The Ford government continues its assault on independent thought
For a decade, the Mowat Centre has put Ontario’s perspective front and centre while advancing the national debate on important issues from equalization to economic development to immigration. But no more.
It’s being forced to close shop after the Ford government’s surprise decision to strip provincial funding from think tanks.
On its own, perhaps this would merely be a disappointing loss of one voice standing up for Ontario’s interests.
But it’s not an isolated move. It’s the latest step in the Ford government’s frontal assault on independent thought.
Premier Doug Ford and his advisers have taken unprecedented steps to silence independent, objective, evidence-based voices, while at the same time appointing a host of highly paid cronies.
Last November, the government slashed the number of independent legislative officers by a third in its fall economic update. It simply tossed the standalone watchdogs for children, francophone services and the environment out the window.
This is also the government that cancelled the basic income pilot project it could determine if providing people living in poverty with a little more money upfront would lead to better outcomes for them — and prove to be more economical for taxpayers than the way we provide social assistance now.
The Ford government already had its view — “not sustainable” — and didn’t want to risk the possibility that the research would show something else. Maybe the government is right, and maybe it’s wrong. But now we’ll never know.
While the government is keen to claim that the provincial deficit simply doesn’t allow for all this spending on good research and independent thinking, it has no problem stretching the budget to cover the appointment of people who are almost certain to tell the premier what he wants to hear.
There’s Dr. Rueben Devlin, Ford’s handpicked special adviser on ending hallway medicine; Ian Todd, Ford’s former campaign tour director, appointed as Ontario’s special adviser and trade representative in Washington; and Ken Hughes, Ford’s special adviser on getting beer and wine into corner stores.
Their salaries alone pretty much cover the $1 million funding cut the government delivered to the Mowat Centre.
And how likely are any of those people to publicly raise something that could be in Ontario’s interest if it goes against Ford’s wishes?
Confident leaders don’t want an echo chamber. They welcome open and robust debate that helps to ensure the decisions they make are the best ones.
The Mowat Centre was a creation of the previous Liberal government, yes, but it’s producing research and analysis that’s more vital than ever on how national and global forces are affecting Ontario.
Indeed the Ford government relied on a Mowat report in preparing the section of last month’s provincial budget on regional economic development.
At the same time, the Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity, launched by former Tory premier Mike Harris nearly two decades ago, is also closing because of provincial cuts.
This all adds up to a government that doesn’t want to know anything more than what fits on a sticker and is afraid to be challenged.
But we all benefit from the work of think tanks, like the Mowat Centre, that constantly research, question, analyze and advance ideas on how to improve the lives of Canadians and strengthen Ontario’s position within Canada.
The more voices fighting for Ontario the better.
A premier should be able to see that.