Premier Ford – For which people exactly?

Whenever there’s a ‘Ford Fest’, the people in attendance could be anyone’s friends, neighbours or work colleagues. Most have shown up to support Doug Ford and possibly scarf the odd hot dog or burger (2,800 hot dogs, 4,200 burgers and 800 veggie burgers at the recent one in Vaughan). Free food and Ford Nation T-shirts aside, they’ve probably made the effort because they believe the Premier really is on their side; cutting the waste, the bureaucracy and all that red-tape while building subways and fighting for the little guy. This year, anticipating larger numbers, the ‘Fest’ was held away from his mother’s house at a Vaughan banqueting hall. The PC Party allegedly footed the bill.

Gone are the days of accidental encounters with prime ministers, free booze and $20 bills dispensed from a roll. No; Premier Ford needs to look, shall we say, presidential. As Ford Nation stalwarts shuffle along dutifully in a line, whether it’s for condiments from legions of servers doling them out a tablespoon at a time, or for a handshake and selfie with the great man himself, the event seems to have lost its spontaneity. Regardless, Ford Nation needs a pep rally every so often and gratitude must be shown for their unswerving loyalty but the events seem a bit more formulaic. There has never been a superlative that the premier doesn’t like. Taking his cue from south of the border, Ford seems to gearing  up for more frequent events – the latest, tonight, will be a celebration of the first 100 days of his premiership.

from Twitter.

There’s no doubt that legislatively, Ford has hit the ground running. There’s also an impression that cabinet members like Christine Elliot and Caroline Mulroney have been told to keep their opinions (and integrity) to themselves.

Let’s examine the 100 days of achievements that Ford Nation will celebrate.

He:

  • Threatened to use the ‘Notwithstanding Clause’
  • Cut a planned welfare increase of 3% to 1.5%
  • Shrank  Toronto Council to a gerrymandered 25 councillors.
  • Set up a teacher snitch line
  • Repealed the most heavily consulted Health and Sex-Ed curriculum ever
  • Cancelled Cap and Trade that made polluting companies pay money to conservation projects..
  • Cancelled a $100 million school repair program
  • Cancelled an almost complete 18.5 megaWatt wind turbine project
  • Cancelled the Green Energy Act
  • Got successfully sued by Tesla
  • Cut $17 million from public housing green upgrades
  • Ended the Green Ontario Fund (gave grants for homes to be more energy efficient)
  • Ended the Basic Income pilot a year early.
  • Paused the opening of new safe injection sites.
  • Forced the resignation of Hydro One’s Chair and Board.
  • Diverted money for mental health care into police budgets
  • Scrapped the Drive Clean program.
  • Fired Ontario’s Chief Scientist
  • Froze public service hiring
  • Enabled Buck a Beer
  • Shelved a law to cap concert and sport tickets at 50% higher than face value.
  • Shelved new vaping regulations
  • Shelved new indigenous curriculum writing teams
  • Froze the cost of a driving license at $90 (would have risen to $97).

The people who support ‘Ford Nation’ and those who voted PC at the last election wanted change and disruption after years of Liberal rule. Kathleen Wynne failed to tamp down the arrogance of some high profile ministers who had been in office too long. Ford Nation voted for change and disruption and they’re getting it in spades.

With about 1360 days to go in Ford’s mandate; a steady hand at the wheel seems unlikely. The clock is ticking on his premiership and Ford is desperate to stem the flow of money – especially since he has ended a lot of revenue streams and the province is on track for a $15 billion deficit this year. According to Ford, we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.

In the near future, legislation will be announced that will:

  • Hold the minimum wage at $14.00
  • Repeal workers’ right to 10 annual leave days (including two paid days).

Ford instituted a ‘line by line review of government spending’. Ernst and Young recommended selling big assets like the LCBO, ending social program universality and tightening up government generally.

The report found that Ontario Government spending increased by 55% over 15 years. This sounds bad but it’s a less than 3% annual increase (compounding at work). This is remarkable when taking into account the increased health care spending needed on a growing senior population. When inflation is taken into account, it’s miraculous.

When compared to other provinces, Ontario is reasonably efficient in operating its services so there’s not much fat to cut. Over that 15 year time period, Ontario Public Service spending had a 0% increase.

What may be coming:

Along with a hiring freeze, Ford will need to cut expensive programs. Education, health care and social services take up more than 80% of the budget so that is where he may act. Selling off assets like Hydro or the LCBO produce a one-time gain and the revenue stream is lost forever (remember former PC premier Harris leasing the 407 for 99 years?).

  • Provincial government agencies may have to bargain through a central bargaining unit.
  • Sharing of data across ministries
  • A reduction of ‘red tape’ across ministries (this may imply fewer regulations)
  • More services available online
  • Means testing and co-payments for some services
  • Increased costs for civil litigation cases.

With a hiring freeze continuing and an estimated  annual civil service turnover rate of 15%, it’s clear that some government departments will become severely understaffed and personnel will need retraining if they are transferred.

If none of this works, a money saver for a future term might be a voucher school system. Parents would be given a voucher for each child’s education to be be used in a public or private school of their choosing. Home schoolers could convert the voucher to cash. The diversion of students to home and private schools would reduce the size of the public system and therefore administration, pension and maintenance costs.

Public transit could be auctioned off to private companies (as happened under Margaret Thatcher) and this would provide instant cash and get the government out of fare subsidies. If Ford (as rumoured) takes over the TTC’s subway system, it could be sold or leased for a good amount and the province could keep the cash.

How will these changes affect Weston and Mount Dennis? We live in an area with a substantial number of people working minimum or low wage jobs. Many others rely on benefits or welfare. With less money coming in, there will be increased poverty and reduced spending. There is a danger that the local economy will be affected in terms of lower sales.

In the larger community, squeezing the economy will mean reduced government revenues, the possibility of a recession and an even greater deficit.

Perhaps not the effect that Ford Nation was anticipating.

Fun facts from the report:

  • 90% of gambling revenue in Ontario goes to ‘grey market’ online sites.
  • 33% of tobacco sales in Ontario are contraband and therefore contribute no tax revenues.
  • There is an estimated $16 billion in unreported economic activity each year in Ontario.