Doug Ford turns Conservatives to the hard right

TheStar.com – Opinion/Columnists
Oct. 3, 2018.   By

Ontario Premier Doug Ford loves to brag about how his government is totally focused on acting “For the People.”

But the truth is, Ford isn’t as popular as he’d like “the people” to believe. In fact, since Ford became the Conservative leader, the party has actually lost ground with “the people” — and continues to do so.

All of which raises serious questions about why Ford is planning to take the Conservatives on a hard-right turn that may play well to his hard-core base, but gain few if any new supporters.

We’ve already seen the first stages of Ford’s agenda, with his moves to slash the size of Toronto City Council, cancel the basic income test program, axe the scheduled move to a $15-an-hour minimum wage and scrap Ontario’s participation in the federal carbon pricing program.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Indeed, Queen’s Park insiders believe Ford is planning even more dramatic changes before the end of 2018. It’s as if Ford has taken the advice of former premier Mike Harris who once said if he had to do it all over again he’d cut deeper and faster.

Ford’s plans worry some Tories. “Our party has been taken over by the hard right,” a leading Conservative with deep ties to Queen’s Park said this week. “It’s not the best way to run a government and it’s not the best way to win the support of voters in this province.

Significantly, since he became leader, Ford has actually cost the Conservatives voter support, rather than attracting more people to the party.

When Patrick Brown stepped down suddenly as leader in late January, polls showed the Tories backed by 43 per cent of voters. For much of Brown’s last year as leader, the party had a 20 percentage point lead over its nearest party rival.

As leader, Brown worked to make the party more mainstream, leading the Conservatives to support the federal climate change program, accepting same-sex rights and reducing Islamophobia within the party.

In mid-February, when the Tories had no permanent leader, they were supported by 49 per cent of voters, according to a Forum Research poll. On election day, the Ford-led Tories captured 40.5 per cent of the votes, winning enough seats to form a solid major government.

Today, three months later, Ford’s approval rating is already down to 37 per cent, according to a DART Insight survey. That surely makes Ford one of the few political leaders never to experience a traditional “honeymoon period” when their popularity rises in the months immediately after an election.

That decline doesn’t seem to distract Ford, who is preparing to take Ontario on an even harder turn to the right than it has seen already.

Everyone on Ford’s team, according to the insiders, agrees the size of government must be cut and front-line delivery of services is best left to private and non-profit sector.

In the coming weeks, Ford is expected to make major changes in social support programs, and slash the senior bureaucratic ranks in the health and education ministries. Some fear the education cuts may be so deep that they spark teacher strikes in early 2019.

Fire sales may be held for the LCBO, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and Ontario Power Generation. Also on the possible chopping block are eHealth and dozens of agencies, boards and commissions. Agencies such as Cancer Care Ontario could well see funding cuts of up to 40 per cent.

This, in addition to Ford’s announcement this week that he is “getting rid” of the Wynne government’s labour reforms that increased sick day benefits, paid vacation entitlements and protection for temp. agency workers.

Such moves win huge praise from business groups, Ford Nation loyalists and right-wing think tanks that despise all tax hikes and almost any social welfare policy promoted by the Liberals or NDP.

In making these moves, Ford will repeatedly tell Ontarians that they are “For the People.”

The real issue, however, is which “people” will be the winners and which “people” will ultimately be the losers in Ford’s hard-right world.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/star-columnists/2018/10/03/doug-ford-turns-conservatives-to-the-hard-right.html

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