For all of Doug Ford’s political career, the Toronto businessman has spouted simplistic slogans, personally attacked those he disagrees with, and played loose with the facts.
Still, after a relatively civil Progressive Conservative leadership contest, there was reason to hope that becoming Ontario’s premier-in-waiting would mellow Mr. Ford and instill in him a sense of seriousness. After all, he stands to govern a province that is home to more than a third of Canada’s population, and to manage a budget of nearly $150-billion.
On the evidence of his first week as PC leader, that hope is misplaced. Instead of adapting to his new role, Mr. Ford has been his blustering, aggressive, ill-informed self. That should be troubling for voters seeking credible alternatives to Kathleen Wynne’s unpopular Liberal government.
Exhibit A was a radio interview with the CBC he gave on Tuesday. Some of his fans have already pronounced it a brilliant success, because they like that Mr. Ford takes the gloves off with reporters. But from where we sit, it exhibited many of Mr. Ford’s worst tendencies.
Take his approach with the interviewer. She asked Mr. Ford straightforward questions about his plans for running the province. Instead of providing details, Mr. Ford tried to focus attention on his questioner, asking her how she would cut spending and then pronouncing her “unable” to answer. He also nonsensically boasted of having knocked on thousands more doors than her.
This is a common tactic of populists and no doubt played well with Mr. Ford’s base. It’s also ridiculous and beneath a serious politician. Mr. Ford is the one running for office. He shouldn’t taunt journalists because they ask questions that make him uncomfortable. It’s just a form of passing the buck.
Then again, you can see why he wanted nothing to do with the buck. The most unsettling aspect of the interview was his refusal to provide details about how he would govern.
Asked about his pledge to balance the budget without cutting any public-service jobs, Mr. Ford vowed to find unnamed “efficiencies,” said it would be “simple” to do, and repeated his empty slogan, “Just watch me.”
Pressed to give examples of where he would find billions in efficiencies, Mr. Ford offered foolscap paper and pencils. Yes, his point was that a PC government would look for savings everywhere, not that he would literally save billions on stationery. But the fact remains that Mr. Ford has refused to say where he will find the “efficiencies” that necessarily make up a key part of his balanced-budget promise.
Likewise, he could not say what part of Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum he disagrees with, other than dismissing it as “Liberal ideology” and promising to repeal it. Given how complex this issue is, he needs to be more specific.
In the rare moments when Mr. Ford sounded authoritative on a subject, he was often simply wrong. He said 60,000 people have been laid off in Ontario since the increase in the province’s minimum wage that took effect on Jan. 1 – a claim for which there is no evidence.
The Bank of Canada estimated in January that there could be 60,000 fewer jobs across the entire country as a result of minimum-wage increases in various provinces – by 2019.
Meanwhile, Ontario lost 51,000 jobs in January, but analysts don’t believe the minimum wage was responsible. Many of the jobs were in high-paying sectors, while the biggest minimum-wage sector, accommodation and food services, actually created jobs.
When at a loss in the interview, Mr. Ford pleaded the briefness of his tenure as leader. That won’t wash. It’s been more than a month since he announced his candidacy, and presumably longer since he started following provincial politics. Yet Mr. Ford has displayed little in the way of in-depth knowledge of the issues.
The PC leader has since promised a new, streamlined election platform that will contain just “five points.” That, too, is a worrying prospect. Having priorities is great, but there are dozens of issues that party leaders must take a stand on before asking Ontarians for their vote.
We hope Mr. Ford sees his way to providing a detailed, costed-out platform before the election. The stakes are high, and voters deserve more than slogans and brash assertions that prove false. Low-information populists like Mr. Ford seem to be in the ascendance these days, but so too is a skepticism about what they can actually deliver once in office.