountability Officer, the province has said they have found eight cents on the dollar in savings, while only clearly accounting for half of that.

That would mean even more reductions in services, while things like horse-racing investments and corporate welfare continue.

In many ways, the Ford government, just like its predecessor, has begun to appear confused and politically trapped, on issues that do not help fix the province’s massive and growing debt burden or need for a more competitive economy.

Then again, is anyone surprised that the government is having a difficult time constructing a plan that prioritizes the people and then effectively communicates that plan to the electorate?

When the party is busy wasting precious caucus service resources funding a partisan machine — which uncomfortably walks the line between party communication and state propaganda — in order to try and supplant real journalists, it suggests they have bad plans they’re trying to get the public on board with by duping them.

I’m referring to the controversial Ontario News Now, which blasts pro-PC messaging across social media, receives special access to the Premier on foreign trips, and is funded through taxpayer money coming from the caucus service budget.

It’s not clear how these moves put the people first, and seems to be short-changing the PCs at a time when they could make a good case for why all of their other cuts were made on some principled ground.

Appearances are everything, and for those counting, the Ford government’s list of achievements appear to include: reductions to social services, increases to horse racing, continued support for corporate welfare, and some kind of lower quality partisan state broadcaster taking resources away from a caucus which should be organizing a way out of debt hell.

With three years to go, the Ford government has enough time to either save itself by seriously re-prioritizing what deserves to get taxpayer’s dollars (and what doesn’t) or risk handing the province back to the opposition.

It’s a matter of pulling away from vanity projects and finally focusing on the issues that got the government elected in the first place, and better justifying the policies that do make sense so that the progressive spin is preempted, or at least receives a fair response.

What do you think will occur? Will the Ford government once again focus its messaging on vital issues that affect everyday Ontarians? Or will they continue trying to use spin and propaganda to distract Ontarians’ from the bad press coverage elsewhere?

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