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Monday, June 1, 2020
Connecting Our Communities

It may be populist, but latest Ford move is petty, recalling another politician

Doug Ford is right about one thing: nobody is going to shed tears over the prospect of fewer politicians.

There are plenty of other reasons to question the new premier’s decision to slash the number of seats on Toronto council – to 25 from a planned 47 – and shelve elections for regional chairs in  Peel, York, Niagara and Muskoka. Not surprisingly, those most aggrieved are those who stand to lose their place on the proverbial gravy train then-councillor Ford and his brother Rob vowed to derail at city hall.

Though he never campaigned on municipal-government tampering – he defends that with the catchall call for reduced government spending and waste – Ford is all about moving quickly on his agenda, as we’ve seen with a string of cuts and changes to the policies implemented by the Liberals.

“No one has ever said to me: ‘Doug, we need more politicians,’” Ford told reporters following last Friday’s pronouncement. “In fact, it’s the opposite. People tell me that we have too many politicians making it harder to get things done, making it harder to get things built, making it harder to deal with the real problems we face.”

It’s just purely coincidental that last week’s municipal governance decree is a middle-finger salute to Ford’s former GTA colleagues. Likewise that it kiboshes the Peel regional chair aspirations of Patrick Brown, railroaded from the Progressive Conservative leadership on spurious grounds and later replaced by one Doug Ford. Oh, and former Liberal cabinet minister Steven Del Duca over in York Region.

Sure, Ford knows firsthand just how dysfunctional Toronto council is – he certainly wasn’t one to play well with others – but the atrophy and infighting long preceded his one-term stint from 2010-2014. As many have noted, many successive councils have failed to tackle the city’s biggest problems – gridlock, transit, housing, demographics – while endlessly tinkering with nanny-state rules, political correctness and petty turf wars.

He railed against the city hall culture while on council, but even with his brother in the mayor’s seat, was unable to do much about it. Now, as premier, he has that power – municipalities are creatures of the province, as Ontarians saw under the previous Conservative government that forced amalgamation on communities, including Toronto, ironically.

With his hands on the levers of control, Ford has made a reasoned, well-researched decision following extensive consultations. Or, he’s opted for a little payback. You be the judge.

Ford’s on-the-money comments about public regard for more politicians and bureaucrats aside, this move does add fuel to the comparisons between the premier and a certain U.S. president. It is just the kind of “strongman” move – anti-democratic vengeance on ones perceive foes – that resonates well with Trump, not to mention his favourite Russian counterpart.

Comparisons to one Donald J. Trump are their own meme these days, but there are similarities, from being born on third base and inheriting daddy’s money to the crude, everyman persona. As with Trump, Ford also courted religious and social conservative groups, though without the dog-whistle issues much more prevalent in the U.S.

While some of the comparisons between the two leaders are a stretch, there’s no denying that both are long on bombast and short on facts, substance and well-reasoned positions. Each is a polarizing figure that invites personal invective from citizens and an extra helping of media scrutiny.

The act-first, think-later (if at all) approach is going to chafe under Ford as it does with Trump, albeit on a smaller scale. In both cases, supporters will see their champion as decisive, bold and unafraid to tweak the noses of the entitled.

Ford, like his brother Rob and like Trump, speaks his mind, often planting his foot firmly into his mouth. Political correctness is not part of these men’s makeup. Like U.S. president, Ford is  the anti-politician: not polished, not sanitized, not removed from the people. He represented a threat to the elites and the status quo. Unlike many other politicians, he doesn’t outwardly hold the average citizen – the one ravaged by taxes and poor governance, along with a failing economic model – in contempt. Rather, he embraces a disillusioned segment of the population. And supporters love him for it.

The rise of both Ford(s) and Trump is the logical extension of anti-intellectualism, coupled with a new variant of anti-elitism that focuses not on just liberal elites – the proponents of the welfare state and big government – but the moneyed class intent on raping the public and the environment, aided by their puppets in government. For years, populists were of the Ronald Reagan sort: Kool-Aid drinkers when it came to harmful neo-liberal/neo-conservative ideology and fond of spouting the right kind of meaningless platitudes. With the likes and Ford and Trump, the populists went off track, which is why elite opposition is so strong.

The establishment types who have always given little notice to the plight of underclass and even the embattled middle classes missed the growing anger, unaware of the backlash that has manifested itself in authoritarian/right wing populist movements in the West.

Ford (and Trump) represent a potential sea change – the rejection of mainstream politics. He has his warts and foibles, much like his late brother. Neither presented as a scripted politician, speaking in banalities and platitudes, all the while lying about his intentions and allegiances (hint, not to the public good). Of course, sometimes a bull in the china shop just leaves a large mess for others (i.e. the bulk of the benighted populace) to clean up.

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