Premier Doug Ford's message to Canadian rivals is clear: You can't stop us

Premier Doug Ford at Troy’s Diner in Milton announces the elimination of the carbon tax on Aug. 29, 2018. (Photo from Toronto Star/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

In the three months since Doug Ford was sworn in as Premier of Ontario, his government’s most significant action so far may have been to send a message to anyone planning to resist its mandates, says one political analyst.

When Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba rejected Ford’s plan to cut Toronto’s city council down to 25 members as unconstitutional, Ford controversially suggested invoking the notwithstanding clause to force the cut through.

Politicians, lawmakers — including the architects of the notwithstanding clause — and human rights activists from Canada and abroad condemned the move, but it worked, and Ford got his way. When Torontonians vote in the city’s municipal election on Oct. 22, they’ll vote for 25 city councillors instead of 47.

The Tories argue the change will save the city and taxpayers $25 million, but in fighting to the bitter end to pass his Better Local Government Act, political analyst and columnist Jim Warren says Ford’s real accomplishment has been to issue a challenge to his future opponents: try me.

“Anyone who sees what he did with the city of Toronto realizes…he’s willing to go to all degrees necessary to get his way,” Warren said. “The city of Toronto fight was a canary in a coal mine for the people who are going to go up against him in the next few years.”

Warren doesn’t deny that the Ford government has ushered in a lot of change during its first three months in power.

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The Tories have cancelled Ontario’s basic income pilot, reintroduced buck-a-beer, scrapped cap and trade, placed new vaccine reporting requirements on hold, repealed the updated sex-ed curriculum in favour of the 1998 curriculum, fired Ontario’s first ever chief science officer, forced out Hydro One’s CEO and board of directors, cancelled writing sessions to revise Indigenous curriculum, cancelled the Green Ontario Fund, pledged $25 million over four years to the Toronto Police Service for fighting Guns and Gangs and scaled back OHIP+ coverage.

“Anyone who sees what he did with the city of Toronto realizes…he’s willing to go to all degrees necessary to get his way.”

– Jim Warren, political analyst

“The way that he’s implemented his agenda he’s moved really swiftly and it’s been impressive,” Warren said. But while these changes will reverberate across Ontario for years to come, Warren said they’re not the kinds of issues Ford can expect to be re-elected on. The deal makers and breakers are education and healthcare.

“The challenge is the provincial government’s biggest expenditures are healthcare and education,” Warren said. “If you want to spend less money you have to spend less on the people you spend it on, or you have to have fewer people to spend it on.”

On Sept. 25, Ontario Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy released findings by Ernst and Young on the state of the province’s finances. The report concludes that the government has overspent over the past 15 years, but that much of that spending has been on services like healthcare, education and economic development. 

Ford has yet to table any major cost-cutting healthcare or education bills, but when he does, he will have already shown all his cards — by way of his earliest austerity measures — to the teachers and healthcare professionals who might oppose him. And that, Warren said, could work for or against him.

“He set an example with city council that teachers and healthcare workers should pay attention to,” Warren said. “And that could go well or poorly for him; make them give up quickly or make it a longer, more prolonged fight.”

Is this all for ‘Ford Nation’?

Don Guy, owner and chief strategy officer for Pollara Strategic Insights, takes a different view of the long list of Ford government announcements from the past three months. Guy sees the early firings, pledges, cuts and cancellations less as a battle cry, and more as an attempt to appease Ford Nation out of the gate.

“I think moving on [Toronto city council] and the fight there has probably played well with Ford Nation, though maybe not as well with swaying progressive voters,” he said.

Guy pointed out that Ford appears to have crossed some of the easiest items off of his list of campaign promises before his government released its audit of the province’s finances.

“It might be that they might want to get as much done before they get bogged down with balancing their budget,” he said.

“They’ll now start having to do the work of bringing that under control.”