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opinion

Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism, Michael Ford stands with Premier Doug Ford as Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell looks on, at the swearing-in ceremony at Queen’s Park in Toronto on June 24.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Last week, Doug Ford appointed his nephew to cabinet.

I’ll repeat that: Last week, the Premier of Ontario made his sister’s son a member of the governing council of Canada’s most populous province.

Mr. Ford and his nephew, Michael Ford, insist there is nothing untoward in this. No, no, no. All perfectly fine. Though Michael has just been elected to the legislature for the first time, at the ripe age of 28, he is eminently qualified to sit at the cabinet table with his uncle and all the others. After all, he was a Toronto city councillor and a school trustee before that.

“I think he’ll do an extremely good job,” the Premier said.

Asked by reporters if this might just possibly be a case of nepotism, Michael himself said: “I completely dismiss that.” His experience representing one of the most diverse communities in one of the world’s most diverse cities made him well equipped to serve as Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism. Family ties had nothing to do with it.

This is a whopper of gargantuan proportions, designed to be so big and so bold that it will blind the audience to its essential untruth. Michael Ford owes this appointment – no, his whole political career – entirely to his family connection. He would not be in cabinet if he were a Young or a Romano. In fact, he would never have been elected to any position at all without the Ford name.

Michael is fortunate enough to be a member of Ontario’s best known political dynasty. He followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, Doug Sr., who was a Progressive Conservative MPP in the 1990s; his uncle, Rob, Toronto’s most notorious mayor; and another uncle, Doug, who was a city councillor and a candidate for mayor himself before becoming leader of the PCs.

The Fords’ home turf in North Etobicoke, a suburb in Toronto’s northwest corner, is the closest thing to a family fief in Canadian politics. A Labrador retriever named Ford could get elected there.

Rob first won the municipal seat in 2000. Doug slid in to replace him when Rob ran successfully for mayor in 2010. Rob claimed the seat back in 2014 after getting cancer and ending his bid to be re-elected as mayor. When Rob died in 2016, Michael duly took over, the family’s young prince. Now that the dynasty has moved to the provincial realm, the prince will take his rightful place in the king’s ruling circle.

Michael is the son of Kathy Ford, who is sister to Doug, Rob and another brother, Randy. He had a troubled upbringing. His mother struggled with drug addiction. His father was jailed for a fatal shooting, and again for a vicious stabbing. Eager to move on, Michael dropped his father’s surname and took his mother’s. By all accounts, he is an earnest, decent young man who works hard at his job.

But let’s not allow that to obscure what has happened here. It is one thing for someone to follow a father, mother or uncle into politics. It happens quite a lot. It is another for the uncle to appoint the nephew to high office. That is virtually unheard of. Steve Paikin, the TVO broadcaster and student of Ontario political history, wrote that he could not think of another time when an Ontario premier put a family member in cabinet.

There is a good reason for that, and it’s pretty basic: Premiers should not play favourites. Handing out plums to family and friends makes it look as if the game is fixed. It coarsens politics and erodes faith in government.

If anyone should know that, it’s this Premier. He and his brother, Rob, made “stop the gravy train” their slogan at city hall. Their whole brand was clean, lean government, freed from the clammy grip of self-serving insiders. Now he acts as if appointing his own nephew to head a ministry in the government he leads is perfectly natural and inoffensive. It’s not. Quite the opposite.

If he can’t see that, he has lost track of what the Fords claimed was their main reason for getting into politics in the first place.