Checking in on Premier Doug Ford as the COVID-19 numbers get better in Ontario (and Alberta, if not Manitoba)

May 27th, 2021 | By | Category: In Brief
“Venturing Out” by Michael Seward, May 2021.

MORE NOTES FROM THE DEMOCRATIC DESKTOP OF CITIZEN X, BUCKHORN, ON. THURSDAY, MAY 27, 2021. In some ways the Doug Ford who spoke to the people of Ontario via TV on Thursday, May 20, 2021 was different from the Doug Ford who had addressed the same democratic audience on Friday, April 30.

Back last month he was a man in a casual jacket with “Premier Doug Ford” written on it, talking from his late mother’s backyard. Not quite three weeks later, two-thirds of the way through May, he was a man in a dark suit, white shirt, and sober tie, seated indoors in front of blue curtains and two Ontario flags.

Ontario flag today.

(Btw, why does Premier Ford seldom if ever speak with Canadian as well as Ontario flags nearby – in a province where many still put Canada First? Moreover, the present British imperialist Ontario flag, like the Ford Nation, is finally a memento of times gone by that will never seriously return. A government that was really open to all the new businesses of the 21st century would dream up a better flag. Or at least not wave the current rather foolish one we have so often. And for evidence that work on a new flag has already begun among we the common people see “ontario flag redesign” on Google Images.)

Lower Buckhorn Lake, Ontario.

The main point of Premier Ford’s brief May 20 TV remarks was to introduce Ontario’s “phased 3-step approach” to “reopening” the province, as the end of the latest lockdown looms (at some point), and the latest COVID-19 numbers in Canada’s most populous province are more or less moving down (new cases May 18 = 1616, eg ; May 27 = 1135).

As his part of “ONTARIO UNVEILS REOPENING PLAN” the premier stressed that the 3-step approach will be very, very careful and gradual – especially because the federal government, according to Doug Ford, is leaving the province with “unprotected” borders. There “might be some people [the premier went on] who want to move faster but we can’t risk it right now.”

The most significant part of Premier Ford’s introduction may have been his leaving the details of Ontario’s 3-step approach to subsequent remarks from Minister of Health Christine Elliott. As the premier explained : “Minister Elliott has done a tremendous amount of work on this plan.”

Mainstreet Landing on Upper Buckhorn Lake, Ontario.

This leaving of the main job, as it were, to Christine Elliott (who won the popular vote while Doug Ford won the electoral college, so to speak, in the 2018 Ontario PC leadership race) fits with the current theory that whatever and whoever is actually managing the PC Government of Ontario in the late spring of 2021 is (wisely) trying to use the premier sparingly in public. He works best as a somewhat mysterious figure.

The TV talk on May 20 began with a vaguely robotic Doug Ford, reading the party line on the very careful and gradual 3-step reopening plan without great enthusiasm (or skill). He began to warm to the task when he reached the part about the federal government leaving the province with “unprotected” borders. And then he seemed to take an extra minute or so just before introducing Minister Elliott, for an ad-lib riff on the philosophy behind the government’s approach to the pandemic, if we all just pull together etc, etc..

It has seemed for a while that Doug Ford himself is not exactly running the Ford government – even in the reformed modus operandi that settled in during the summer of 2019 (after the premier was widely booed at the Toronto Raptors NBA Championship celebration).

Trent-Severn Waterway Lock 31 in Buckhorn, Ontario.

The reformed modus operandi finally worked when Premier Ford and his government grew dramatically more popular during the first wave of COVID-19, which almost seemed to end well but for all too short a time. Then there was the second and even worse third wave. Yesterday Becky Robertson at blogTO posted an article on how “People in Ontario least happy with government pandemic response out of all provinces.”

(In fact the “new Misery Rankings from the MacDonald Laurier Institute” are somewhat complex. Ms Robertson goes on : “Though people in Alberta may be the most ‘miserable’ when it comes to COVID numbers, government response and economic impacts combined, Ontario still came out as the province that has the largest measured ‘response misery’ and was also named second most miserable overall.” Most recently again – too recent for even the latest polls? – Ontario and Alberta have improved. Manitoba may be the new provincial worst case : an honour that has virtually run the table since the pandemic began?)

In any event, from my three-bathroom custom cabin in the Kawartha woods I thought Premier Ford was talking more like the crypto-authoritarian wizard of Queen’s Park back on April 30 than he did later on May 20. And that was part of the problem back then.

Sunset over Buckhorn Lake, Ontario.

On May 20 Doug Ford seemed a little more like a “first among equals” on a deep-rooted team that learned how to govern Ontario during the uninterrupted 42-year PC dynasty from 1943 to 1985 (with a reprise of something at least also conservative 1995—2003). It’s a team that can still run the railway best, regardless of the guy up front. Or so the story goes …

If something like all this is really happening, who actually is running Ontario right now, if it isn’t Doug Ford? This is a question I will continue to ask myself over the summer ahead – even though that is not a very good place to look for a serious answer. But I will be watching for signs.

Meanwhile, Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney’s recent announcement that “New Ontario Passenger train will connect Toronto to the North” and “Passenger rail service in northeastern Ontario to return by mid-2020s” arguably reflects further potentially smart attempts to revive the old Ontario PC magic.

Even more importantly, CBC polling guru Éric Grenier recently noted that in the two latest opinion polls “Ford’s Progressive Conservatives still hold a lead in Ontario. But with the party now averaging 34.5 per cent across the two surveys, Ford’s PCs have dropped six points since the 2018 provincial election. Only a divided opposition is keeping his party ahead.”

The nonetheless good news for Doug Ford is that, at the moment in any case, his NDP and Liberal opponents are almost equally splitting the lion’s share of the opposition majority – in terms of the province-wide popular vote. And that kind of three-cornered contest in enough local ridings could even mean a PC majority of seats in the Legislative Assembly again, with as little as 35% of the popular vote! (Or even a little less?)

The more religious wing of the Ontario PCs (Christian, Muslim, and beyond) should be praying aggressively that this current trend among provincial parties in opinion polls continues until the next election day, very slightly over a year from now on June 2, 2022.

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