Doug Ford’s government is a axe-wielding agent of chaos

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TheStar.com – Opinion
May 7, 2019.   By

On Friday morning, Mayor John Tory was on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning to discuss the latest provincial funding cut for the city of Toronto. This time, it was a reduction in childcare funding that the city manager estimates could cost the city $84.8 million, and jeopardize more than 6,100 subsidized spaces.

The province’s approach to Toronto has become “uneven, unpredictable and volatile,” said the mayor.

It was blunt talk from a leader who has sometimes been criticized for being too diplomatic in his attempts to preserve good relations with those legally enabled to carve the government he leads into whatever shape they please. But it also encapsulated one of the more alarming things that’s become apparent about this provincial government in the months since it took office, more so in the weeks since it launched its first budget: Doug Ford’s government is a axe-wielding agent of chaos, moving fast and breaking things, without any plans that aren’t apparently made up on the fly.

Here was city manager Chris Murray, in the letter to councillors about the cuts to child care: “ … the city was not consulted or provided with any advance warning about these changes.”

Sound familiar? The first clause of that sentence read, “As with recent changes to the provincial/municipal cost-sharing arrangements for public health …” referencing another set of cuts that arrived as a surprise and occupied the city’s attention these past couple of weeks. But it could have said, “As with the sudden cutting of the size of city council in half in the middle of an election campaign…,” or, “As with the changes to the city’s transit plan using new routes and new technology…,” or, “As with the decision to shortchange the city for hundreds of millions of dollars in gas tax revenue Premier Ford had directly promised to deliver …”

In each case — and in others affecting those across the province using library services, caring for children with autism, or attending and working for the school system, to cite just a few more examples — the people directly affected by these multimillion-dollar decisions were taken by surprise by the drastic, immediate changes to the services they rely on or deliver. No notice, no advance consultation or negotiation, and apparently very little consideration of any effect beyond the one on the bottom line.

Which sort of puts the lie to the Ford government’s constant refrain that all these changes are something other than budget cuts — or more than just that, anyway. That the dishonesty is so transparent doesn’t slow down the Conservative government’s dissembling one bit. “In an attempt to protect childcare funding for future generations, our government is looking at ways to better deliver services and reduce administrative costs,” Education Minister Lisa Thompson’s office said. What a load of hooey — and exactly the same hooey we heard about autism programs, education, the city council cuts, public health.

Gutting these programs suddenly and unexpectedly is about “better” services? How do you figure that? Well, Thompson’s office says, “we are challenging municipalities to reduce their administrative spending …”

See, that’s not how you improve things. Throwing an organization, a government and people’s lives into turmoil by eliminating the resources they’ve depended on is a singularly ineffective way to help them do better. If you were serious about preserving or enhancing services while also making administration more effective and cost-efficient, what you might do is sit down with the people doing the work and figure out a plan with them to do things more effectively. And if you succeeded, you’d see better services materialize and costs lowered, and you could announce the proven savings in your next budget.

Like, you have to teach kids to swim — slowly, methodically, in the shallow end — before you can claim to have helped them avoid drowning. You don’t just throw them off the boat in the middle of the ocean and then say, “In an attempt to save lives, we are challenging these children to better float and propel themselves in aquatic settings using fewer of our boating resources.”

Worse yet, it doesn’t appear the provincial government even knows what it is doing. In virtually all the cases I’ve mentioned, and more, the bloviating about how this is not actually a cut but an enhancement is accompanied by little to no detail about what the plan actually is, and how it will be implemented. Ministers and their staff are quick to shout “liar, liar, pants on fire” at their critics, but slow to provide any evidence to back an alternate interpretation.

And then, as we saw with changes to autism funding or education, the scramble to consult after the fact, or to add millions in funding to stop the adverse effects their critics correctly pinpointed but the government apparently didn’t foresee, and promises to fix the things they so rashly broke. This doesn’t appear to be a government making tough but worthwhile changes. It appears to be a government gleefully wielding a wrecking ball without first checking which buildings are in its path.

That’s a problem for all of us who have kids in provincially funded schools, or who rely on the provincial health care system, or who live in municipalities. Which is to say, it’s a problem for all of us. It’s one thing to be governed by skinflints who see the cost of everything and the value of nothing. It’s even worse to be governed by trigger-happy hotheads whose order of operations is “ready, fire, aim.”

There’s an old army saying called the seven Ps: “Proper prior preparation prevents piss poor performance.” The uneven, unpredictable, volatile Ford government seems to live proudly by the opposite of that advice, and now we’re all getting a hard lesson in just how poorly that works out.

Edward Keenan is a columnist based in Toronto covering urban affairs.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/star-columnists/2019/05/03/doug-fords-government-is-a-axe-wielding-agent-of-chaos.html

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