Doug Ford has taken us on a wild ride this year; it’s like we’re living in Ontario’s Wonderland – only it’s not amusing. It’s the end of a long day, and we’re all feeling a little heat-stroked and dizzy.
It’s time to cool off and reset, but that needs to start in the premier’s own office.
“Luckily” Ford and the rest of his Cons have given themselves a five month summer break. That’s pretty rich coming from a government that took away people’s two paid sick days, but hopefully he’ll use this time to reflect on where he’s gone wrong. He’s got a lot to reflect on.
Yes, Ford’s nepotism-happy chief of staff was a problem. Dean French was caught red-handed doling out top government jobs as part of a friends-and-family deal. Even Ford maintains he was unaware of his buddy’s affinity for lacrosse players.
And yes, many of Ford’s cabinet ministers have come under fire for their cruel and dangerous policy decisions. Ford has no doubt used them as a political shield to protect himself from the full wrath of public opinion, but they’re not innocent in this mess either.
At the end of this long, hot day, Doug Ford is premier. He’s responsible for this mess and he’s got to clean it up.
And it’s going to take a lot more than a cabinet shuffle to fix his problems. Ford’s government has bungled everything they’ve touched – from autism funding to education and health care. His own caucus members are calling him out. Heck, even the Tory boosting Sun Media called out the circus in the premier’s office.
In a recent review of autism funding changes, Roman Baber – a member of Ford’s Conservative caucus and a Toronto area MPP – called for a full program reset, admitting that this has been the “toughest and most damaging file” of their first year in office and that the government’s messaging was “inaccurate.”
The optics aren’t good, and the polls prove it.
Ford’s ratings have reached a record low – he’s now got less than 20 per cent approval. His rapid decline is unrivaled in Ontario’s history and it’s no wonder he’s been drenched in boos. He can stack the crowd with a few thousand red meat supporters at his annual BBQ to help boost his ego, but that’s not going to salvage his reputation with the rest of us.
At this rate, it remains to be seen whether Ford can even last until the next election, or whether his disillusioned caucus will revolt against him sooner. His clapping seals have become his sacrificial lambs. But pie-faced Fedeli, MacLeod and Mulroney could be the ones to lead a rebellion in the ranks.
The rumour mill is turning. And if Ford has any hope of changing the channel, he must take responsibility for his government’s first year of failures. Getting rid of Dean French and ordering a review of all his government appointments was a start. But if Ford is serious about meaningful change, he’s going to have to listen to folks outside of his tiny bubble – folks like us.
It’s why I was glad to hear from him directly. After a year of radio silence, I received a phone call from Ford on the evening of his cabinet shuffle. Clearly, he’s worried. But during our brief chat, he expressed a willingness to meet – finally. Shortly after that, his cabinet ministers starting reaching out too.
Could the winds of change be in the air? Could Ford finally be taking a more open, adult approach to governing?
It would be nice, but I’m not holding my breath. Agreeing to meet is one thing, but it’s a far cry from the kind of reset this province needs. We’re in a battle to protect public services and workers’ rights. Already, we’re seeing employers try to stifle the bargaining process and Ford’s wage cap legislation was only introduced, not passed.
Ford still hasn’t taken responsibility for his bad budget; he’s even said that PC priorities will never change. He can blame the members of his caucus, the media or his own staffers for the dismal ratings, but he should really look at himself if he wants to clean up the mess at Queen’s Park. This isn’t a “communications problem,” it’s a leadership problem.
And if he wants the roller-coaster ride to end before it comes to a crash landing, then he’d better change his priorities pretty quickly. This is the gang that can’t shoot straight and it’s time to stop shooting from the hip and take a more reasoned approach.
It’s time to stop spinning and start listening. If not, I bet there’s a lineup of cabinet ministers dying to get into the driver’s seat.
I remain open to meeting with the Premier to share with him the frontline knowledge of our members and help guide him to make sensible decisions for our province’s future.
If we don’t see the kind of reset that Ontarians expect, we might just see a Premier Elliott or Premier Phillips before too long.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union