Published On: Fri, Jun 8th, 2018

Reality will quickly bite for Doug Ford’s new PC government in Ontario

Premier Doug Ford: that’ll take some getting used to.

But the people have spoken and in a democracy the people are always right, by definition. Vox populi, vox dei.

Their verdict is that Ford and his Progressive Conservatives will have a solid majority at Queen’s Park. It’s not the outcome we wanted to see, but it has to be said that Ford has delivered for his party barely three months after becoming leader. The PCs’ victory will silence the doubters in his party, at least for now.

Still, it’s important to note a few things right off the bat.

First, the PCs have won their majority with just over 40 per cent of the votes cast. That’s perfectly legitimate, and not even unusual, under our voting system.

But it’s also true that some 58 per cent of voters chose more progressive options — NDP, Liberal and Green. There was no big swing to the right among Ontario voters, and the PCs will quickly go astray if they mistake their electoral victory for a mandate to make sweeping, ideologically motivated changes.

Second, this was much more a vote against the Liberal status quo than it was a positive vote for what the PCs were putting forward. Ontarians knew what they didn’t want — more of the Liberals after 15 years of having them running the show. They were less sure of what they wanted to see in their place.

Third, Ford never bothered to spell out anything like a proper program for governing. He promised to be “upfront and honest about what I’m going to do,” but he was anything but.

His “Plan for the People” is a paper-thin compendium of headline promises with no accounting of how they’ll be paid for or what trade-offs (i.e. cuts) will have to be made.

That will only become apparent once the new Ford government gets to grips with the province’s finances and starts to put together its first budget.

That’s when the rubber will hit the road, and the PCs will have to move from campaign rhetoric to the hard choices involved in governing.

Read more:

Doug Ford is Ontario’s next premier

Here’s a rundown of the PCs’ election promises

Opinion | ‘A government for the people’ — but will Doug Ford govern for all Ontarians?

We won’t be surprised if they pull the oldest trick in the book and declare that (surprise!) the financial situation is worse than they imagined and they can’t possibly do all the things they promised on the campaign trail. Nor will we be amazed if (or rather when) it turns out that Ford discovers that he must squeeze services and cut jobs to help pay for everything has promised.

Aside from questions over policy, there’s the big question of Ford himself. There’s every reason to fear that the type of chaos that surrounded him and his late brother Rob at Toronto city hall will follow him to Queen’s Park. By the end of the campaign he had to surround himself with strong PC candidates to reassure voters that he will have adult supervision to protect him and the public from his all-too-obvious personal shortcomings.

Indeed, that’s the best reason to hope that the new PC government as a whole will be better than its leader. The party has genuine bench-strength. MPPs like Christine Elliott, Caroline Mulroney, Rod Phillips, Vic Fedeli and Lisa Macleod will have to step up and make sure the government is effective, despite the man at the top.

Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats should look back on this campaign with satisfaction. Horwath herself ran the strongest campaign of the three major party leaders, and as official opposition at Queen’s Park the party will play a much more prominent role.

Their challenge will be to hold Ford accountable and replace the Liberals as the alternative to the PCs for the long haul. It helps a lot that many voters started to look at Horwath this time as someone who could actually be premier.

The party will have to work on its program, though, if it wants to take the next step and actually form government. Some of its proposals weren’t well thought out. On child care, for example, the NDP needlessly ruled out allowing funding to go to private daycares. And Horwath left herself open to charges that her party is too much in thrall to the big unions. A potential premier must take a wider view and reassure voters that she will act in the broad public interest.

For the Liberals, there’s no sugar-coating the outcome. This will go down as one of the epic drubbings in Canadian political history.

Rebuilding the party will take time and a profound renovation of its culture, personnel and policies. After 15 years in power the Liberals will have to come up with fresh approaches and a convincing argument to regain voters’ trust. In that regard, four years of Doug Ford may well turn out to be a distinct advantage. In all likelihood the Liberals won’t look nearly so bad by comparison.

Another positive outcome is the victory of Mike Schreiner in Guelph. The Green party leader should be a valuable addition to Queen’s Park.

In the end, Ontario remains a province with mainly centrist values and that reality will reassert itself over time. If Ford wants to make a success of his new government, he will have to come to terms with that.

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TORONTO STAR

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Reality will quickly bite for Doug Ford’s new PC government in Ontario