Now that the Progressive Conservatives are again in charge of the province of Ontario, it’s back to work on fundamental conservative initiatives: appointing relatives to cabinet and giving themselves pay bumps.
Indeed, there’s no room here for Liberal nonsense such as “gender parity” in cabinet; this is a meritocracy, where only the most deserving individuals – that is, those who won the sperm race in the right families – are rewarded for their zygote-era hard work with plum cabinet postings in the government representing the most populous province in Canada.
The victor in this case is Michael Ford, the 28-year-old first-time MPP and nephew to Premier Doug Ford, who brings his rich experience in being a member of the Ford family to his role as Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism. The Premier no doubt carefully surveyed the impressive and lengthy resumes of his 82 MPPs and came to the conclusion that no individual was more qualified than his sister’s son.
As a consolation prize to those who did not make Mr. Ford’s 30-person cabinet, the Premier increased his government’s pool of parliamentary assistants – from 25 in his last government to 43 now – each of whom will receive an extra $16,600 on top of their annual salaries. And though the optics perhaps aren’t great – especially from the perspective of public sector staff such as hospital workers, who have been subject to a 1-per-cent cap on salary increases – the more salient factor is that the opposition parties are currently leaderless and astray, so the Ford government might as well do what it wants. The post-election landslide-victory afterglow is still strong, after all.
If this all has a bit of a familiar air, it’s because it’s reminiscent of the early days of the first Ford government, elected in 2018. During the initial couple years of his tenure, Mr. Ford seemed to act with impunity on matters both personal (such as slashing the size of Toronto City Council, fulfilling a promise from his brother Rob’s days as mayor of the city) and political (insisting that gas stations post stickers at the pump advertising the federal cost of the carbon tax, which an Ontario court later struck down as unconstitutional). He promised government cost-savings would come only in the form of magically discovered spending “efficiencies,” and then proceeded to cut paid sick days and legal aid, while expanding the size of classrooms. In those first years, Mr. Ford appeared to have little regard for the effect these decisions would have on his personal popularity.
There were also then, as there seem to be now, important jobs reserved for Ford friends and their connections. Two people with close ties to then chief-of-staff Dean French, for example, were appointed as the new agents-general to New York and London, though their positions were later rescinded when the stink of the cronyism scandal rankled the PC caucus.
The job of commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police was also handed to Ford family friend Ron Taverner. His qualifications initially precluded him from the appointment, but two days after the position was posted, the job qualifications for the role were lowered, which made Supt. Taverner suddenly eligible. As the same stink of cronyism started wafting again, the province’s Integrity Commissioner began looking into whether there was political interference in the selection. Supt. Taverner eventually withdrew his bid for the job just a few weeks before the investigation was complete.
These were just some of the more colourful aspects of the early Ford years as premier, which were eventually obscured by his hard turn toward the conciliatory and almost desperate appeal to be liked. The Doug Ford running for re-election was your best friend with the malleable spinal column, who sent you your license-plate rebate cheque in the mail and promised to make things better for your family. The impunity of his early years was gone; the humbling effect of a global pandemic and the loom of a provincial election will do that.
But Mr. Ford now has four years before he has to again make the case for his job, plus an even stronger majority mandate (by seat count, if not by raw vote count) and only leaderless parties to attempt to hold him to account. So if ever there was a time we might expect the Premier to indulge his more brazen impulses – to promote his family members, to send cash prizes to more of his colleagues, and perhaps to wantonly renege on his many campaign promises – it’s now. In that way, the Doug Ford of 2022 is already looking an awfully lot like the guy from 2018.
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