Ford’s Fucking Up

Doug Ford’s initial response to Covid – 19 won praise because his previous performance as premier set such a low bar. Unlike Donald Trump, he showed that he takes epidemiological science seriously, he didn’t make the pandemic a wedge issue, and he played well with the federal government.

But as the pandemic has worn on, his weaknesses as a leader are becoming apparent. I’ll mention a few, stating them in terms of what we expect of a political leader in a crisis, and what Ford has (or hasn’t) delivered.

Lead by Example. Despite telling Ontarians to stay home and not visit with people beyond their immediate households, Ford went up to his cottage and allowed his adult children to visit on Mother’s Day.

Put the Needs of the Province ahead of the Interests of your Constituency. Ford refused to make available the province’s geographically disaggregated data on the incidence of Covid – 19, arguing that he didn’t want to stigmatize neighbourhoods. The City of Toronto made its data available anyway. One of the hardest hit districts is West Humber – Clairville, with a rate of 780 cases per 100,000 residents. It just so happens that this district encompasses the Etobicoke North constituency, represented in the legislature by – Doug Ford.

Communicate Clearly and Intelligently. Ford’s communications in the pandemic have had an emotional, almost pleading, tone but also simplistic content. Like his previous slogan “subways, subways, subways,” his new mantra is “testing, testing, testing.” Testing is valuable of course, but only when linked to contact tracing and initiatives to find and control local outbreaks. Slogans reflect a failure to grasp the complexity of problems or the necessity of systemic solutions.

Ford’s response to large crowd scene at Trinity-Bellwood Park last weekend was to admonish everyone who was there to get tested. Deputy medical officer of health Barbara Yaffe immediately contradicted Ford, saying that only those showing symptoms in a few days should get tested. When the Trinity-Bellwoods situation broke last weekend, Ford should have ensured that he and the public health establishment were on the same page.

Improve the Government’s Performance. Ford’s public statements are often critiques of the performance of government. Currently he is focusing on the government’s delay in ramping up testing and on the fatal mismanagement of long-term care homes. Ford seems to be forgetting that he is not Opposition Leader, but Premier, and that it is his government. He vows to “get to the bottom of” problems but he doesn’t know how. He isn’t able to re-arrange responsibilities, launch ad hoc units, or hold managers accountable.

Choose the Best People. A key player in the pandemic is the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams. There is widespread recognition that Williams is a poor communicator. And he seems to have lost control of the regional officers of health, who have now been putting forward their own criteria for re-opening economic activity. Yet Ford sticks by Williams, as late as yesterday saying that Williams has been working his back off. The issue, however, is not working hard but working smart. Were Ford a better leader, he would have replaced Williams, or at the very least taken the pandemic communication function away from him and given it to a better communicator. CBC Newsworld has shown us more than a few excellent public health communicators – my favorite is Dr. Isaac Bogoch at Toronto General Hospital.

Ontario’s overall response to the pandemic has not been impressive, and the public is now well aware. Our Covid – 19 case count is high and not diminishing very quickly. The reopening of many parts of the economy seems much farther off in the GTA than in many other parts of the country. A premier who is a better communicator and smarter manager would be doing better. This will not prove to be Ford’s leadership moment, but rather more evidence of a premier who, despite being well-intentioned, is in over his head.

1 comment

  1. Couple of thoughts:

    Regarding the cottage, to be fair to Ford, I believe he just checked on the cottage’s plumbing on his own without interacting with anyone, which isn’t bad in my personal opinion.

    Also, wow – did not know Ford’s own riding has had one of the worst cases of COVID-19 so far. Embarrassing that he tried to hide that, and reeks of corruption.

    Completely agree on the part about Dr. Williams. He seems like a great guy who’s working his hardest, but just does not appear to be fit for the role he’s been given. A stark contrast from Dr Fauci who’s been very clear and helpful, and even gone out of his way to communicate with the youth by having conversations with relatable celebrities such as Stephen Curry and Lil Wayne

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