With little more than two weeks before voting day, I guess it’s time to talk about the provincial election campaign in Ontario.
At the moment, it looks like Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservatives are on a roll and heading toward a second majority government. But anyone who wants to see that happen should not get too comfortable just yet.
The last ten days or so of a political campaign are when senior campaign organizers, especially those in the lead, are on their highest alert, waiting with bated breath for a shoe to drop at the last moment and change the entire direction of the campaign. It has happened before.
Some of us will still remember when Frank Miller was premier and at this point in the provincial election was riding close to 50 per cent in the polls, a sure path to a majority government. Then a week or so before voting day one of his cabinet ministers commented about an oil spill closing a road in Northern Ontario, saying it was nothing to worry about because only a few “indians” travelled on it.
That was the match that sparked an already festering tinderbox at the end of a long campaign. Miller’s numbers dropped almost overnight to the point where he won only a minority government, which was quickly snuffed out by a historical accord between the Liberals and the New Democrats. It could happen again.
If the Progressive Conservatives do not win more seats in the upcoming Ontario election than all of the other political parties combined, the likelihood that they would be able to sustain a minority government are slim to none. I feel confident in saying that because all three leaders of the other parties in the Legislature have also said it.
In a Toronto Star article in June 2021, the headline on one major story read, “Doug Ford as premier of a minority government? Not on our watch, opposition leaders say”. In that article, NDP leader Andrea Horwath said, “I would definitely not prop up Doug Ford.” Liberal leader Steven Del Duca said, “There is no way we’d be supporting Doug Ford.” And Green Party leader Mike Schreiner said, “No, I can’t see how I’d support a Ford-led government.”
Many people believe that minority governments can, and have been, effective. But these folks have all decided, months ahead of the election, that they won’t allow that to happen. That means that Doug Ford has only one choice if he wants to remain in power and that is he must win a majority government. That looks to be in the cards at the moment, but this is no time for him or his party to become complacent.
It will come as a surprise to very few who read this column that I support the re-election of a strong Ford government. But those who delight in saying I have always been a supporter of Doug Ford are wrong. I did not vote for him when he ran for the leadership of the Ontario Conservatives. I voted for Christine Elliott. I found Ford rough around the edges and bumbling at times, and I thought some of his early moves as premier, such as buck-a-beer, were ill thought out.
But I quickly learned that many of his personality traits, not usually seen in premiers, were liked and appreciated by ordinary folks in Ontario. They liked the fact that he drove around in his truck, dropped into stores and restaurants just like anyone else, stopped to talk, actually returned his phone calls, and physically helped out his neighbours in times of stress.
Some will argue that these are just photo-ops and there is some truth in that. After all, this is politics. But it is also true that these are true glimpses of Ford’s persona, that of an ordinary guy. With the exception of his elected political opponents, many people like him for that. I count myself as one of them. There is just nothing stuffy about Doug Ford.
More importantly, I think the Ford Government has done a reasonably good job over the past four years, at times, under extraordinary circumstances. No political leader could win points during the COVID-19 pandemic. You were really damned if you do and damned if you don’t. But the Ford Government did as good a job in managing the pandemic, and balancing the difficult task of deciding when restrictions were required and when they could be relaxed, as any other province or territory in Canada. COVID statistics on a per capita basis would back that up.
Even the Toronto Star, in an editorial late last year, called Ford’s plan to move out of the COVID-19 pandemic “cautious, smart and hopeful”. The first sentence of that editorial read, “Don’t look now, but something is going seriously right in Ontario.”
The Ford Government has also been successful during the past four years in creating jobs. Columnist Brian Lilley, put it this way: “There’s a reason Doug Ford is talking about jobs non-stop on the campaign trail. Nearly every sector has far more people working than when he took office four years ago, including in education and health care. On the jobs front, the numbers help him.” I would also add here that some unions have recognized this, as a number of them have uncharacteristically endorsed the re-election of his Progressive Conservative government.
All political parties promise to give away goodies at election time. It is a sad reality of politics. But measures that promote job creation and opportunities for people to help themselves, take pride in what they do, strive for excellence, and be rewarded for their efforts, are far more important, in my view, than political handouts that stifle incentive and increase people’s dependence on government. That is why reliable and innovative infrastructure is important, why a strong economy is important, and why creating job opportunities through increased manufacturing and new technology is important. That is also how you achieve the means to give a hand up to those who are desperately in need.
No doubt, in the next while, I will hear about all of the perceived areas in which Doug Ford has failed. Some of them will have substance. No politician is perfect, and Doug Ford is no exception.
But on balance, I believe Doug Ford has done a reasonable job in governing this province under difficult and unusual circumstances. There is absolutely no evidence to believe that either Andrea Horwath or Stephen Del Duca would have done better. And, in my view, there is no reason to believe that either of these two individuals can do better in the future.
Doug Ford deserves another term in office. With opposition leaders refusing out of the gate to cooperate with him if he wins the most seats but falls short of a majority, he will have to win a majority government to accomplish that.
Any other reasonable option has been taken off the table.
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 Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has 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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