The Writing is on the Wall — Doug Ford’s Days as Ontario Leader are Numbered
Unless Ford can change course quickly — and that seems increasingly unlikely — it is almost inevitable that he will face a rebellion from within his cabinet.
While it’s not uncommon for cabinet shuffles to occur with some regularity, Doug Ford’s massive cabinet overhaul just one year into his term highlights both a government in crisis and a leader aware that his position is growing increasingly precarious.
The last several weeks have been a rude awakening for Ontario’s Conservative Party. A series of polls have shown the party’s support tanking to third place behind the Liberals and the NDP. The sagging polls are a direct result of the party’s catastrophic performance since coming to power stemming from the inept leadership of Doug Ford.
Premier Ford’s personal popularity is hovering below the 20% mark, making him the most unpopular head of government within Canada. He is currently polling lower than Kathleen Wynn whose low popularity culminated in the Liberal’s pulverizing defeat in 2018.
It is now alleged that Ford is backing out of any public appearance where he feels he’ll be protested. Indeed, this was given credence when the conservatives announced they will cancel the annual Canada Day celebrations at Queen’s Park — an event that has been held annually since 1967 — deeming it too expensive. However, the annual FordFest BBQ — an event geared towards his supporters — went on as planned.
The dissatisfaction over Ford’s performance is not just limited to Ontario voters, there are whispers that many Conservative MPPs are on edge fearing that this will be a one-term government.
This does not bode well for Ford given that most of the parliamentary party supported Christine Elliott — the current health minister — over Ford during last year’s Conservative leadership campaign.
Ford’s victory in the leadership race is attributed to stronger than expected support from far-right social conservatives within the party’s general membership. It’s thought that Ford’s victory was push back from conservative party members who were upset with attempts to move the party to the left on social issues such as LGBTQ+ rights and reproductive freedoms.
It is fair to argue that the Conservatives won the Ontario election last year not because of Doug Ford but in-spite of him. The 2018 vote was a change election where most voters desired new leadership after fourteen years of Liberal government.
The NDP had initially begun to surge in the polls after its leader Andrea Horwath gave an unexpectedly strong performance during the first debate, but they were ultimately unable to seal the deal facing attacks from both the Conservatives and Liberals. This caused the Conservatives to win by default.
While Ford was never going to be a popular leader, the Conservatives have suffered mightily under his leadership and his far-right policies. It was overlooked by many on Ford’s team that while Ontario voters wanted a change of government, polls showed they preferred most of the policies contained in both the Liberal and NDP platforms.
Ford ran the 2018 election campaign on a bare bones platform promising there would be no large cuts to social services. During a televised debate on May 27, 2018 Ford infamously stated that:
“Under our government, I’m going to reinforce this, not one single person will lose their job.”
Indeed, Ford reiterated this numerous times throughout the campaign. The day before the election Ford made a promise:
“I want to assure our public sector workers, to our nurses, to our teachers and to our doctors, that no one, and I repeat no one, will lose their job.”
Yet shortly after coming to power, Ford’s government began making sweeping cuts to social services including health, education and social programs.
The cuts have resulted in teachers in virtually every region of Ontario receiving notices of redundancies, with projections showing anywhere from 3000 to 5000 teachers will be laid off within the next four years due to government cutbacks. Those figures represent a staggering 20% of Ontario’s teaching force.
Despite the reality that teachers have lost their jobs, the Ford government continues to deny anyone has been laid off.
Earlier in June, it was reported that over 400 healthcare sector workers had been laid off due to the government’s plans to merge numerous health agencies into one super agency.
Additionally, hundreds of workers at autism centres across the province were also laid off in June due to cutbacks. The Minister of Social Services, Lisa MacLeod who has since been demoted as a result of Ford’s cabinet shuffle, defended the layoffs arguing:
“The market will right itself.”
Ford’s government has also made sweeping cutbacks to post-secondary funding. This has included ending the tuition grant program for moderate to lower-income families, and cutting the amount of OSAP funding students will receive during the 2019–2020 academic year.
Indeed, no advanced warning was given that OSAP funding would be cut, leaving many students in the position of being unable to afford tuition.
Ford’s disastrous poll numbers clearly show that there was no mandate or appetite among the electorate for the massive spending cuts implemented during his time in office.
Ford’s policy mismanagement is not only effecting Ontario’s Conservatives, but it is causing the federal conservative’s support to wane in Ontario — a key battleground in this fall’s federal election.
It is rumoured that Ford’s decision to adjourn the provincial legislature until after the October federal election, was done at the behest of the federal conservatives to try and build up their numbers.
Ford has also confirmed that he will not campaign with Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer this summer. This is an unusual move as most provincial party leaders campaign with their federal counterparts during elections.
It’s increasingly clear that conservatives — not just in Ontario but across the country — are waking up to the fact that Ford has become a massive liability.
As the National Post’s Andrew Coyne stated in an interview with the CBC:
“The minister who needs to be shuffled [out of cabinet] is the one doing the shuffling … we knew that he was a rolling train wreck who was able to fluke his way into the leadership, and now they’re [Ontario Conservative MPPs] stuck with him.”
Or are they?
Unless Ford can change course quickly — and that seems increasingly unlikely — it is almost inevitable that he will face a rebellion from within the cabinet.
A sign of Ford’s increasingly precarious position came just hours after his cabinet shuffle when his Chief of Staff, Dean French, suddenly resigned. While Ford’s office argued that French’s departure had been planned and the media believed his departure was the result of some dodgy patronage appointments that had come to light, there is evidence to suggest Ford was pushed into severing ties with French.
French was wildly unpopular with many Conservative MPPs due to allegations of bullying behaviour. One conservative caucus member anonymously told Global News:
“He [French] was a bully, he was known for making MPPs & staffers cry, he had a short temper & everyone had to walk on eggshells around him. There are numerous incidents of inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour. Ultimately the premier is responsible for his staff and their behaviour. For the past year MPPs have had to defend his outrageous behaviour because French expected them to be team players.”
Some within the Conservative caucus believe that French was behind most of Ford’s unpopular policy decisions. Ford’s alleged push to force French to resign can be seen as an attempt to appease a caucus growing weary of his leadership.
The Conservatives waited fourteen years to regain power after their defeat in 2003, and it is unlikely that they wish to go back to second or third-party status. While the Ontario Conservatives continue to face an uncertain immediate future, the long-term outlook is looking increasingly Ford free.