I bet that headline caught your attention! Most people either love him or hate him. I am kind of midway between the two. I didn’t vote for Doug Ford when he ran for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party. In his first election as Premier, I voted for him reluctantly. In the Provincial election last year, I voted for him without hesitation.
Of course, he has his warts! Name me a political leader, with the possible exception of those that were in a position of power for only a few months, who didn’t have a few of their own. Perfection is neither a criterion nor a reality when it comes to political leadership.
But Doug Ford really is a man of the people. He displays few pretenses as Premier. He has an “aw shucks” attitude when speaking, loves to get out and about and shake hands (although I haven’t yet seen him kiss a baby) and in a very un-premier-like fashion, actually personally responds to his phone messages and emails. He is more comfortable driving around in his truck than he is in his official chauffeur-driven car.
During his time as Premier, Ford has from time to time fallen short of the mark. He failed to respond as quickly as he should have to the nursing home crisis. And for the life of me, I cannot understand his obstinance in holding on to an annual increase of just one percent per year for many healthcare front-line workers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when many of them were stretched to the point of exhaustion and ill health.
In spite of these issues (and others that I am sure his critics will point out), Doug Ford won the last Provincial election by a significant margin. I believe that was primarily because he related to ordinary folks, and they liked him for that.
The question now, of course, is whether Doug Ford will lose that support as a result of the Greenbelt fiasco currently plaguing his government. Certainly, those in the left-leaning media like the Toronto Star are doing everything they can to encourage that and indeed, polling numbers in the immediate future may reflect that as well. But in the long run, I don’t think he will.
For one thing, Ford admits his mistakes and doesn’t throw anyone under the bus to avoid responsibility for them. How many times has Donald Trump, or for that matter Justin Trudeau, admitted to making mistakes? The answer to that would be very close to zero. And how many people have both of these men thrown under the bus in an effort to protect their own skin?
When Doug Ford gets the bit between his teeth, he doesn’t let go. He is one of the first leaders in Canada to actually do something about the lack of housing. He is passionate about it to the point that the Trudeau Government is finally recognizing that they had better get on the bandwagon.
Ford recognizes that adequate housing is directly related to economic growth, that with more jobs being created in Ontario we need more people, and those people will need adequate housing. He also believes that the wider availability of housing will help to stabilize its affordability.
In relation to the Provincial Auditor General’s report, the Ford Government has accepted 14 of her 15 recommendations. He agreed that his government moved too quickly on the Greenbelt issue and that there was insufficient transparency. But he would not move on her recommendation to reverse the decision to remove property from the Greenbelt to build housing. He believes, rightly or wrongly, that as these properties are adjacent to urban areas that require more housing, it was essential to make them available.
It is important to note, I believe, that in her Report, critical as it was, the Provincial Auditor General did not find any evidence that people were tipped off ahead of time or that the Premier or Housing Minister Steve Clarke intervened inappropriately. Consistent with her recommendations, the provincial government has agreed to have both of these matters further investigated in an arms-length process. The Auditor General did say there were problems with process and consultation in relation to the Greenbelt issue.
Was there also collusion? Possibly, but in other circumstances one might call it consultation. Governments consistently consult with stakeholders about issues that relate to their particular sector. No government has all the answers and the smart ones do get advice and input from professionals when contemplating legislation.
Much of the mainstream media has salivated over the Greenbelt matter. However, few of them have given much coverage to the fact that the Ford government added significantly more to the Greenbelt area than it took away. Nor did they particularly reveal that former Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne made changes to the Greenbelt 17 times during her tenure. Nor did I see very much coverage about the conditions for allowing construction on these lands, including requirements for reasonably affordable housing.
Clearly, the Ford Government made some mistakes in its handling of the Greenbelt issue. It has owned up to its mistakes but doubled down in its belief that this is critical to its plan to address the housing problem in Ontario.
Hopefully, there will be lessons learned from all of this. But before we join the rush toward total condemnation, we should remember that this is a government that takes bold steps. Sometimes you falter when you do that.
But in my view, the Ford Government has had more successes than failures; playing a pivotal role in bringing two large automobile-related manufacturing companies here, mandating that secondary school curriculum expose every student to the merits and awards of professional trades, reversing the ridiculous decision of someone in the past to ban the teaching of cursive writing and taking the lead in addressing the critical housing shortage in this province, to name just a few.
Doug Ford is not perfect, but on balance, I believe he has proven time and time again that he has Ontario’s back.
That is good enough for me.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District of Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has also served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently, Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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