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  • Writer's pictureMartin Regg Cohn

Don’t blame Doug Ford — he says everything is someone else’s fault

The premier has no trouble pointing elsewhere when he has his own troubles at home, Martin Regg Cohn writes.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Premier Doug Ford walks into his office at the Ontario Legislature on Nov. 2, 2023. Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS The Star

Doug Ford has figured out the formula for political survival:

When in doubt, distract.

Under pressure, pivot.

To watch Ford on the job is to marvel at his multi-tasking, multi-targeting, channel-changing abilities. A premier who won elections provincially now plays politics nationally and internationally.

Housing costs through the roof? Attack the Bank of Canada for rising interest rates.

Affordability weighing heavily? Blame Ottawa for the carbon levy.

Greenbelt got you down? Double down on Gaza for a quick uptick in the polls.

Here’s how the playbook pays dividends:

• Housing has been Ford’s mantra on the campaign trail because it’s the Canadian dream. Now, with interest rates rising to the highest levels in recent memory, Ford’s core supporters are wondering why the premier who over-promised on housing is now under-delivering.

The premier’s response? When rates are rising, redirect all wrath by resending pointless rebukes to Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem.

First in September, and again in October, formal letters have gone out from the desk of the premier to the dustbin of the governor. By convention, the central bank is at arm’s length from the central government, which is itself far removed from the provincial government.

The outcome of Ford’s faux outrage? About what you’d expect — unmeasurable.

For good measure, Ford sent a separate letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau railing against rising rates. When you have no serious proposals, posturing is the next best thing.

• Ontarians should be genuinely worried about Alberta quitting — and gutting — the Canada Pension Plan. Yet instead of forging a united front with the federal government to secure the interests of all pensioners, the Ford government sided with divide and conquer tactics.

Alberta wants a wildly disproportionate 53 per cent of the pension fund for itself. Yet Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy was AWOL on the CPP from the outset.

Only when federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland was ready to convene an emergency conference with her provincial counterparts did Bethlenfalvy belatedly — if not exactly boldly — find his tongue and formally call for a meeting (the same day she did).

But when the ministers gathered, Bethlenfalvy shifted to bait and switch, taking the heat off Alberta while instead targeting Ottawa on a completely different subject — carbon pricing. Ford followed up a few weeks later with a meeting of provincial premiers that also rallied against the federal levy on carbon.

• When the premier learned the RCMP was launching a formal investigation into his plan to bulldoze the Greenbelt, he counterattacked on Gaza. Ford’s Tories drove a wedge straight through a badly divided New Democratic Party, which couldn’t help talking and tweeting itself into a trap.

A formal police investigation is a big deal, especially over multibillion-dollar deal making with unanswered questions about quid pro quos. That the Tories have avoided paying a stiff political price so far is a testament to their ability to tie the opposition in knots with a transparently expedient and exploitative ploy.

Credit for Ford’s unexpected success goes largely to the NDP, which never met a wedge it wouldn’t walk into. Rather than stand together as a party, New Democrats came apart — without even knowing exactly what they were at cross-purposes over.

The Tories first targeted rookie MPP Sarah Jama — still a New Democrat at the time — after her one-sided, victim-blaming tweets in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas massacre of Israeli civilians. Belatedly and grudgingly, Jama apologized (while pointedly refusing to delete her original, tone-deaf tweet).

What should have been a straightforward fight against the censuring and censorship of an elected MPP — I’ve written that the Tory motion was over the top and unsupportable — was instead overshadowed by Jama’s refusal to work with her fellow New Democrats. She continued to defy and blindside NDP Leader Marit Stiles (and her fellow MPPs) — which is why she was ultimately bounced from caucus.

Yet to this day, diehard New Democrats cling to the fable that Jama was ejected for her views on the Middle East, when in fact Stiles fired her refusing to be a team player and sowing division on the home front. Watching party loyalists condemn their leader while celebrating the disloyal Jama was music to the ears of Ford’s Tories.

Taken together, how do all these diversions advance Ford’s future ambitions?

When you’re struggling with a housing crisis exacerbated by global inflation, a monthly letter-writing campaign to the independent central bank governor won’t get you far. Not when people want answers.

When you’re worrying about the future of pensions, repeating your past pandering over carbon won’t secure the CPP. Not when people seek security.

When you’re facing a police investigation over corruption, exploitation of the Middle East conflict won’t bring you political peace on the home front. Not when the police keep probing.

Ford has perfected the fine art of bait and switch — and wedge. Say what you will about his talking points, he is counting on reporters and readers to have a short attention (and distraction) span.

Is there method to his madness? Depends on our dumbness.

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