When Doug Ford was sworn in as premier on June 29, he claimed that his Progressive Conservative government would be “Ontario’s first ever Government for the People.”
That’s the kind of empty political sloganeering that you can only stare at in helpless wonder. It raises so many questions. What were Ontario’s previous governments for? The trees? If not the voters, for whom were they working when they helped build the province into a prosperous, open and modern society?
And why is “People” capitalized?
We were further baffled when Mr. Ford’s government quietly pushed the pause button on two people-friendly laws on behalf of the special-interest groups that lobbied against them.
In one case, his government has suspended a new anti-scalping provision that limits the resale price of concert and sports tickets to no more than 50 per cent above face value.
That provision is avidly opposed by companies that buy up tickets and resell them on their websites, on the grounds that the cap is unenforceable. Mr. Ford’s government agrees with their position but has not said whether it intends to find a way to enforce the cap or simply do away with it, as ticket-resellers would like.
It’s a strange stance. How is it in the interests of “the people” to appear to act in favour of an industry that scoops up tickets and resells them at 10 or 20, or even more, times their face value?
Far more troubling was the Ford government’s decision not to enforce new provisions that strengthen the powers of police oversight bodies.
Those provisions are found in Bill 175, a Liberal law that goes a long way toward modernizing police practices. The reforms came after years of legislative back and forth, and were also informed by a review of independent police oversight by Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch.
The police and their associations have made it clear they are particularly unhappy with expanded powers for the Special Investigations Unit, an independent body that looks into police interactions in which a civilian is killed or seriously injured, and into allegations of sexual assault by an officer.
Shortly after his swearing-in, Mr. Ford sent a letter to three major police associations letting them know he had heard their concerns, and that he believes increased oversight “undermines confidence in the police.”
Nowhere in his statements has Mr. Ford mentioned the polls that show that a majority of Ontarians think police officers get special treatment before the law, and that oversight bodies are weighted in officers’ favour. The public (a.k.a. “the people”) is suffering from a crisis of confidence in police oversight that he refuses to acknowledge.
Nothing Mr. Ford said or did in his first week, though, was more troubling than his refusal to share the cost of resettling the wave of asylum seekers entering Canada from the United States, thousands of whom are now crowded into overcapacity shelters in Toronto.
His parsimonious and compassionless decision is based on the claim that the federal government has “encouraged illegal border crossers to come into our country,” and in fact “continues to usher people across the U.S.-Quebec border into Ontario.”
The notion that Ottawa is encouraging people to enter Canada illegally is false. So is the Ford government’s claim that “this mess [is] 100 per cent the result of the federal government” – an allusion to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 18-month-old tweet that famously said, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.”
The issue is far more complex than that. Yes, Ottawa needs to do a better job of quickly processing the people seeking asylum.
But it is fair to say that the surge in asylum claims facing Canada is mostly due to the demonization of illegal immigrants in the U.S. by the Trump administration, a demonization now mirrored in Canada by Mr. Ford’s reductive reference to asylum seekers as “illegal border crossers,” and by his choice to use those vulnerable people as political pawns.
Dividing a country into “the People” and everyone else is dangerous and unsavoury politics. We are barely a week into the Ford government, and the outlook is bleak.