Bob Hepburn: Doug Ford's subtle appeals to bigots
It should have been an easy sentence for Doug Ford to include in the first Speech from the Throne under his term as Ontario premier:
“I begin by acknowledging that we are gathered on the traditional territory of many Indigenous peoples, whose history on this land dates back millennia.” That sentence was used by Kathleen Wynne in her government’s first throne speech, but Ford could have easily modified it for his own use.
It also should have been a no-brainer to include a sentence or two in French, or even a “Merci” at the end of the throne speech, read last week in the legislature by Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell and boldly titled “A Government for the People.”
Easy for some maybe, but clearly not for Ford.
Despite all the talk in the speech about being “a government for the people” and his passing mention about moving “past the politics of division,” Ford is continuing his thinly disguised political appeals to bigots and the most extreme elements within his Ford Nation base.
Indeed, Ford blatantly snubbed Indigenous Ontarians and Franco-Ontarians by making zero mention of them in the speech. And his recent dealings with gays, immigrants, refugees and Blacks raised similar concerns about his true attitude toward diversity and inclusiveness in this province.
Importantly, Ford is calling on Ontarians to come together, but in fact actions show no effort to do just that.
Instead, they are driving us apart, very much like the divisive politics and practices of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Is Ford xenophobic, fearful of strangers and foreigners? Is he anti-French? Is he homophobic? Is he anti-immigrant and anti-refugee? Is he anti-Black?
While Ford may not fit any of these characterizations, nevertheless the evidence is clear that he callously courts the bigots in our midsts with his dog-whistle appeals to their prejudices toward people not like themselves.
Regarding Indigenous Ontarians, Ford didn’t say a word in the throne speech about them or about issues they face. That was in sharp contrast to recent throne speeches under former Liberal premiers Kathleen Wynne and Dalton McGuinty. Ford also eliminated Indigenous Affairs as a separate cabinet portfolio, folding it into the minister of energy and northern affairs.
Regarding French, Ford refused to include any French in the throne speech. How come? It would have been a simple matter of courtesy and recognition for the approximately 550,000 Ontarians who identify French as their mother language.
Regarding immigrants, Ford shocked many during the campaign when speaking about immigration when he said Ontario “needs to take care of its own” first. Shades of Donald Trump in that statement.
Regarding refugees, Ford has openly demonized recent asylum-seekers, describing them in fear-mongering language as “illegal border crossers.” In fact, asylum-seekers are not “illegal” at all. They have a legal right to seek asylum and Ottawa has the legal power to reject their asylum application.
Regarding gays, Ford once again this year deliberately refused to walk in Toronto’s Pride parade and other activities. He claimed he would march only if police were allowed to march. But he’s never participated in the parade, describing it in 2014 as filled with “middle-aged men, with pot bellies, running down the street buck naked.”
Regarding Blacks, Ford deliberately disrespected that community when he chose to attend a rally in Sudbury during the election instead of a major leaders’ debate in Toronto put on by a coalition of Black organizations. Incredulously, Ford insisted later that other than his brother, the late Toronto mayor Rob Ford, no other politician in Canada “has supported the Black community more than I have.”
In addition, Ford’s cabinet includes 13 white males, seven white women and only one visible minority, Raymond Cho, who holds the minor post of minister of seniors and accessibility. There are no Blacks, no Sikhs, no South Asians.
While many of his supporters may want to go back to “the good old days” before Ontario became a modern, progressive multicultural province, it’s now Ford’s job as premier to lead and bring people together in a dignified manner.
To do so, he should pay heed to his own throne speech, which says “we must look beyond our differences — in race, region, language, gender, religion, lifestyle, sexual orientation.”
For starters, he should try saying: “Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.”
Bob Hepburn is a politics columnist and based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @BobHepburn