Doug Ford doesn’t believe in government — and that explains a lot

Posted on January 14, 2021 in Governance Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Contributor

The “stay-at-home” order announced by Premier Doug Ford on Tuesday was much like his government’s response to COVID-19 so far: it put the onus on individuals to stop the pandemic.

Ford offered little in the way of support for people or businesses. That’s no surprise, really: it’s been clear for some time that our top elected official simply doesn’t believe in government. Not government that serves the public interest, anyway.

The premier may like governing — it’s stressful, but not without its privileges yet his entire political career has been about making government weaker. “It’s a free market society,” he likes to say, and the idea that markets always make better decisions than governments is, for him, a core belief.

The premier came of age during the days of Ronald Reagan, who famously declared that “government is the problem.” Ford is a self-described “big Republican,” and like Donald Trump, his career in business seems to have taught him that life is mostly about making deals.

Maybe that’s why the premier has been trying to bargain with the COVID-19 virus from day one. Do we really need more staff in long-term care? Do we really need to legislate paid sick days so contagious workers can stay home? Do we really need smaller class sizes so students and educators are safer?

The answer to these questions is yes, but Ford hasn’t used the full legislative and financial powers of government to fight the virus. At every turn, he’s held back, seemingly always hoping for a better, cheaper deal.

It won’t happen: the virus doesn’t bargain. It attacks, and reproduces, and attacks some more. On Tuesday, Ontario reported more than 2,900 new cases of COVID-19 and 41 deaths, and the toll for both is still climbing.

The COVID-19 virus is invisible, silent, swift, and opportunistic, and half-hearted measures won’t stop it. That’s why Ontario’s pandemic response has failed.

Doug Ford’s main defence of his government’s failures is that other provinces and countries are doing even worse. It’s true — some are — but if we live by comparing ourselves to the worst, we’ll never do better. And we can do better. Much better.

Case in point: On Tuesday, Nova Scotia reported one new case and zero new deaths from COVID-19.

Jurisdictions that have done best at fighting COVID-19 have hit it fast and early with hard lockdowns followed by strict testing, tracing, and isolation protocols, along with support for those forced to isolate. The result has been positive for both human health and economic well-being.

“Countries that imposed restrictions early and severely, keeping deaths per million low, also had a low decline in GDP,” York University’s George Fallisobserved recently. “By contrast, countries that applied restrictions haphazardly, letting deaths reach high levels while hoping to protect jobs, had among the biggest declines in GDP.”

Fighting COVID-19 is not a market transaction. It’s not about making a deal. It’s a life-and-death battle, and the way to win it is to use the power of government to mobilize the resources needed to do so.

Nowhere is Queen’s Park’s failure to do this more evident than in long-term care. The premier’s “iron ring of protection” around long-term care homes is no such thing; it’s a torn paper curtain through which the virus passes freely. After finally conceding — eight months into the pandemic — that long-term care needs more workers, the government has announced that funding to boost staffing won’t be fully rolled out until 2024-25.

That’s a long time from now.

In other areas, the government has acted without hesitation:

  • In October, it gave developers the green light to pave over important wetlands near Lake Ontario.
  • In November, it passed a bill to shield private long-term care operators from legal liability for the deaths of residents.
  • In December, the premier blasted the federal carbon tax, on the day it was announced, as “the worst thing you could ever see” — seemingly oblivious to the 45 COVID-19 deaths Ontario reported that day.

The point of governing, to Doug Ford, is to keep government small, weak, and out of the way of private profit-making.

It’s no way to fight a virus. If you don’t believe in government, you won’t beat COVID-19.

Randy Robinson is the Ontario director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

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