Andrew MacDougall, a former director of communications to Stephen Harper, is a communications consultant based in London.
If the opening days of his administration are any indication, progressives across Ontario are struggling with the reality of Premier Doug Ford.
Lulled by 15 years of like-minded government, progressives refuse to believe the onetime hash dealer – as revealed in a 2013 Globe investigation – now has his hands on files such as sex-education, social housing for asylum seekers, and policing. Events are no longer going their way.
And when confronted with a Premier who’s begun his term with a flurry of (imperfect) action, the left’s reaction has been scathing. We’re only two weeks in and ministers are already being called “racist” and “not Canadian” by their opponents at various levels of government.
Everyone should calm down. If the frequently noxious Donald Trump has taught us anything, it’s that hysterics over absolutely everything dulls our ability to summon outrage at the truly outrageous. Starting with your megaphone dialed up to 10 makes makes your audience deaf, not better informed.
Seeing a normally respectful politician such as Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath – now upgraded to the platform of leader of the opposition – call rookie community services Minister Michael Tibollo “inexcusably racist” for how he spoke about wearing a bulletproof vest on a police ride-along is a troubling portend of what is to come. There are undoubtedly legitimate points to make in opposition to the Ford government’s tone and approach to policing and crime, but calling someone a “racist” isn’t the way to start a productive debate.
Ms. Horwath further discredited herself this week by calling Gordon Campbell, tapped to head up Premier Ford’s inquiry into past Liberal spending, a “disgraced” former politician. Mr. Campbell certainly erred once in his personal life, but he is also the former three-term Mayor of Vancouver, three-term Premier of British Columbia and long-serving High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and is worthy of both the task and Ontarians’ respect. Ms. Horwath can do better.
First and foremost, opposition politicians need to stop performing for their bases and begin the challenging task of reaching out to Ford’s supporters. This is both the path to a more civilized discourse, as well as the eventual route back to power.
This isn’t to suggest the opposition remain quiet or docile. Far from it.
Ontario’s system of government requires a strong opposition, especially in holding a majority to account. But a sober critique can land as effectively as a headline-searching cheap shot. Mr. Ford’s support isn’t a monolith; it can be picked off if done reasonably. If he bungles government, people will notice.
And the opposition’s lessons apply equally to the media.
So much of today’s surging populism is fuelled by the sense the arbiters of a society’s discourse – including the press and the politicians they hold to account – are happy to ignore their views. And right now a lot of people are worried about crime and border security. Mr. Ford understands that. Their fears might not necessarily be backed up by statistics, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. Here, the sneering tone of journalism on platforms such as Twitter does the profession no favours.
The media need to remain clear-eyed in their work, even if the Premier isn’t their cup of tea. It was a mistake to equate Ford Nation with Mr. Trump and his “deplorables” during the campaign, and it remains a mistake now that Mr. Ford is in government. One thing is certain: The “fake news” drumbeat, still quiet in Canada, will surely grow louder with every unforced reporting error and torqued editorial position.
Premier Ford might not like the press (what politician does), but he isn’t in the class of Mr. Trump. For the moment Mr. Ford is busy running his government, not running against the media. That Mr. Ford doesn’t court or flatter the press shouldn’t count against him, even if it does ultimately make his job more difficult.
For his part, the Premier would do well to keep his ears open to legitimate criticism. Yes, "the People” have spoken and, yes, there are still many promises to keep, but there is also wisdom to be found on all sides. Lashing out at critics isn’t a plan; Mr. Ford must keep his famous temper in check if he is to keep “the People” on his side.
Governing is a marathon, not a race. Mr. Ford won’t secure his re-election in a single day, nor will he be defeated in one. Keeping the hysteria to a minimum gives voters the best chance to make a reasoned decision the next time around.