The flip-flop is a well-known move in political acrobatics, involving the reversal of a policy position, with the politician sometimes trying to claim that both the initial policy and its reversal are consistent with one another (which would illustrate Orwell’s concept of doublethink). In gymnastics, the similarly named flick-flack is a back handspring, a move that requires strength, flexibility, and balance. The political flip-flop certainly illustrates flexibility, but it is the result of intellectual weakness, namely the inability of the flip-flopping politician to anticipate the likely consequences of their policy.
“We Moved too Quickly and we Made the Wrong Decision”
Doug Ford has flip-flopped again, reversing his policy of allowing housing development in the Greenbelt, thus returning to his original promise to protect the Greenbelt, made only under duress in 2018 after he was revealed on video promising “a big chunk” of the Greenbelt to developers. So this is the second stage of a double flip-flop.
Sometimes politicians break promises because circumstances change, illustrating the maxim attributed to Keynes: “when the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Stephen Harper’s decision to launch a major spending program (the Economic Action Plan) to respond to the global economic crisis of 2008 is an example of policy change in response to a change in external circumstances.
In Ford’s case, the only change in the facts is growing public awareness of the nexus of influence and money between the government and the land developers. The recent disclosure that Minister Kaleed Rasheed and land developer Shakir Rehmatullah palled around in Las Vegas showed that what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas. Rasheed’s resignation led directly to Ford’s flip-flop. He attributed it to a well-intentioned policy error, rather than to corruption. Ford, of course, continues to deny that there was any corruption on his part.
As in previous flip-flops, Ford says that he is “very, very sorry” and that flip-flopping is the first step in “earn[ing] back your trust.”
Why Does Ford Keep Flip-Flopping?
In my view, Ford keeps flip-flopping because he thinks he is governing Ford Nation, not the much more diverse Province of Ontario. His Fordfests, which have evolved from one house party in Etobicoke to a traveling road show, are an opportunity for him to speak unguardedly to his Nation. His recent comments at a Fordfest in Waterloo that school boards should disclose any student’s gender identity to their parents is yet another example of this.
Similarly, Ford knows that Ford Nation likes suburban housing and doesn’t much care about environmental protection or public space. What they really want is no Greenbelt at all, or at most a Swiss-chesse Greenbelt. But much of the electorate thinks differently.
It is clear that at Queen’s Park policy is being made secretively, driven by the Premier’s Office and political staff lacking in adult supervision, like the hapless Ryan Amato. The Ontario Public Service is being shut out of policy development, and as a consequence the Ford Government’s policies lack analysis and foresight. Superficial, ideologically-based policy breeds public opposition, which leads to flip-flops.
The question for voters to consider in the 2026 election is whether flip-flopping is evidence of pragmatism and sensitivity to public opinion, as Ford would have it, or evidence of incompetence and corruption, as Ford’s critics would have it. If the ongoing Greenbeltgate inquiries find more evidence of corruption, Ford’s case grows increasingly weaker.
In my previous post, I surmised that Ford would stay the course on building housing in the Greenbelt. I was wrong, not having anticipated Rasheed’s resignation. A week is a long time in politics.
If I’m right that Ford ultimately doesn’t care much about the Greenbelt, or about the broader issue of the environment, the remaining three years of his mandate will see more incursions, more public reactions, and more flip-flops. Ford doesn’t have the body of a gymnast. And his continual political flip-flops will lead to a major bellyflop in 2026.