Jordan: One week ago, Ontario’s premier returned to the provincial legislature after a long time away. Why was Doug Ford gone so long? Oh, that depends on who you ask, but it’s definitely worth noting. That one of the last things he and we heard before he vanished was at a championship parade for the Toronto Raptors, the premier Curio jog, .
You can’t blame those fans. Really. The first year of Ford’s tenure proved deeply unpopular, and maybe the fact that the premier decided to step away for a while. Shortly afterwards was a sign that he wanted to reflect on that and to refocus his administration. Or maybe if you care for the kind of political speculation that comes with a general election, maybe not
News Clip: Something, maybe a miss for the Tories in Ontario, specifically the nine Oh five area and that’s something.
Maybe Doug Ford, it was a case of Doug Ford, who as Andrew Scheer rolled into town today. The federal conservative leader didn’t appear to want to think very much
about Ontario’s premier, but mr shear, we spent the last two days in Doug Ford’s backyard. Premier Kenney is saying that he plans to campaign for your candidates in the upcoming election.
Doug Ford has been nowhere to be seen. We’re in his backyard all day today. What are Ontarians supposed to make of the fact that you don’t seem to want them anywhere near a campaign? Uh, that’s, uh, that’s just completely false.
Jordan: No matter which version of events you want to believe. Ford is back just one week after Canadians voted.
So the question is, what now? Will Ontario’s conservatives offer a new strategy or will they just pay lip service to bipartisanship? What does Ford think about the federal conservatives wipe out in his province, his biggest city, and was he simply caught in a no win situation, no matter what he done over the past five months.
I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. This is the big story. Cynthia Mulligan is a Queens park reporter at city news. She’s covered a lot of Fords. I sent the IA.
Cynthia: Hey, good morning.
Jordan: So for those of us outside of Ontario, who or who weren’t maybe paying close attention, what has a premier Doug Ford been doing for the past five months?
Cynthia: Well, it’s really hard to say because we really didn’t see very much of him. Uh, the last news conference he had done was in August, August 23rd, to be exact. Uh, but we really hadn’t seen much of him since June when he shuffled his cabinet. And then the whole cronyism scandal erupted. And then we saw him in Canara ended up plowing match, and that was about it.
So maybe four times in five months, we saw him publicly in front of the media.
Jordan: Do we know why for certain, or are we all just speculating? And if so, what’s the speculation?
Cynthia: Well, a number of things. First of all, his, his ratings plummeted in the polls. Uh, I would say that the government was in a tailspin and they were finally realizing that the public was very deeply unhappy with them.
And I know, and I think it was the booing. I think the booing in particular, when, when the Raptors were being lauded at Nathan Phillips square, I think I’m told that that really upset the premier. I mean, that would be humiliating for sure. Anybody, and I think he took it really to heart. And then there were a couple of other instances on a much smaller scale of boos, and I think that that made him realize because he wants to be liked.
He really does. And I genuinely feel he is a people person and when he’s in a crowd, he loves it. When people come up to him and talk to him, he really, really thrives on that Ford family. It is a trait. Yeah, it is. Absolute skill that they have mastered, and people love talking to them because they are approachable.
So I think that that really bothered him, and I think he started to see that there was a real negative backlash against him personally. So I know that even before the cabinet shuffled, they were realizing that they had to change things. Then they had the cabinet shuffle, which was overshadowed within hours of this massive cronyism scandal, which led to Dean French, Doug Ford’s chief of staff.
Resigning, and then we didn’t see very much of him and, and why. Well, I think that’s one reason why I also think that there was a federal election. I think the federal conservatives. Ask them to put a lid on it and go into, into hiding. Really, that was like,
Jordan: That was the rumor that was out there that it had been ordered to like get under wraps.
Cynthia: I don’t know how much it was ordered. Neither side will. Will absolutely confirm that there was an actual order, but I think everybody probably agreed it was an everybody’s. Best interests that Andrew Scheer could distance himself from Doug Ford, and I also think that it was a good tactic on, on the Ford behalf of just, let’s get you out of the public eye for awhile.
Let’s let the public sentiment simmer down. Let’s let some of your key people take the spotlight instead. We’ve seen a lot of. Peter Beth Lynn Falvey, for example, Stephen Lecce, the education minister, who’s trying to tone down the, the talks with unions. So I think that that was actually a good strategy because they’re counting on the public, forgetting the first bad year before the next election rolls around.
Jordan: So whether or not, uh, there was any sort of edict of like, get out of the way, the timing, the legislature returned last week.
Cynthia: The first time in almost five months and the longest break from the legislature in 25 years,
Jordan: And Doug Ford was back. So was anything different like the first day back?
What, how has the government changed in the time off?
Cynthia: Well, there’s a marked difference in tone. And I was speaking to the new government house leader, Paul Colandra, who used to work in federal politics under Stephen Harper. And. Yeah. I had a really good interest, interesting conversation with him.
In the end, he said, you know, we need, we need to be better at this, and he said, the federal election voters showed us, all of us, and all politicians need to listen that they’re not happy with the tone. They’re not happy with the partisanship. They want us to be better. And. He said to me that that is his goal is to, to manage things better and for everyone to tone it down, less partisanship.
And he said, look, we’re still going to get passionate. We’re still gonna argue, but not like what we saw in the first year in the Ford government.
Jordan: So that’s kind of the front facing tone change of the government. That’s the surface. Yeah. Underneath though, our policies changing our, their approach to issues changing, uh, in response to their dive in the polls.
Cynthia: Absolutely. I think they’ve walked back a number of issues. Autism for one is, is the really big one. Um, they, they ha, uh, gathered a panel from within the community. To come up with recommendations on how to change the whole file. They have put one of the most affable ministers in charge, Todd Smith replacing Lisa McCloud, who was widely criticized for, for bullying and and her tone on it.
Todd Smith is one of the friendliest, you know, approachable MP PS at Queens park. So he has really struck a better tone. I think that there’s still a long way to go with parents though, who really don’t trust this government at all because they’ve been pushed to the brink. So now they’re going to take these recommendations and they’re going to look at them and they’re going to going to come up with a new plan.
They maintain, they’ve doubled the budget to $600 million. You know, it’s yet to be seen what they can really do. I mean, it’s great that they’ve doubled the budget. I still don’t think my concern is with these recommendations. There. They’re great recommendations if you have a ton of money. Yeah.
I worry that parents’ expectations have been set too high with these panel recommendations because I’m not sure there’s enough money to do everything. The panel is recommendation recommending, so that’s going to be a real test of this government, but I still think it’s going to be way better than their initial recommendations or, or their initial changes the on to the Ontario autism program.
Jordan: Do we know what the government’s priorities are for the rest of the fall sitting? How much might be left? They are currently,
Cynthia: They have six weeks of this session, so we’ve just finished the first week, you know, the OSS, TF, the Ontario high school teacher’s union, which is in a bitter battle with the government over class sizes because they’re the ones mostly impacted by increasing the class sizes and eliminating the caps on classes.
So they have asked for a no board report as well as they’ve started a strike vote. They, the president Harvey Bishop tells me they could be in a legal strike position mid November. Really. So we’ll see. And the government doesn’t want a strike. And I really do see the education minister trying to manage it so that that we’re not going to see a full on strike.
Whereas, you know, if you had asked me six months ago, I would’ve said that the government was practically daring them to strike.
Jordan: Right. Well, as far as optics go after the past year. A teacher strike to end 2019, uh, would not be the greatest look.
Cynthia: Right. And they don’t want that. They, they, they are really trying to win over the public and they’re, they’re trying to do it in, in many different ways.
Some of them subtle, like the tone, but also policy. Um. The beer store contract is an interesting one. So I reached out to a source just a couple of days ago to see where are things going, and I was told nothing’s changed, and that one was really rankling the public to the fact that you could break the beer store contract and it could potentially cost $1 billion. So that one they’re going to have to manage as well.
Jordan: Do we know how premier Ford felt about. How the federal election went in Toronto, both in terms of him not campaigning alongside, uh, the federal conservative candidate when he was in a tobacco, which is Doug Ford’s backyard. And also the results in the GTA, which were just a wipe out.
Cynthia: So would you like the official government stance or what people behind the scenes who are very close to the premier are telling me?
Jordan: Well, I definitely want both, but you can start, start with the official
Cynthia: Government– government’s stance was he was really busy. Right. And there’s no way he could have been involved.
Although one person did say to me, and I thought this was really interesting, he couldn’t win either way, because if he helped Andrew Scheer. On the campaign trail and Andrew sheer didn’t do well in Ontario. Everybody would say it was Doug Ford’s fault. Yeah. If he didn’t help, Andrew Scheer and Andrew Scheer didn’t do well, everyone would say it’s Doug Ford’s fault.
Jordan: What does Doug Ford think or people close to him?
Cynthia: I think that there’s a very. Yeah. You know, big acknowledgement that there would be a Doug Ford factor in some way. Absolutely. They felt that the insiders at Queens park felt that that was diminishing as the election wore on. The longer that Doug Ford was out of the spotlight.
Right. Uh, what I’ve been told is the number of times his name would come up at the door was diminishing. I’m not really sure. I had a conversation with somebody very high, very close in Doug Ford’s office. I had a conversation. Before the election shortly before the election was somebody who was very close to the premier at Queens park and, and it was very interesting because they were quite defensive of him and, and upset with sheers team for throwing Doug Ford under the bus.
And, and said, listen, if we go, if, if Andrew sheer loses, and particularly in Ontario, they can’t pin the blame on us right? Blame is on his own campaign. It’s not our fault. And it was quite interesting. Um, they, so I think, I think there are two camps and the premiere does have people who are still very loyal to him and, and protective.
Jordan: So I wanted to ask you about Toronto specifically because the last time we talked to you, um, the city and the province, were in. A really bitter feud over transit over any number of things. Has that tone changed since, uh, the legislature resumed.
Cynthia: Well Toronto city council just approved Doug Ford’s Ontario line. Okay. That’s a major victory for Doug Ford. Yeah, it really is. And, and the federal liberals have indicated that they would support it. So I would say that that has been going on furiously behind the scenes. The new transportation minister after the cabinet shuffle is Caroline Mulrooney, and I think that she really navigated.
Uh, getting this agreement with John Torrey, and he got it passed through city council. I think two or three counselors were against it. Otherwise everybody was in support of it. People just want to build transit, right? Yeah. So I would, I would call that a major victory for premier Ford and, and a sign that he can work with Toronto city council.
Jordan: When we talk about whether or not Ford campaigning with sheer or without sheer would have changed anything, what would it take, I mean, you’ve covered municipal politics and federal and provincial politics in this city. Toronto is completely red. Is there anything that Doug Ford or Andrew Scheer could have done to change that.
Cynthia: Very little. I mean, I think Toronto is, first of all, they have a long memory with Rob Ford, and while you’ll still find many people who loved Rob Ford, I think the overwhelming sense was that was, that was just a circus in a time we don’t want to revisit, but I just think Toronto is just generally votes more liberal and they’re more.
You know, they’re more diverse, not that there aren’t followers who are diverse of the conservative, right. But I just think they’re more liberal in terms of their thinking and their mindset and, and the, and in specific LGBTQ rights, um, minority rights, immigration, um, the climate. Yeah. So there are many factors. And I just think the Toronto mindset is, is, is not always in step. With the conservative mindset.
Jordan: Well, one of the things I found fascinating about the election was given sort of everything you say about Toronto, and that’s kind of how I see the city as well, that the city was also an in particular, like the suburbs around it, like the nine Oh five was referred to as this critical battleground.
Cynthia: It is. I mean, you have 122 seats in Ontario, right? It’s vote rich. The second biggest province voting block is Quebec, which is 78. So what huge,
Jordan: What could the conservatives do to take some of the, some of those votes out of the nine Oh five because as, as you look at the results now, and there’s been a lot of, a lot of debate on the conservative side as to whether or not they could have done better, or is it just these were the factors working against them?
Cynthia: Well, I think part of the problem was, was this SoCon element that Andrew Scheer. Willingly or unwillingly represents, and you know, he, he won’t March in a pride parade. That’s like, that’s a big deal for a lot of people in this city. It really is. Yeah. And climate change. He didn’t March in any climate change protest at a time when we know in from polls that it was one of the top three issues in the federal election.
And I just think for Torontonians those are, those are big issues. Abortion. Nobody wanted to talk about it. And he never, he never, as Peter of a case that it was an albatross around his neck, but he actually was never able to fully put that to rest. Right. And I think that those issues lingered and, and were, were pervasive in voters minds.
Jordan: When we look at the next. Six months a year, I guess. We’re still two and a half years out from another election in Ontario,
Cynthia: which is a long time in politics and anything can happen.
Jordan: Well, that was kind of my question is, is there a way, um, is there a path to Doug Ford specifically personally because it’s his brand involved, uh, rebuilding that support?
Um, or is it just too fractured? Now? When
Cynthia: Doug Ford first announced his leadership bid, a lot of people laughed. Hmm. For the PC conservatives. A lot of people laughed and I said to them, never count out. Afford, don’t laugh at a Ford. You know, people laughed when Rob Ford said he wanted to be mayor.
People laughed when they said, Doug Ford was going to be premiered. Don’t laugh. There’s smart, savvy politicians and you know, weed, and especially, we also don’t know. Who the liberal leader is going to be. I mean, the liberals now have at Queens park five members. Yeah, because two left over the summer and you know, who’s their next leader going to be?
Is it going to be the right person that can even take on Doug Ford. We don’t know that yet. So there are so many things still in play, but I would say right now, even though he’s not doing well in the polls and it looks grim, never count out a fork.
Jordan: Thank you, Cynthia.
Cynthia: Thank you,
Jordan: Cynthia Mulligan. Queens park reporter for city news. You’d like to hear more from Cynthia on our Rob Ford podcast. You can look for it in your favourite podcast player. It’s called The Gravy Train. She’s one of our expert guests. She was there for it all. You can also find more big stories that thebigstorypodcast.ca and of course you can always talk to us on Twitter at @thebigstoryfpn or at @frequencypods, and we are in every podcast player everywhere.
Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
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