Doug Ford has been rewarded for his learning curve, but what lessons will he heed?


Ontario PC party leader Doug Ford and his wife Karla react after he was re-elected as Ontario’s premier in Toronto on June 2.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

A compliant Ontario electorate has rewarded Doug Ford with another majority government, even bigger than the first.

For a political leader, winning consecutive elections is really good. Winning consecutive majority governments is really great. But consecutive landslides, the second bigger than the first? Wow.

Mr. Ford came to the prime minister’s office with no experience in provincial politics. The first half of his first term was tumultuous. But the most important quality of a politician is the ability to learn. Mr. Ford learned to govern skillfully, in the eyes of a large plurality of voters.

The danger now is that he learns the wrong lesson from his victory.

“What Ford is proposing is tough, pragmatic, centrist government, which is where Ontarians have been on both the liberal and conservative sides,” said Robert Asselin, senior vice president for policy at the Business Council of Canada. “People say: ‘Why would we change this government?’”

But the Ontario government needs to overcome managerial competition and address underlying challenges. Mr. Asselin points to health care, where costs are steadily rising above the province’s economic growth in gross domestic product, even as millions of boomers retire and doctors, nurses and support workers stress. They leave the profession. “It’s just not sustainable,” he said.

Laura Stephenson, a political scientist at Western University, warns of the serious harm students have suffered as a result of the pandemic closures.

“These kids are fighting,” he said. “We are at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to children and mental health, children and education, whether it is the student who is not prepared for university-level exams and essays, or the student who suffers from the loss of contact with friends and peers. of class. ” It will be up to Queen’s Park and other provincial governments to deal with the repercussions of those two lost years.

Increases in social spending require increases in growth. But as former federal finance minister Bill Morneau warned this week, Canada is failing to create the future-oriented economy needed to sustain that growth. Ontario represents a large part of that economy.

When governments face mounting spending commitments and little or no real growth, they go into debt to at least maintain the status quo. But the combined federal/Ontario net debt has reached 100 percent of GDP.

“It’s a concern,” said Derek Burleton, deputy chief economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank. Currently, the economy is operating almost at full capacity, “but the debt has not been reduced. In fact, it continues its upward trend.”

With a plethora of problems, from disrupted supply chains to rising interest rates and fallout from the war in Ukraine, clouding the horizon, “the province is now more vulnerable should the economy hit a plateau.” significant turbulence,” he warned.

Mr. Ford’s advantage is that his government has a long way to go politically if it decides to implement controversial reforms, relatively free from opposition from the Liberals and the NDP.

Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats lost seats, although they remain the Official Opposition. The Liberals continue to languish in third place; Leader Steven Del Duca failed to win a seat. Both leaders announced that they would resign, something more unprecedented. That’s how convincingly Doug Ford won. He could be leading a new Big Blue Machine.

Bottom line: Voters have given Prime Minister Ford a renewed mandate to make adjustments, when adjustments are not enough. The province requires major changes in its economic base to finance rising social costs. Mr. Asselin points to the need to advance intellectual property protection and turn that property into new or growing businesses, to exploit advances in agricultural technology and move the profits of biotechnology from the laboratory to production.

“Politicians don’t see value in this because it’s not sexy,” he said. “But they need to do this. It is important. It is the future of our country.”

Addressing the challenges of health care, education, and productivity growth, while keeping spending in check, is not an easy circle to square. But Ford asked for another chance to take over, and voters agreed. We wish you the best.

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