Martin Regg Cohn: Doug Ford savours his summer of love
Doug Ford surely knows that in politics as in matrimony, you only get one summer of love. There are no second honeymoons, no second acts, no second chances.
Not a minute to lose in launching the “shock and awe” approach to his opening season — by declaring open season on everything that went before him.
While he still can. Before buyer’s remorse and voter’s regret sets in.
From his swank new perch in the premier’s office, Ford can feel the love today as strongly as he did on election day. As if it were yesterday.
After sweeping to power, Ford quickly summoned MPPs for a rare summer sitting by Ontario’s first self-declared “Government for the People.” Now, six weeks later — after countless public boasts of “Promise made, promise kept” — the legislature is taking a delayed summer break from the first wave of shock and awe. And awe and shock.
What has Ford wrought?
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Pennies off your gas, pennies off your hydro, pennies off your beer, and a penny for your thoughts about sex-education.
Save your pennies, because they come at a cost:
- Billions of dollars wiped off the stock market value of provincially held Hydro One, after the premier pressured the board of directors to dump its highly rated (but highly paid) CEO Mayo Schmidt, dubbed the “Six Million Dollar Man,” reducing electricity bills by a couple of pennies a month.
- The fight against global warming is in the deep freeze after the Tories declared an end to carbon pricing in any form. It pulled out of the cap-and-trade system pioneered by right-leaning governments in Quebec and California, then promised a pointless court battle against the default federal carbon tax imposed on provinces that evade their responsibilities (Manitoba’s PC government concluded there is no legal case). Short-term cash savings for long term climate fallout?
- Buck-a-beer is coming — in theory for the thirsty, even if bucking reality. The old minimum pricing scheme designed to deter overconsumption may seem like outdated social engineering, but that decade-old price point is even more outdated. Most brewers, especially quality craft brewers, aren’t biting — leaving Ford in the absurd position of bribing them with LCBO incentives that come at a cost. Drinkers might save a few pennies, while brewers profit from incentives at the expense of general revenues. Not so sweet a deal.
- The LCBO’s dollar-a-year chair, former TD Bank chief Ed Clark — who advised the last Liberal government on how to break up the Beer Store’s stranglehold — is now out. His strategy of maximizing government revenues with limited beer and wine licences for supermarkets, and LCBO-style retail outlets for cannabis, have been repudiated by Ford as he shifts to more private sector distribution. While forcing out the so-called Six Million Dollar Man at Hydro One, he has lost out on the dollar-a-year man at the LCBO.
- Ford’s government has banned any new emergency overdose-prevention sites as he demands more evidence they work. Is he truly oblivious to data showing lives have been saved in Toronto amid an opioid epidemic that has killed thousands across the province in recent years? Ford stoutly refuses to call opioid addiction a “crisis,” while earnestly promising to “do everything in our power to get people off drugs.” At a Wednesday news conference, he still wouldn’t commit to following expert advice on the issue.
Promise not made.
- Without warning, the government halved scheduled increases in welfare rates, dialed down planned hikes in mental health spending, and meddled in Toronto’s October municipal vote by redrawing the electoral map in midcampaign. Ignoring an explicit campaign pledge, it abruptly cancelled a pilot income program for the poor.
Promise made, promise broken. Or perhaps Ford’s “government for the people” just isn’t for poor people?
Cheap beer, widespread weed, drug overdose sites frozen, and a sex education curriculum suspended until further notice, creating chaos among school boards as teachers rebel against reverting to a 1998 version. What could go wrong?
Perhaps consultations only count if they help counter something Ford wants stopped, like sex-ed updates. But when challenged to hold a referendum on his municipal meddling, Ford ducked.
Don’t blame the premier. More people voted PC than for any other party, so under our system Ford claims a mandate from the people.
As premier, he is merely giving voters what they asked for, and signed up for — even if not quite what they bargained on in that first summer of love.
Martin Regg Cohn is a columnist based in Toronto covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @reggcohn