When I was at Kathleen Wynne’s concession speech a year ago, a media type asked me to prognosticate about the Ford Government, and I predicted Ford would be gone in two years. The reporter looked at me like I had two heads, but exactly a year into Ford’s mandate, the odds of his departure have dramatically increased.
Ford’s signature initiative, the court challenge to the federal government’s carbon price, has just lost in the Ontario Court of Appeal. The ruling concludes that the policy is within the federal government’s power and that, because the bulk of the money collected will be refunded, it constitutes a price, not a tax. The roll-out of the dishonest gas pump stickers later this summer will simply call attention to the losing hand the Ford Government is continuing to play.
Ford’s personal popularity has taken a nosedive, primarily in response to the botched budget and ongoing poison of cuts without end. Ford appeared to be deeply upset by the widespread booing and catcalls he received at the Raptors’ victory party. His divisive message works only when preaching to Ford Nation at Ford Fest. In this, Ford is like President Trump, who speaks only to his diehards. Trump can do this, because the US is a vast country, and his diehards still constitute roughly 40 percent of the electorate. Ford’s problem is that Ontario is a much smaller place and Ford Nation is bleeding support. If Ford wants to speak only to the converted, he will run out of audiences very quickly. Ford is now considered politically toxic by the federal Conservatives and will not be taking part in the election campaign this summer and fall. By going silent, Ford will be doing nothing to recover his popularity.
I wanted to write about Ford’s chief of staff Dean French for some time, to suggest that a chief of staff who demands daily shows of fealty on the part of ministers and backbenchers and screams at caucus members is likely to cause a cabinet and caucus revolt that can only be assuaged with his own blood. The fact that French set up his own patronage ring convinced me that he is as stupid as he is corrupt: having made so many enemies, is it any surprise that his nepotism was so quickly exposed? Now Doug Ford is looking for a permanent chief of staff. It is highly likely that whoever replaces French will be more professional, less of a personal loyalist to Ford, and more committed to the Party’s political survival than to Ford’s.
The overall picture is of a premier whose popularity is low and not likely to improve and an alienated and dispirited cabinet and caucus. In Australia and the UK, parliamentary systems in which party leaders can be defeated in confidence votes within caucus, this would be sufficient to force a resignation. Our rules provide more security for political leaders, but if Ontario’s political landscape a year from now is comparable to today, the PC Party could find a way to convince Doug Ford to declare victory and go home.