Doug Ford: The Worse, the Better

“The worse, the better” was an aphorism among Russian revolutionaries who meant that the worse conditions in Tsarist Russia became for workers and peasants, the more likely they would support the revolution. The aphorism can be considered somewhat cynical because the leaders of revolutionary movements were all in exile and not sharing the people’s misery.

“The worse, the better” might also be the secret wish of opposition leaders in a democracy. Unlike the Tsarist monarchy or a modern dictatorship, in a democracy opposition leaders can speak in the legislature, interest groups can petition or demonstrate in the streets, and critics can raise their voices in the media, all intending to convince the government to change course so that the potential damage caused by misguided policies is avoided or at least mitigated.

Listening to the People …

In its five years in power, Doug Ford’s Government has changed course numerous times, including backing down from appointments of cronies (Ronald Taverner as Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police), rescinding Bill 28 that would have used the notwithstanding clause to prevent educational from striking in reaction to a penurious salary offer, and tightening or loosening restrictions in response to criticism by medical and health experts during the pandemic.

Ford has always justified his changes of course because he is a populist who listens to what the people tell him in the many phone calls he says he takes and other communications he receives every day. Ford also argues that changing course is a virtue that justifies his re-election. Electorally, you might say that his initial decisions are made to appeal to his “Ford nation” base, and that his changes in course are intended to appeal beyond his base to groups such as suburban ethnics, union members, or factory workers.

… Or Not

Greenbeltgate, as I’ve called it, could be an issue in which the worse-is-better paradigm comes into play. Ford does not appear to be changing course in terms of the developments in the greenbelt that have been approved. The Greenbelt review seems likely to recommend further incursions into the Greenbelt. Ford does not appear to believe that there is sufficient evidence for the RCMP’s investigation to incriminate him. The Conservatives therefore appear willing to stay the course.

The issues at play – environment and integrity – are both weaknesses for the Conservatives. They will permit the Opposition parties to continue to attack the Conservatives for years to come.

In the case of a dramatic threat to everyone such as a pandemic we all want whatever government is in power to succeed because of the unconscionable cost of failure. Greenbeltgate isn’t like that. There is a cost to failure. But to some extent Ford’s mistakes can be corrected by a new government and the cost is outweighed by the benefits of regime change.

A key piece in the puzzle will fall into place in December, when we know who will lead the Liberals. Voters will know how the two alternatives as premier in the next election (I’m assuming that a Green Government is not a possibility.) And the question will be whether either Marit Stiles or the yet-to-be-chosen Liberal leader will be seen as more likely to defeat Ford and therefore to win over strategic voters. In the coming months, I look forward to commenting on the Liberal leadership candidates.

A personal note: This is my first post since Shivah for my mother. Officially, the thirty-day period of mourning – shloshim – ends today because of the coming of the New Year. I am devoting considerable time to resolving her affairs. I know it is important to resume one’s normal life, and with this post I’ve begun to resume this aspect of my life.

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