Raise the Curtain: The Second Act is About to Begin

3 minute read
Doug Ford walking and holding papers

Sunday marks the midpoint of Ford government’s four-year term in Ontario. This is an opportunity to reflect on the first half of their mandate while looking ahead to what remains and what is needed for them to secure a second mandate.

Elected on his “Plan for the People”, the first year for Premier Ford was focused solely on undoing previous decisions made by Premiers Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne. The Ford government was emboldened by their electoral victory, and they did exactly what they said they would do. Not that surprising for a party relegated to Official Opposition for 15 years.

As they entered their second year, it was evident the government was still learning how to govern. A massive cabinet shuffle, including an unprecedented change in the top Finance job, was expected to right the ship and chart a new path. Instead, it was quickly blown off course less than 24 hours later with a series of patronage appointments linked right back to the Premier’s Office. Whether it was unreadable license plates or education labour strife, their inability to get out of their own way and self-inflicted wounds led many to wonder how the government could possibly earn a second mandate. These lingering questions were quickly pushed aside by the COVID-19 pandemic.

They say that you do not get a second chance for a first impression, but Premier Ford’s no-nonsense, straight-talk at his daily press conferences and his hands-on approach has caused Ontarians to reconsider their initial opinions. According to a recent Abacus Data opinion survey, the Premier’s approval ratings have doubled since March, from 23 to 46 percent. Significantly, almost three out of four Ontarians say that they approve of the Premier’s handling of the COVID pandemic. The key for Premier Ford and his team will be demonstrating that this is not a blip, but rather the TSN Turning Point of their mandate.

Even with his bump in the polls, there is still a lot of runway before the next election. His handling of the crisis in long-term care and recovery spending will leave a lasting impression on voters. The decisions they make now will be remembered at the ballot box in 24 months. With a deficit that sky-rocketed to $20.5B due to COVID, it would be easy for the Premier and Finance Minister Rod Phillips to revert back to cuts and efficiencies to get back to balance. The question they have to ask themselves is whether voters care about a balanced budget right now. Conservative Party of Canada leadership contenders Erin O’Toole and Peter MacKay seem to be in no rush to get Canada back to black; neither was Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty after the 2008 recession. Truth be told, the majority of Canadians (64 percent) think that governments should spend whatever is necessary for recovery, even if there are large deficits for the foreseeable future. Trying to balance the budget too quickly could provide some low-hanging fruit for the opposition parties come 2022.
Most importantly, it is incumbent on Premier Ford’s team to remember the number one rule in politics: governments defeat themselves. The 2018 election were not a vote in favour of the Progressive Conservatives, but rather a vote against Premier Kathleen Wynne and her Liberal government. One just has to look at the current provincial voting intentions with the Liberals holding a two-point lead over the governing PCs. With the majority of their election platform enacted, one big promise still remains – expanding beer and wine to convenience stores. Could this be Premier Ford’s proverbial Hail Mary to put them over the top? It would certainly play to the Premier’s base and the populist voters who helped elect his government.

Of course, a lot can change over the next two years. After all, a week is a lifetime in politics. But to have a shot at winning a second term, Premier Ford and his team need to use their handling of COVID as an opportunity to reset. Move past the previous two years and use the clean slate from Ontarians to chart your path forward.

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