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Doug Ford Isn’t ‘For the Little Guy’; He’s a Mercenary for Millionaires

Surging NDP could defeat Ontario’s Trump and prevent an assault on working people and the environment.

Martin Lukacs 28 May

Martin Lukacs is an independent journalist living in Montréal. He writes regularly on the environment for the Guardian, where this column originally appeared. Follow him on Twitter @Martin_Lukacs.

A recent episode perfectly captures the appeal of Ontario Conservative leader Doug Ford. Asked about a delayed mining plan in the province’s north, this is how he answered: “If I have to hop on a bulldozer myself, we’re going to start building roads… it will benefit local people but it is also going to benefit everyone in Ontario.” The statement quickly went viral.

In a single gesture, witness the dizzying acrobatics of right-wing populism. There’s the posture of an unflinching maverick, spitting on his hands and getting the job done. There’s the plain-spoken concern for the common man and woman. And then there’s the actual result: a resource scheme that would enrich multinational corporations — who’d help themselves to a 10-year tax holiday — while trampling Indigenous rights and razing one of the last intact wild areas in Canada.

The spectacle has nevertheless dazzled most of the media. The result has been the frequent amplification of Doug Ford’s claim to be an outsider, in alliance with the “little guy,” crusading against the elite — the ones he says “drink champagne with their pinkies in the air.”

Never mind that he inherited a multi-million dollar business from his father, a conservative politician. Never mind that he has coasted on the political machinery of his brother, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Never mind that he spent years as a city counsellor trying to dismantle public services, has surrounded himself with Stephen Harper’s closest advisors, and is now advancing policies that would be a Trump-like giveaway to the wealthiest. Half-baked denunciations of the elite are apparently enough to eclipse an entire career of fealty to them.

The clucking by the pundit and political class about Ford “being unfit for office” has only fed his image as an anti-elite populist. Lying, griping about rigged elections, lurching through gross lapses of knowledge: each time Ford has acted out, the shrieks have grown louder. But his swaggering defiance of the conventions of the political establishment — of civility, proper procedure, and credentialed authority — isn’t mere buffoonery. Getting attacked for it confirms — just as did for Donald Trump — his supposedly down-to-earth, rebellious status.

In case the pundits missed it, this is a pissed-off political moment. People want to vote for rebels — and care less and less how politicians are supposed to talk and behave.

They have good reason to be pissed. Over 15 years of Liberal rule in Ontario corporate profits have hit record highs while the majority’s standard of living has bottomed out. Energy bills, thanks to Hydro privatization, are higher, hospital waits are longer, public transit is over-crowded, wages have stagnated, and half of Toronto struggles to pay rent, never mind the distant prospect of owning a home.

Ontario has the lowest per-capita government spending of any province: this is something Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne dared to boast about.

The Liberals have gone through some death-bed conversions, raising the minimum wage in the face of pressure from social movements like the Fight for $15 and Fairness. But it’s too little to alter the slide into deepening economic and racial inequality, or the perception of an aloof, indifferent government.

So it’s no surprise that when Ford thumbs his nose at the norms of status quo-politics and takes pot-shots at the elite, it resonates. Except he’s chanelling all that anger and discontent not into shaking down the elite, but into shovelling our collective wealth into their hands.

When it comes to Ford’s stated policies, the bubble of fake populism only grows larger. A tax-break for low-income earners? Alongside his roll-back of the new minimum wage, it actually leaves them poorer. The tax-break for the middle class? That would in fact benefit the most wealthy. And those corporations that whinged about a slight increase in worker’s wages? They’re getting a $1.3-billion giveaway. Welcome aboard — you’re being taken for a ride on the corporate gravy train.

Meanwhile, Ford has offered abundant signs — as Rinaldo Walcott and Naomi Klein detail — that he will scapegoat the most vulnerable. He’d restrict abortion access and replace the sex-ed curriculum, scrap a cap-and-trade climate program, and boost a mushrooming police budget. Canada’s white supremacists are cheering him on. And he’s already been caught conducting backroom talks with real-estate tycoons to open Ontario’s unique green belt to a fire-sale for reckless development. So what was that about Ford’s folksiness? Nothing but a front for an assault on working people and the environment.

The way to win against Ford’s fake populism isn’t to hem and haw about his antics. The way to win is with a real agenda of social justice and redistribution.

The good news is that Andrea Horwath and the NDP are offering the beginnings of that alternative — and Ontarians are starting to pay attention. The party is pledging slightly higher taxes on corporations and the richest to pay for drug and dental coverage; more affordable housing and child care; and debt relief for students; taking back Hydro into public control; making Ontario a Sanctuary province that provides access to services regardless of immigration status; and ending racist carding by police while destroying the collected data.

Their program is far from perfect — and comes after years of a rightward slide — but it represents a crucial opportunity to improve the lives of an overwhelming majority of Ontarians, and move the province in the right direction.

As the NDP surges in the polls, the fear-mongering has already started. The Tories and Liberals are smearing the party as “extremist,” absurdly predicting labour unions will march in “indefinite strikes” and stoking racist fears about migrants and refugees. Expect the warnings about a potential NDP government to reach an apocalyptic pitch: businesses fleeing, the credit rate dropping, a province beset by economic chaos. It’s just a taste of the corporate pressure that will be applied to the NDP if they win — against which the only counterweight will be organized and assertive social movements.

Doug Ford is still betting that voters will be less concerned about the substance of his populism than about his shallow stunts and rhetoric. But it looks more and more likely that he might be proven wrong. Ontarians are catching on that an out-of-touch, silver-spooned con-man isn’t out to defend “the little guy” — he’s a mercenary for the millionaire class.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics

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