After looking at Doug Ford’s Wikipedia page and reading his 2016 book Ford Nation, I have questions about three areas of his resume: his role in the family business, his lack of post-secondary education, and his approach to politics.
Doug Ford describes himself in the book as an “independent Canadian business leader,” and has claimed that his role as president of the family business, Deco Labels and Tags, has demonstrated his managerial competence. Deco, however, is privately held and not required to report its financial results publicly, so it is impossible to judge. If Doug wanted to demonstrate his capability as a business executive, he would release Deco’s audited financial results for the years in which he was chief executive. (Fat chance, you say.)
He is still chief executive now, and that creates a major conflict of interest problem. What provisions will he make for Deco to be run entirely at arms-length so that, if elected premier, there are no conflicts of interest? The City of Toronto’s integrity commissioner concluded in December 2016 that, when Ford was a Toronto city councilor, he had improperly used his influence on behalf of two companies that were clients of Deco, so he already has history of conflict of interest. Traditionally, it has proven very difficult for the owners of a family business to turn over the leadership to a non-family manager.
The Wikipedia page also reports that when he was elected city councilor in 2010 Ford said he would donate his salary to community organizations. It is not clear whether he actually did this. To appear public-spirited, he could make a similar promise regarding his salary as premier, if elected. This, too, would represent a conflict of interest, because the source of his income would then be Deco, and he could therefore make decisions with a view to ensuring that it prospered.
In Ford Nation, Doug Ford admits that “I didn’t have the marks for university.” In 1984, he started at Humber College and “was bored silly in the lectures.” When faculty in the colleges soon went on strike, Ford quit and didn’t return when the strike ended a month later. I think the attack on “the elites” that is a theme of his campaign is an attempt to turn this weakness into a strength, arguing that advanced education is not necessary for political leaders.
I take a different perspective. In some major nations – notably the UK, France, and Japan – the widespread expectation is that political leaders will be the graduates of elite educational institutions. While I would not go quite that far, I do not think higher education is irrelevant or, as some current-day populists would have it, an impediment to political leadership. It is reasonable to expect that the premier of the province has succeeded at post-secondary education. It shows an ability to persevere at a challenging, long-term venture. In addition, university education imparts some habits of mind that are critical to effectiveness in politics, such as making tradeoffs and thinking systemically. Ford’s simplistic approach to policy issues – the subject of future blog posts – suggests that he lacks such abilities.
In Ford Nation Doug writes that the essence of his approach to politics is Deco’s approach to business, namely “customer service excellence.” Doug, like his late father and brother, takes pride in spending time on constituency service, always returning calls from constituents and often visiting them. While no constituent’s call should go unanswered, it is not clear that the best person to answer is a councilor or MPP. While it is valuable for a politician to know what the voters are thinking, it should not be his only priority in allocating his time.
The opportunity cost of a politician spending so much time on constituency service is that he spends too little time on learning and thinking about policy issues. This is not at all a surprising choice for a person without the marks to go into university and who was “bored silly in lectures.” A mind is a terrible thing to waste, especially when the mind in question is that of the Premier.
These unanswered questions about Doug Ford’s resume are critical. Maybe the election campaign will provide answers. Or maybe not. Why would he reveal anything more than required, especially if the public is not asking? In the run-up to the election campaign, both citizen media and the main-stream media, particularly investigative journalists and editorial boards, should be demanding more information from Doug Ford.