What We’re Learning about Doug Ford

Doug Ford, recently installed premier of Ontario, sprung a big surprise on just about everybody this morning when he announced his intention to introduce legislation to reduce Toronto City Council from 47 members to 25 (and to change the regional process from election to appointment). Before the forthcoming municipal election, scheduled for October 22, 2018, no less.  It may be that the governance of Toronto could benefit from fewer wards, but whether that is the case or whether the number is 25, requires proper consideration. How we arrived here coupled with the radical treatment of the sex education curriculum this coming September give us an inkling of the kind of governance process we can expect from Doug Ford.

Ford explained that reducing the number of councillors will make city council more efficient; he referred to several issues on which there had been extensive and, yes, perhaps overly extensive debate without final decisions. One of those was transit. This shows some gall, since his brother Rob, on his first day as mayor of the city eliminated the transit plan that had already been approved, thereby throwing  the transit file into chaos. Rob’s entire time as mayor was chaotic and it looks as if his big brother will carry on the tradition at the provincial level.

Ford has made a number of decisions since he was sworn in on June 29th, many expected (although perhaps not as quickly as we’ve seen). The Toronto decision wasn’t one of them. We didn’t hear a word about upending the governance structure of Ontario’s biggest city during the election campaign. Ford explains that by saying he talked about making government more efficient — never occurred to me and it seems it didn’t occur to many others that he was talking about municipal and regional government, not only about the changes he’s also already started to make to the provincial civil service. Assuming he intended to impose his will on Toronto (he never was able to do this as a city councillor) all along, he kept it a secret, even as he told us about his plans to roll back a number of the incumbent government’s initiatives, whether in place or planned. So either this was a bright idea that suddenly came into his head with minimal forethought (and no actual consultation of those it will affect) or he dishonestly kept it hidden. Not a good look for the premier of Ontario either way.

Let’s compare this to his decision to turn back the clock on the sex ed curriculum. This he told us he’d do. As with the City of Toronto decision, his abuse of power will again require much scrambling as administrators and teachers prepare to use the 1998 curriculum instead of the one in place since 2015; the 1998 curriculum fails to address a number of highly significant technological and social changes since then. Despite there having been consultation before the new curriculum was adopted, now Ford will undertake what he’s called “the largest consultation [about education] ever in Ontario’s history”. Of course, no one really knows what will be taught when the new school year rolls around, since the members of the government really don’t know themselves. His education minister, evidently of a more contemporary frame of mind than her boss, indicated that certain aspects of the recent curriculum would be included in the 1998 version, only to be put in her place.

Here’s some of what we’re learning about Doug Ford as premier: he wants to be seen as a “strong” leader, someone who will make quick and firm decisions, regardless of whether he creates chaos in the process, even for his own cabinet; he’s ready to revise even very recent history as convenient (campaign promises to streamline government turn out to be clear statements about reducing Toronto city council); despite his mantra of letting “the people” govern, his definition of “people” seems to be limited to (excuse the expression) his “base” (he’s still using @FordNation as his premier’s Twitter handle); and he’s not shy of giving the impression that he’s ready to take revenge on those who offended him and his brother when they sat on city council and of eliminating advancements that reflected today’s complex social conditions.