As the Summer of 2019 continues, it’s been interesting to watch the political news. Being a normal quiet period, normally that means having very little of note take place. But it wouldn’t be 2019 if this summer managed to follow that norm. Oh no, not at all. With that in mind, there have been a couple pieces of news come from Queen’s Park that have been quite interesting for me to note, starting with a new poll released by the Toronto Star yesterday:

The headline number in this poll is amazingly striking, especially for a government only into the 14th month of it’s term; 67% of respondents disagree with the statement “Doug Ford cares about people like me.” Only a hearty, hardcore group of Ford Nation supporters, totally 19% in this poll, agreed with that very blunt statement. The same poll went onto state that 63% of respondents agree that “the Ford government has given jobs to too many of the Premier’s cronies”, which is an equally damning figure. It also speaks to the mindset of the electorate to a degree; it wasn’t saying that people think that Ford shouldn’t give any jobs to friends and such, it was just saying it was too many. It was saying that people had a very low bar for the expectations of this government, to the point where the public would accept “some cronies” to be appointed. But somehow they managed to even blow under that low expectation, which is astonishing.

It’s news like that, along with people’s general anger about many of the Ford Conservatives cuts and policy changes, that seems to have been likely to have lead to this newest development, one that speaks volumes too:

Oh yes, remember how Premier Ford gave out his personal cell number to everyone under the sun, saying that if they had a problem to call him and he’d fix it? That has lead to some crazy stories, but regardless of the stories, it was an approach that seemed to be doomed to fail. And with the explanation that “special interest groups” were to blame for the cancellation of said cell phone, it seems that this all ended in a pretty predictable way.

Given his current popularity and all the scandals and issues that his government has faced, it feels safe to assume that the vast majority of those calls he received were not positive. And if you are to believe the many media stories out there, this is not a Premier who deals with that kind of news too well. So it makes sense that eventually that line would go dead.

But the big tell here about what is really going on here was the excuse line, laying blame at the feet of “special interest groups”. Not only is that old time, Conservative language, it also speaks to the attitude of this government. When students were protesting the changes to sex education classes, Ford blamed teacher’s unions, who had nothing to do with their organization. When Ford has taken shots at other public sector workers, he has blamed unions again. When the party was fighting back against criticism of their cuts, the went after “special interest groups”.

Of course, all of those people go by other titles too; taxpayers, parents, Ontarians and voters. They are what you also might think of as “the people”. When the Conservatives drop the “special interest group” language, it’s a backhanded attempt to demean and devalue those who are speaking out, as if they are to be discounted and their opinions are somehow less valuable. Of course, in this case that simply hasn’t worked because of the widespread nature of the feelings towards this government, their approaches, their policies and their scandals. You don’t get to those kinds of poll numbers when it’s truly only a small group of people who are upset. The Premier seems to be feeling the pressure, so away goes the direct line to the Premier and gets replaced with a system that will filter and vet the concerns he actually sees.

To be fair, the whole idea of giving out the personal cell number of anyone elected at the level was always absurd; it’s not because people should be able to have access to their leaders, but it’s because that is far from the best way of doing it. As someone whose worked in the offices of MPs, there were always many good reasons we never just gave out the MPs cell number willy nilly. But the biggest reason was to be able to give the best services to constituents, period.

When the Premier did give out that number, it came off as very disingenuous to me. It was unsustainable, not the best way for the leader of the second largest government in this country to operate and given the personality of the person with the phone, was doomed to end right where it did. So that being said, you could argue that the first story has nothing to do with the second. But I would argue that the two stories are very much connected because if the Premier was popular and getting all kinds of calls with lavishing praise, that line would still be connected to this day.

We are only in the middle of July and there is a lot of summer still out in front of us. What was meant to be a quiet summer at Queen’s Park has been anything but, and the stories keep coming. Something tells me that will continue for a while still, and that fewer Ontarians will be getting replies to their calls and concerns.

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