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Unpopular populist: Ford festering

John Bell

July 22, 2019

He made a virtue of being a college dropout. He demonized Toronto, a city of 3 million, as home of “downtown, socialist elites”. He promised that “not one single person” would be laid off when he was elected. Most important, he swore he would end the “gravy train” of Liberal corruption and insider dealing.

With his majority, he came out with guns blazing. He slashed funding for health care, ambulance services and education. He eliminated initiatives for reconciliation with Indigenous people. He cut services for Franco-Ontarians. He gutted environmental regulations.

The job losses he promised wouldn’t happen started to pile up, led by teachers and nurses. His attempt to cut funding for public health services by half proved so unpopular he had to backtrack, at least temporarily.

His caucus was filled with automatons, jumping up to give their leader’s every pronouncement a standing O. When reporters had the nerve to question his moves, staffers–snotty young Tories schooled in dirty trickery–drowned them out with heckling and orchestrated clapping. They tried to go full Trump and portray all criticism as “fake news”.

Opposition was rising: thousands rallied against health care cuts, and to defend education and the environment. But what really started Ford’s slide in the polls was his attack on services for children with autism, and their families.

This is the move that characterized Ford’s government as mean, almost gangsterish bullies. Families dealing with autism, a real cross-section of the population, organized to shame the government, and succeeded. Attempts to dismiss them as a “special interest group” failed. Then an autism support organization leaked news that Lisa MacLeod, the minister responsible, had threatened them with “a rough four years” if they didn’t publicly support the Tories.

No Ford Picnic

The FordNation brand has always been about slashing services with one hand while offering a hotdog and a cheap beer with the other. His fans flocked to his FordFest picnics. He made his cell number public and returned people’s calls (albeit sometimes less than sober in the middle of the night).

So imagine how miffed Ford was when he appeared at a Special Olympics Youth Games event in May, and was loudly booed by children, parents and spectators.

The poll numbers started to come in, and the trend was only one way: down.

The federal Tories, in election mode, noticed their poll numbers were going down too. A year ago Andrew Scheer rushed to embrace Ford. Now he tied to distance himself. Ford tried to pin the blame on his incompetent cabinet and shuffled the deck. Then he announced he was shutting down the legislature for 5 months, coincidentally until just after the federal election. People started to notice the aroma–from FordFest to Ford festering.

Then came the Raptors victory celebration. At first Ford said he wouldn’t appear, but his advisors must have convinced him that his absence would make him look weak. So he strolled onto the stage to a deafening chorus of boos and chants of “Fuck Ford”, made all the louder by the polite applause that greeted Justin Trudeau.

Even in damage control mode his government couldn’t change its spots: enter Lisa MacLeod, stage right. Demoted over her handling of the autism file, now Minister of Sport and Culture, MacLeod used her clout to snag some VIP tickets for the Rolling Stones concert. Also in the VIP section was Eugene Melnyk, oft-maligned owner of the Ottawa Senators.

Perhaps MacLeod got hold of some bad shrooms. Perhaps she was crazed by Keith Richards’ riffs. Perhaps she was miffed that Melnyk threw financial support behind the Liberals. Whatever the cause, she allegedly charged at Melnyk and demanded: “Do you know who I am?” When he answered in the negative she exploded: “I am your minister and you’re a fucking piece of shit and you’re a fucking loser.” And so Lisa MacLeod achieved immortality, the only person on Earth to make one of the most hated figures in Canadian sport seem sympathetic.

MacLeod said she was just giving Melnyk some “blunt feedback”. That is what passes for an apology in FordNation. Calls came for her resignation. Ford doesn’t back down. MacLeod will pay the price one of these days, the knife in the back when she least expects it, because she let the boss down. But not to satisfy his enemies. That’s the gangster way, the Ford way.

No wonder Ford canceled Canada Day celebrations at Queen’s Park, eliminating another opportunity to be publicly humiliated.

French revolution

Not content to reveal themselves as liars and bullies, the Ford Tories added nepotism and corruption to the mix. Ford’s top advisor, Dean French, is the martinet who beat the Tory caucus into submission. He berated MPPs who didn’t jump up and applaud with sufficient enthusiasm. He punished anyone who deviated from the given talking points.

While caucus resentment and grumbling grew, journalists revealed that French had a habit of giving plum, big money jobs to his relatives and to members of the lacrosse team he coached at a private school for the privileged. It is possible he did so without Doug’s knowledge or approval. Did disgruntled Tory backbenchers conspire to throw French under the big blue bus? Or did the emerging scandal give caucus hitherto unseen courage? Either way, Ford found himself caught between a corruption scandal and a palace coup, a French revolution if you will.

Dean French was fired–oops I mean resigned–but the damage was done. A new poll found that 60% said Ford’s government was corrupt. The polls, which Ford defiantly dismisses, said his government was down to 22% support. According to the pollster: “We have never seen an incumbent premier reach these depths in popular opinion with barely a year into his mandate.”

I’ve seen enough pro wrestling to know that a thug like Ford can get up off the mat if you let him. And even if his reelection chances are done, Ford can do a lot more damage before he leaves the ring. So we can’t ease up now, especially with the danger of a Scheer government looming. Our next big opportunity will be the Earth Strike Day, September 27, and there are plenty of environmental crimes we can lay at Ford’s feet.

Things have got so salty for Doug that he canceled his cell phone. Enjoy Ford’s decline but don’t get complacent. After the Ford festering, after the French revolution, let’s give FordNation the coup de grace.


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