What To Expect From The Doug Ford Era: Anger, Bullying And Questionable Facts

The best indicator of what to expect from Ford may be his record as a Toronto city councillor.
Ontario premier Doug Ford angry and pointing finger Doug Ford, as a Toronto city councillor, confronts a heckler in 2013. Photo, Bernard Weil/Toronto Star/Getty Images.

So, now what? Less than a week after Doug Ford was elected as Ontario’s premier, the specific plans of his government remain as clear as mud. Hardline members of Ford Nation may be basking in their schadenfreude over Kathleen Wynne’s ousting (and still yearning for Ford to “lock her up”), but other Progressive Conservative voters, the ones who helped secure his majority despite his detail-free platform, should be impatient to see what he’ll do with his mandate.

What policies and legislation will Ford employ to “stop the gravy train”? How will he pay for his proposed tax cuts? When will Ontario be “open for business” and who will its promised prosperity enrich? What measures will he take to address the government corruption he’s long lamented? When will Ontario’s books be balanced? What’s the actual plan to help “common folk”?

Absent anything resembling a concrete campaign plan, the best guess at the form and tone of a Doug Ford government may be his stint in Toronto city politics, where he served as a councillor and Mayor Rob Ford’s closest advisor. And that was a mess: Doug was a grandiose bully, itching to fight all comers: from families of autistic kids to Margaret Atwood, with whom he started a beef after she criticized his proposal to shut down Toronto libraries. He lied, repeatedly and unapologetically, about his brother’s drug and alcohol abuse, and he misrepresented the city’s financial affairs. He talked endlessly about sticking up for the little guy, but delivered very little in results. Despite the Fords’ “subways, subways, subways” mantra, the city still awaits a comprehensive transit upgrade.

More than anything else, Doug Ford ran for premier on fiscal issues and his capacity, as a businessman, to set the province’s finances in order. Yet judging from his record in Toronto, Doug’s oft-repeated claim that Rob saved the city a billion dollars involves some seriously creative accounting. Reporter Justin Ling has called it a “mystifyingly resilient lie” and pointed out that when Rob was elected mayor, the city spent $9.3 billion a year; four years, that figure was at nearly $9.7 billion.

An echo of these misleading statements was heard during Ford’s provincial campaign, when he railed against Ontario’s carbon tax; in fact, the province doesn’t have a carbon tax, but rather a cap-and-trade system, in which companies can sell or buy credits when they are below or above pollution quotas. Dismantling this program is much more complicated than Ford has admitted. Not only would it involve getting in a battle with the federal government (which can impose a tax on provinces that don’t set their own carbon pricing), Ford has vowed to spend $30 million of provincial money to sue Ottawa, if need be. (That’s your tax dollars at work right there, Ontario.) And regarding that buck-a-beer promise? Here’s a cautionary tale: Lakeport, the original Ontario $24-for-a-two-four brewery, had its operations consolidated by parent company Labatt in 2010 to keep competitive, a move that put 143 people out of work.


Having watched Ford in action in Toronto politics, his cavalier attitude towards facts and his instinct for combat seem destined to define his premiership overall. On Twitter, John Filion, a Toronto city councillor and author of the book The Only Average Guy: Inside the Uncommon World of Rob Ford, predicted a Ford government will be turbulent and bitter, filled with posturing and partisan fights, loyalty demands and ethical lapses, attacks on the media and brawls with opponents. “Expect from Doug Ford a Trump-like propensity for untruths, the distortion of reality and extreme exaggeration — especially when describing his accomplishments and public support for his actions,” Filion tweeted.

That’s a fair forecast, though Ford had a propensity for untruths and extreme exaggeration, long before Trump ran for office. There are other differences, too. Unlike Trump’s association with white supremacists and nationalists, Ford’s campaign wasn’t overtly driven by racism and anti-immigrant sentiment. In fact, in the Greater Toronto Area, for instance, there was significant PC support in many of the immigrant-rich and racially mixed inner suburbs that Ford courted.

That suggests the motivations of Ford Nation members are varied and complex: Some liked their local PC candidate, or just hated the Liberals, or felt neglected by the government, while others loved Ford’s macho-man schtick. Some found his stunts endearing. (Remember when he handed out $20 bills to constituents in a social housing complex as a “Christmas present”? Or when he announced his candidacy for PC leadership from his mom’s basement?) Many were driven by religious concerns, like Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum — repealing it will likely be one of Ford’s first acts.

Where some Ford and Trump supporters do meet is at the emotional centre of their perceived plight. Veteran political strategist David Herle explained Ford’s popularity to Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells this way: “I think that at the core of his vote is an extremely angry group of people who feel victimized by change. And feel that their relative status in the world has been declining. Whether it’s compared to people of other backgrounds, people of other genders. They feel that they’re relative losers from change and they’re angry about it. And they don’t care. Whether it’s Trump or Ford. When the mainstream media says, ‘Hey, these guys are gonna burn the house down,’ they don’t care. They hate the house.”


That sentiment, while not true for all PC voters, is perhaps the most dangerous harbinger of the Ford government — a term that will most likely be marked by anger and divisiveness, resentment and fighting. It’s tough to govern when you’ve campaigned as being anti-government. In order to maintain his popularity, Ford will likely double down on his common-folks-versus-elites rhetoric, even from his own cushy office in Queen’s Park. Funding to necessary public services like education, transit, healthcare and housing will be slashed — how else to pay for tax cuts? — or else the deficit will balloon.

Ontarians aren’t wrong to be angry: Jobs are precarious, housing prices are impossible, daycare is unavailable or barely affordable, commutes are lengthy, doctors and nurses are in short supply in rural areas, the planet is heating up and our children’s futures seem ever more uncertain and under threat. To these real anxieties and fears, Ford spent his campaign simply adding more fuel. After his win, he said in a speech, “We have taken back Ontario. We have delivered a government that is for the people.” But who’s the “we” he’s talking about? Those who want an more equitable and functioning province? Or those who want to burn it down?


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