Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Will Doug Ford become a one term Premier?

Normally it would be absurd to pose such a question so early in a new government's term. However, if Doug Ford thought the electorate would submit meekly to his authoritarian ways he must know better than that now. Nonetheless he doesn't have to face the electors for four years.

He keeps talking about his mandate. He conceives of the legitimacy of government in traditional first past the post terms. If you won the most seats regardless of how votes were distributed the voters must like you and the public should defer to any oddball scheme you propose, like disrupting Toronto's civic election to cut the number of councillors on the grounds that there is real money to be saved, and that the existing council is dysfunctional.

On the latter score Toronto Star columnist Edward Keenan columnist had it right when he wrote recently, "Whatever obvious dysfunction and gridlock Doug Ford witnessed in his years on Toronto council, he and his brother were the cause of it."

Ford bases his argument on the lack of progress on transit. The only problem, as Keenan points out, is that it is all untrue:
... let’s look for a moment at the talking point often used by Ford and his caucus and defenders: that Toronto city council (somehow because of its size) has been unable to build any transit in the city.
Leave aside a moment that the proposed remedy makes no sense.
The premise, itself, is wrong.
Toronto built lots of transit until the Conservative government of Mike Harris in the 1990s cancelled subway lines that were already under construction (even filling in a tunnel on Eglinton) and simultaneously withdrew all provincial funding for Toronto transit.
Fast forward to the mayoralty of David Miller, when the city council approved, got funding for, and began building the subway extension to York University and Vaughan (which is now open) and the Eglinton Crosstown subway/LRT line (which is still under construction and should open in a few years). He also had approval and funding to build the Sheppard LRT and the Finch LRT and a replacement for the Scarborough RT, all of which would already be open right now ….
Except for one thing.
The premier’s late brother Rob Ford was elected mayor and declared those projects dead.
They proposed a ridiculous transit plan, instead.
The city council they were supposed to lead overruled them. A new plan — a Bloor-Danforth subway extension in Scarborough and some LRT lines — was approved.
Since the Ford brothers left, a bunch of transit projects have been approved in principle or affirmed (including a subway extension and a new subway line), some of them at least partly funded, and work has progressed on them.
No delays.
No back-and-forths.
No gridlock at all.
The other justification is that cutting council seats will cut costs. As I pointed out in my last post the assertions about cost cutting are completely misleading. The savings are trivially small - about the cost of one Tim Horton's extra large coffee per year for each citizen of Toronto.

Our political culture until recently has accepted without question the idea that the party that finishes first is legitimate and has a mandate to govern, but that has been eroding. There is increased pressure for proportional representation - the simple idea that representation in the legislature should closely reflect the partisan distribution of actual voting. In fact, there is yet another referendum underway on this subject in B.C., that province's third in the last 13 years on the issue of proportional representation.

Officially, the Ford PCs captured 40.5% of Ontario's vote in the June 7 election, meaning other parties garnered on overwhelming majority 59.5% of the vote. However, looked at another way the Ontario election's 58% turnout meant that only 23.5% of the electorate as a whole voted for Ford. This kind of data point didn't matter in the past but seems likely to matter more and more in the future. One unusual aspect of this election is that Ford was unpopular when he came into office. On election day Andrea Horwath had a higher approval rating than Ford. Usually the most popular party and leader dovetail, not this time.

Not only does Ford start out behind on the approve/disapprove scale but in the City of Toronto, although tied with the NDP with 11 constituencies won (the Liberals took 3), the Ford PCs received a lower proportion of the vote overall, trailing the NDP by almost four points. Moreover their 32.8% support was a smaller percentage than the 33.7% support Ford won in the 2014 municipal election. Small wonder his midnight madness is not being received well in the city.

A poll from Mainstreet Research reported in the Toronto Star makes it clear this is not a winning issue for Ford:
The polling firm found that 65 per cent of Toronto residents oppose the premier’s move to use the constitutional override clause, with nearly 56 per cent saying they strongly disapprove.
“Make no mistake about it: Doug Ford is on the wrong side of public opinion when it comes to his use of the notwithstanding clause,” Quito Maggi, President and CEO of Mainstreet Research, said in a news release.
Further to the controversial use of the clause, more than 55 per cent of respondents said they disapprove of the decision to eliminate council seats, with 46 per cent saying they strongly disagree.
Ultimately, Ford will be judged not on this but on his overall spending and taxing regime. However, he will encounter major problems along the way including the fact that Ontario is already one of the lowest spending jurisdictions in Canada. He has promised a line-by-line spending review, no doubt hoping to find spending that is the equivalent of paying people to dig ditches and then fill them in. However, he is also no doubt forgetting that we have been through this before. Dalton McGuinty hired TD Bank economist Don Drummond to do essentially the same thing in 2011. As the Toronto Star report on the published review noted "quick fixes and easy savings are notably absent here". 

Ford wants to cut taxes but he will encounter a similar problem in this field. Ontario taxes are already relatively low. It is an imperfect measure but the tables below does give you some idea of Ontario's position. Ontario has among the lowest tax revenues among Canadian provinces relative to the size of its economy. There are many who incorrectly perceive Ontario as a high spending, high tax province. The numbers say otherwise.

Ontario is consistently eighth or ninth on this score.  It is not surprising that former PC leader Patrick Brown supported a carbon tax despite its unpopularity among rank and file Conservatives. He understood that Ontario needed the revenue, something Ford hasn't figured out yet. He is in court arguing the federal government does not have jurisdiction to levy a carbon tax, an effort doomed to failure.

Ford's weakness in the polls was already evident earlier this year. The PCs did better in the polls on average before the election call than after.

The reality is that for the Ontario PCs Ford is a liability and not an asset.

If one examines both the vote overall and among Ontario regions we find that the Ontario NDP gained more support in 2018 in most regions compared to 2014 than did the Conservatives. There were two exceptions - 905 North, the affluent suburbs north of Toronto, and Northern Ontario, where the NDP was already strong in 2014.

Had the PCs stuck with Patrick Brown or selected Christine Elliott winning additional terms would seem likely at this point, not so with Doug Ford.

Already journalist Stephen Maher is speculating in Maclean's that Ford may be leading a one term government. One can only hope his career arc follows that of Alison Redford, whose caucus forced her out as Alberta Premier two years after her PCs won a majority election victory.