The biggest political surprise of the COVID-19 crisis? Doug Ford

Don’t look now, but Ontario’s premier is starting to impress

Quick now: Which politician has impressed or surprised you the most with their competence and leadership during the COVID-19 crisis?

It wouldn’t be John Tory. We expect solid, strong leadership out of Toronto’s mayor — even while he’s in self-isolation — in part because he ran one of this country’s most important companies (Rogers), served as opposition leader at Queen’s Park, and has been mayor for more than five years already.

It probably wouldn’t be Justin Trudeau (prime minister for more than four years) or Chrystia Freeland (deputy prime minister), who impressed so many by helping to bring the new free-trade agreement with America and Mexico to a successful conclusion.

No, I think this one’s a slam dunk, actually. The answer is Doug Ford.

Ontario’s premier had perhaps the worst first year on the job of anyone who’s ever had it. His populist bombast. His constant fights with anyone and everyone. His original chief of staff, who became embroiled in a patronage scandal. Those were the lowlights of a supremely bad first year. We also have to remember that, when he became premier in June 2018, he’d had a whopping three months of experience in provincial politics — hardly enough to draw upon when the you-know-what began to hit the fan.

But, ever since the COVID-19 crisis emerged as a daily reality in the lives of Ontario’s more than 14 million citizens, Ford has performed well above and beyond most observers’ expectations.

Unlike some other leaders (yes, you, Donald Trump), Ford has never tried to downplay the significance of the crisis. He’s never said the thing would burn itself out. He’s never told us to relax, that everything was fine. Trump did all of those things and more.

Instead, Ford has taken to the podium every day during the crisis and conveyed deep empathy for the public he serves.

Trump freelanced his way through his initial Oval Office address to the nation, and the result was the second-worst single-day stock-market crash in American history. Even after that — spurred on by his fans on Fox News (one of whom has since been taken off the air for her journalistic irresponsibility) — he played fast and loose with the facts and continued to shake hands with fans at rallies.

Conversely, Ford learned from his one misstep. No doubt in an attempt to calm the choppy waters, Ford urged people to travel, have fun, and get away during March break. He quickly realized that kind of freelancing was unacceptable during a global pandemic, and, ever since, he has been on point with his advice and stewardship of the crisis.

He has also declined to take any partisan potshots at this time. He called himself “a big fan” of Freeland. In his speech in the legislature earlier today, he noted that this was no time to talk about “the blue party, the red party, the orange party, or the green party. It’s about coming together. We’re all Team Ontario and Team Canada.” The premier’s actions have matched his words.

Politically speaking, the COVID-19 crisis has also given the government another opportunity. It’s allowed the Tories to feature their better performers during daily briefings. And

  • Health Minister Christine Elliott,
  • Finance Minister Rod Phillips, and
  • Labour Minister Monte McNaughton have not disappointed.

They, too, seem well-prepared to answer reporters’ questions and have conveyed the sense of gravitas the moment requires.

Perhaps equally important, this crisis has given the government the opportunity to sideline many of the ministers whose performances have been too controversial or disappointing. Education Minister Stephen Lecce is known to be a strong performer. But his constant presence in the media over the previous months was a frequent reminder of the government’s precarious and increasingly unpopular position during negotiations with teachers. Lisa Thompson, the minister of government and consumer services, had become one of the province’s most unfortunate embarrassments thanks to her ill-fated attempts to defend Ontario’s new licence plates. Neither has seen the media Klieg lights for a while.

Things have changed so much at Queen’s Park, the premier actually said these words earlier today: “I want to thank the media. You’re playing a massive role in helping us out.” And perhaps the biggest shockeroo: “There are a lot of great articles in the Toronto Star.”

There is no media outlet in the world that has had a more tempestuous relationship with both Doug and former Toronto mayor Rob Ford than the Star. So to hear the premier say those words demonstrates just how much things have changed over the past month.

Once the crisis passes, is there a likelihood that things will go back to “normal”? Of course there is. This is politics, after all. Mindless partisanship on all sides will return. Potshots will be taken. And the relationship with the media will get more hostile.

But, for now, we should all just take a moment to appreciate this moment of unity, when Ontario’s 26th first minister surprised so many by performing so well.

Canadian Fiscal Deficits

In past election campaigns, debt and deficits have dominated the conversation. Think of Paul Martin’s demand in the 1990s to slay the deficit dragon ,come hell or high water., Even in the last federal election, the NDP ran on a promise of balancing the budget. This time around, concerns about debt and deficits are barely registering. The Agenda discusses why there is a conversation deficit about the country’s debt.

Will Canada Elect a Tin-Pot Northern Trump?

Mr. Ford snuck through to the leadership on a voting system that ranked ballots. He won neither the popular vote nor the greatest number of constituencies.

.. But the Progressive Conservative machine is behind him already. It operates on inherited loyalties, antipathy against scandal-plagued opponents, time-for-a-change sentiments and basic self-interest.

.. His infamous brother, when you get right down to it, was only the mayor of Toronto, which is not a very powerful position. Toronto’s “weak mayor” system ensures that its leader only gets one vote on the city council. In Canada, it’s actually the premier of a province who matters.
.. Canada’s Constitution calls for “peace, order and good government”; it is hard to imagine anyone who could fulfill that mandate less.
.. Mr. Ford’s sweep in as quiet and stable a place as Ontario points to a broader global crisis from which apparently there is no escape. Conservatism is no longer a political ideology in the recognized sense, but a repository of loathing and despair. It’s where people thrust their hatred of modernity — of globalism and multiculturalism and technocratic expertise, but also of the democracy
.. By giving high office to buffoons, by choosing thugs as their representatives and by reveling in nastiness for its own sake, the Conservative brand now is principally a marker of contempt for political order itself.

Conservatism has meant many things to many people around the world. Now, just about everywhere, it looks a lot like a raised middle finger; Ford and friends are the latest to salute.

Canada’s Trump Strategy: Go Around Him

Laid in the first days after Mr. Trump’s election win, the plan even enlists Brian Mulroney, a former Conservative prime minister and political nemesis of Mr. Trudeau’s father, who had also been prime minister. Mr. Mulroney knows Mr. Trump and his commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, from social circuits in southern Florida, where all three keep vacation homes.

.. Though emphasizing the benefits of harmony, the Canadians are not above flexing muscle, with a provincial government at one point quietly threatening trade restrictions against New York State.

.. His new foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, a former journalist with long experience in the United States and an unapologetic champion of the global liberal order, is seen as able to coax the Americans when possible and defy them when necessary.

Ms. Freeland’s team of America-whisperers includes Andrew Leslie, a former lieutenant general and Afghanistan veteran who knows many of the American generals filling out Mr. Trump’s administration.

Mr. Trudeau established a “war room” dedicated to the United States, headed by Brian Clow

.. Ministers’ schedules resemble those of rock bands on summer tours. They travel armed with data on the precise dollar amount and number of jobs supported by Canadian firms and trade in that area.

.. when Mr. Trump announced that the United States would leave the Paris climate agreement. Canadian officials said they would instead seek climate deals with American states, many of which were already in progress.

Controversial Ontario MPP Jack MacLaren kicked out of Tory caucus

A controversial Progressive Conservative politician has been kicked out of the caucus after a video from 2012 emerged showing him hinting at a hidden agenda and making comments about Franco-Ontarians.

The video, posted online by Ottawa radio station CFRA, shows Jack MacLaren talking to a group of people and agreeing with people lamenting French language rights in eastern Ontario.

.. Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown says in a statement that the video is the final straw with MacLaren.

Brown says each time MacLaren is caught making disparaging remarks he asks for forgiveness and second, third and fourth chances, but it’s clearly part of a pattern.