Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford says he is open to greater privatization of alcohol and marijuana sales in Ontario and scrapping the foreign-buyers tax on real estate as he looks to streamline his party’s priorities before the June election.
Ontario’s Official Opposition will have a new and greatly simplified platform, he said on Tuesday, confirming that he is ditching the 78-page election document the party adopted only a few months ago under former leader Patrick Brown.
The new platform will reflect his populist agenda, Mr. Ford told The Globe and Mail during an interview at his family’s company headquarters in northwestern Toronto.
“We’re going to keep it very simple, five points that we’re hearing from the grassroots people,” he said, promising the costs will be verified before the election.
The platform is not finished, but he said it will focus on health and education, creating jobs, getting rid of the province’s cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions and reducing hydro rates.
One area of concern for Mr. Ford is Ontario’s debt, swollen from hefty deficits after the financial crisis. He promised to find efficiencies in government to reduce spending. “We have to do something with our debt, it’s terrible,” he said, a mantra he repeated while campaigning for the PC leadership.
One area he will consider is opening up to competition Ontario’s sales of alcohol, currently dominated by a government-controlled monopoly. More private sales have been permitted in a few grocery stores. Mr. Ford said the piecemeal moves have been unfair.
“What concerns me about the alcohol is that we’ve cherry-picked retailers. This retailer gets it, but all these guys don’t get it. I don’t believe in that. Be fair to everyone,” Mr. Ford said.
With the introduction of legal marijuana expected this year, Premier Kathleen Wynne has unveiled plans for a government monopoly called the Ontario Cannabis Store. Mr. Ford said he was open to free-market involvement, but said the government should move slowly in this area.
The former Toronto councillor also said he was concerned with the province’s efforts to slow the increase of housing prices in the Greater Toronto Area. In early 2017, the government introduced a foreign-buyers tax in the region and expanded rent control. The housing market cooled significantly after those moves.
Mr. Ford said he was considering a policy that would do away with the tax. The better solution, he said, is to build more affordable, single-family homes on underused land.
“I just don’t like the government getting involved. I believe in the market dictating. The market, no matter whether it’s the stock market or anything, it will always take care of itself − supply and demand. We’re short on single-dwelling homes,” he said.
He said his government would reflect those values if his party wins the election in less than three months. He pledged that he would want to hear from nurses on how to run hospitals and from teachers on how to run schools. “I believe in surrounding myself with smarter people than myself in their areas of expertise, I think that shows good leadership,” he said.
While Mr. Ford had little support in the party’s caucus before his win, he said the elected members have told him they would fall in line. “They’re going to follow me,” he said.
The Tories have had record fundraising over the past year and have consistently bested the long-governing Liberals in polls, but have struggled with allegations of impropriety. Even before Mr. Brown was felled by allegations of sexual misconduct (which he denies), the party faced allegations of ballot-box stuffing or other ethical lapses in about a dozen nomination races.
The party’s interim leader, Vic Fedeli, ordered new votes in two ridings, but Mr. Ford said he would review all of the party’s nominations and is willing to deal with any allegations that come up.
“I’m going to look at all of them. … If I see any inappropriate action, it’s going to be dealt with immediately,” he said.
While he said he had not made up his mind on whether to let Mr. Brown run for the party in a Barrie-area riding, he said the door was closed on the former leader’s senior advisors working in his office.
Mr. Ford said his new job will not change him. He was dismissive of people who have approached him now that he could become Ontario’s next premier, calling them “weasels.”
“I can’t stand it when people, weasels, try to get in there and weasel and try to get a job or contract,” he said. “I’m going to be Doug, I can’t change. … That’s what I can’t stand about politicians, they are so phony. I don’t care what party they are, they act one way behind closed doors and then in public they are prim and proper.”
While Mr. Ford tilted toward social conservative during his leadership campaign, saying he would revise the province’s sex-education curriculum and allow a debate on restricting access to abortion for minors, he said that was about respecting the values of some people in Ontario.
“I wouldn’t consider myself a social conservative, I just don’t. I respect it. I think we need to respect each other’s values. There are so many different religions and races that are very socially conservative,” he said. “I’m not a bible thumper. I’ll put it that way.”