Is Doug Ford Drowning?

Recently Doug Ford gave this description of his role in the pandemic (quoted in QP Briefing):

“It’s easy for people to sit back and say, ‘Should have could have would have done this done that,’” he said. “Walk a mile in someone’s shoes. And then you’ll find out, you’ll wake up real quick like you got hit over the head with a sledgehammer when you’re on the call till midnight, every single night, all day long, getting advice, and it’s never the premier or Doug Ford sitting in some corner making a decision. There’s hundreds and hundreds of people that are part of every single decision that we make down here.”

So we have a picture of a leader spending long hours seeking advice, even drowning in advice, but avoiding responsibility for the ultimate decisions. We have a leader who doesn’t know his own mind and deals with his confusion by consultation.

Governing by Lurching

The hallmark of the Ford Government’s response to the pandemic, right from the start, has been lurching from imposing restrictions to stop the virus to using any hint of improvement as a justification for loosening restrictions. And this oscillation between tightening and loosening has often happened from one day to the next, as discussed by The Globe and Mail’s Robyn Urback. My guess is that Ford is continually caught between medical advisers, on the one hand, and some of his caucus, on the other.

Ford’s confused and confusing messages are characterized by a mixture of bluster, pleading, and self-congratulation, and always addressed with faux-populism to the “folks.”

The oscillation of messaging also is due to a failure to look ahead and an inability to understand the dynamics of exponential growth. The epitome of this short-sightedness was Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones, the minister responsible for the vaccination program, recently justifying inaction by declaring “we wanted to make sure that the [epidemiological] modelling was actually showing up in hospitals.” No shit Sherlock, it is.

Ford’s Advisers: Age but not Wisdom

Ford’s confusion and constant backtracking are also the result of the quality of the political advisers and managers he chooses. I am not referring to Ontario’s Science Table of medical and epidemiological advisers. They are leading-edge, articulate, and because they are independent of the government, can share their message with the public. By going public, they increase their leverage on the Government.

For his entire three years as premier, Ford has displayed a penchant for relying on older men, some retired. Perhaps he feels comfortable with them. But, like him, they are clearly out of their depth. They include his buddy Ron Taverner, whom he tried to appoint as Commissioner of the OPP; Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams, universally known as an abysmal communicator; and retired General Rick Hillier, who botched Ontario’s vaccine rollout and left after three months. (A fourth similar appointment is former Toronto Chief of Police Mark Saunders who was hired to advise on the redevelopment of Ontario Place, a role for which he has no apparent qualifications.)

Ford must know at some level that he is in way over his head. Consultation seems to be his way of dealing with it. Ford and his cabinet consult the science table weekly, which gives the scientists an opportunity to speak truth to power. With an election coming in a year, I hope the scientists will speak truth about power, even if it must be done without attribution. The voters of Ontario deserve to know, on the basis of continuous and closeup observation, the quality of their political leadership. My expectation is that the doctors’ prognosis will not be optimistic.

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