Now that he doesn’t have former premier Kathleen Wynne to kick around any more, Doug Ford – being the sort of politician who, like Donald Trump, needs an antagonist to vent about – has turned his sights to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
His attacks escalate by the week. “We’ve taken Kathleen Wynne’s hand out of your pocket … and we’re going to take Justin Trudeau’s hand out of your pocket,” he told a cheering crowd of 600 that assembled last week to celebrate his first 100 days as premier.
Why is Ford doing this? He is going national when he still has plenty to do in his own bailiwick.
There are still remnants of Wynne’s legacy to be stamped out. There are Ford’s unkept election promises to reduce the price of gasoline by 10 cents a litre and hydro rates by 12 per cent, a $15 billion provincial deficit to address, a promised 20 per cent tax cut for middle income earners, and a new sex-free sex-ed school curriculum to be adopted.
In addition, ways must be found to deal with the rising death toll among street drug users now that he has frozen safe injection sites; with doctors who contend they are underpaid; with provincial civil servants who protest their wages being frozen; and with all those struggling workers in the private sector who were counting on a minimum-wage increase to $15 an hour in 2019, an increase cancelled by his government.
And let us not forget his vaunted buck-a-beer promise. What to do? Brewers say they can’t afford to produce beer at his price.
Yes, there are many things to be done, but they seem so, well, provincial. In baseball parlance, national politics is The Show. Parliament Hill is the stage where important issues are resolved, where real power is wielded, and where large egos can be satisfied.
So Ford has assembled his Gang of Five provincial Conservative leaders (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick, plus Ontario) to raise hell with the Trudeau government, starting with the carbon tax that is due to come into effect on Jan. 1.
Smart people in Ford’s government are well aware of last week’s sobering report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned that the countries of the world have only 12 years left to contain global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius or face even more extreme weather.
Reports don’t matter. Science is not politics. In politics, what matters is the pricing mechanism in Ottawa’s new Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act. It looks like a tax on carbon (even if it is revenue-neutral), and taxes are bad. And when they are levied by the federal government, they are evil.
The carbon tax is just the beginning. Wading deeper into federal waters, Ford lashed out at Trudeau’s handling of USMCA, the new version of the trade deal formerly known as NAFTA. He accused the prime minister of abandoning Ontario dairy farmers and steel and aluminum workers in the negotiations.
“Justin Trudeau is out there taking a victory lap without giving honest answers,” he said.
It’s not that Ford has more honest answers – or any answers – for climate change or trade negotiations.
But that’s not the point. The point is, he is setting himself up as the leader of the opposition to the federal government on safe issues where he can lash the Liberals without having to offer alternatives.
Why is he doing this? Well, fighting with Ottawa is often good politics for a provincial premier. Ford also knows that if he can deliver Ontario to Andrew Scheer and the federal Conservatives in next October’s election, he will make himself a player who must be reckoned with in national politics.
And if Scheer falls to Trudeau, why wouldn’t the Tories look to the most successful Conservative in the land for their next leader?
Prime Minister Doug Ford? Improbable, but stranger things have happened. Let’s watch to see if the unilingual Ford signs up for French lessons.