He’s hot on the campaign trail, but despite a 70 percent job approval rating, Ontario Premier Doug Ford is still struggling to find any sort of political advantage. While the provincial economy continues to outperform the rest of Canada, polls show that Ford’s ability to get any sort of legislation through, which it hasn’t come close to doing, has become a black mark.
It’s difficult for any governor to make up for years of broken promises with hours to spare, but Ford could soon unveil a plan to step up his agenda. The Globe and Mail reports he’s mulling a new $3-billion highway east of Toronto, although with $10 billion to spend on infrastructure and few connections to the rest of Ontario, there aren’t many options for where to start.
Ford was first elected as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in March 2017, promising to make public transit and roads in the Toronto suburbs a priority. His team has pushed for a high-speed rail between Toronto and Windsor that might do just that, but that plan went to the side when an opposition leader, Andrea Horwath, called for a $4.7-billion funding line in a June ballot proposal to be more accessible for suburban commuters.
Ironically, Ford could be in a better position than his predecessor, Kathleen Wynne, to spend more on transit projects. Polls show that the public actually approves of the Conservatives’ spending plan, compared to most recent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s spending proposals.
“We are more than halfway through the premiers’ trip to Ottawa and the federal government has yet to offer up a detailed plan to fund a provincial plan to build $29 billion in transit,” Candice Malcolm, a spokeswoman for Infrastructure and Communities Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, told HuffPost Canada. “We’re waiting to hear back from the premiers before we can move ahead on a national transit strategy.”
Now Ford, who has a reputation for being blunt, is coming under fire for railing against a perceived left-wing cabal in Canada and supporting ads that make false claims about Canadian taxes. On the campaign trail, he hasn’t even accomplished bringing his party’s seat count to at least 33, several seats short of the needed majority.
“We’re moving a very heavy agenda across the province,” Ford told the Toronto Star last week. “This is going to be the Ontario that we all love to talk about. This is the Ontario that will be known across the world.”
Ford’s campaign recently came under fire for an advertisement that claimed Canada’s Senate is “the greatest block to good government” and urged voters to “oppose the Trudeau puppet government and vote PC on Oct. 22.” The ad was quickly pulled, but the Star reported that it hadn’t been scrubbed from the digital website. Ford’s supporters have claimed that the ad hadn’t intended to say any negative things about the Senate, but it did hit a nerve in a country that has historically been well-represented in the upper chamber, making it the product of the political balance of power that the ads seem to imply is eroding under Trudeau.
Ford has also called Ottawa’s carbon tax an “illegal tax” that the “greatest job killer” in Canada. In an ad campaign released last week, Ford promised to tear up federal regulations on setting emission targets to boost the province’s economy. The commercials also inaccurately suggested Canada, whose population is roughly 30 percent higher than Ontario’s, consumes a greater share of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
None of these ads have been discussed by Ford during his campaign tour this week, and the premier himself hasn’t commented on them at length. But with a number of economists, environmental activists and academics warning against a downward shift in provincial policy toward environmental protection, Ford’s rhetoric about environmental populism is becoming a big risk.
“We have never seen Canada resemble a national leader on climate policy,” said Paul Bronfman, a researcher and former deputy commissioner of Canada’s environment agency, in an interview with HuffPost Canada. “This goes beyond rhetoric, and Canada needs a national leader on climate policy, and Doug Ford doesn’t appear to have that.”