The Doug Ford PC government started out with priorities that were unsurprisingly identical to those of it’s newly-minted leader, and it has continued to act on those unabated despite public polls revealing a steep drop in approval ratings earlier this week.
A Mainstreet Research poll revealed a net favourability rating of negative 21.5 per cent for Ford. It also revealed that, despite the disapproval, the majority of voters would still vote for the premier.
The Ontario PC government, led by slick businessman Ford, started out of the gate by cutting Toronto city council as its leader had promised. This was actioned as a priority item as it was fueled by the new premier’s rage at those who had once scorned him while he was employed as a Toronto councillor. The irony of that is that many of the survivors of the municipal culling were those who Ford had specifically named as targets, socialist pinkos that are so far left that they can’t tell wrong from right.
(Interestingly, while many left-leaning councillors had to battle each other Hunger Games-style to see who would survive, one casualty of this short-sighted plan was Giorgio Mammoliti, a councillor who had actively opposed those same Ford foes. While he and former Mayor Rob Ford had frequently clashed, he largely toed the Ford line and frequently agreed with brother Doug.)
Further, this plan was touted as being able to save $25 million from Toronto’s budget, over a 4-year span. That breaks down to $6.25 million a year, less the money each of the 25 remaining councillors would have to spend on supporting staff now that their wards had close to doubled in size. For context, in last year’s sudden spike in gun violence, Ford promised to hand out more than $25 million dollars to tackle the gun problem, albeit through unspecific means.
Now the Ford government has quietly charged ahead with its “cut costs above all else” strategy, with the frontlines being shifted to those of Ontario’s education system.
The first blow would seem to be the Liberal government’s loan-to-grant conversion scheme that allowed many to take out OSAP loans that did not have to be repaid at all. However, that would be ignoring the fact that in November of 2018 Ford decided to scrap established plans to develop post-secondary French language programs and even a new Francophone institution. So those who had looked to the chance to embrace both higher education and bilingualism were really the first cohort of students (or potential students) to feel the sting of rejection by the PC government.
Now, however, anyone who relies on OSAP or was planning on taking advantage of the free tuition program can count themselves among those left behind by Ford and the PC plans. This includes those who had signed up based on the promise of a more affordable plan and are now potentially two years into a three- or four-year program, who now have to budget around large loans they weren’t expecting to need. Those loans will also now need to be paid off on the day the student leaves the program, quite likely also at higher rates.
It is worth pointing out that the plan was declared unsustainable by Ford. This is true. In an effort to try and please everyone and draw attention away from her many political mis-steps, former premier Kathleen Wynne (also former Ontario Education Minister) decided that anyone who qualified for OSAP should qualify for the loan-grant conversions. The problem is that students could qualify for OSAP so long as their households had a combined income of less than $120,000. Like many proud new Tesla owners, high-income families managed to save money they had readily available to spend so that a sinking government could make promises that were doomed to be cut short. Today students of Ontario are left with a student loan system that pleases very few and discourages most from even embarking on post-secondary studies. (Wynne is presumably still sorry, not sorry.)
The central theme here is optics, and a matter of politics over principles. This battle of party versus party and all versus nothing needs to stop. A government does not and cannot please everyone, but that doesn’t mean that it has to cut its nose off to spite its face. (Lord pray Ford’s crosshairs never fall on his own beak.)
Kathleen Wynne leapfrogged the NDP to go even further left in an attempt to sway discouraged voters into scratching her name on their ballots, despite their apprehensions. It did not work, and Doug Ford was handed a super-majority and the right to do whatever he wants for the next four years. And now, Ford wants to show PC veterans and traditional party supporters that he knows the script and will stop at nothing to cut corners and make those books shine.
Next on the chopping block is full-day education for children aged 5 and under. While Ford has been forced to dial back his rhetoric on the matter, he has also maintained that his priorities lie with the deficit and that class size caps are likely going to go. The premier always seems at his strongest when his foes are incapable of fighting back.
And all of this in just the first weeks of 2019. Plans to privatize healthcare were also leaked, but the premier stated that the province’s healthcare system is the “backbone of the province” while also admitting that the government drafts proposals on all sorts of things, including two-tier healthcare.
Ontarians deserve better than this. No citizen deserves to be caught in the middle of a tug of war between political poles, and yet in a world of Brexit and border walls, it seems we have grown all too used to it. We no longer vote for who we approve of (assuming we approve of anyone anymore) but vote against those who we perceive as standing against us.
Thankfully Buck A Beer is back to help us forget what is really at stake here.