The past six months have been stunning to think about in retrospect. That fact that we’re coming up on six months of fighting COVID-19 is in of itself stunning to think about. So much has changed in that relatively short period of time and more change is likely still to come. The longer this goes on, the harder it becomes to think of how things were before all of this came but still every so often a story comes up that reminds of us those days in what I like to call “The Before Times”. Friday we had a story come out that brought us one such reminder of those times:
Ahhh remember way back when the Ford Conservatives decided to try to put their thumbs on the scale of the last federal election by forcing gas stations to put misleading propaganda stickers on their pumps? Remember how they were doing to charge those private businesses that refused a whopping $10,000 a day if they refused to take part? And remember how the sticks forced by the actual sticker maker-turned-Premier Doug Ford were so crappy that they kept peeling off in basic weather? Yes, those were the days my friend.
That the law that created those stickers and its implementation were challenged in the courts and even COVID-19 didn’t stop that process from playing out. Friday we got the answer back from Justice Edward M. Morgan of the Ontario Superior Court and it was as clear a ruling as you can get. It struck the law down and didn’t mince words about it. The ruling is an interesting read and said some pretty interesting thing about how B.S. this law was. He laid the government’s attempts bare, summarizing it thusly:
Throughout his judgement, Morgan quotes the words of Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford over and over again, partisan statements that made it clear the true intent of the legislation. It wasn’t about providing information to be public, no matter how incomplete it was; it was all about “sticking it to” the Trudeau Liberals. It was a Conservative government using taxpayers funds to pay for their partisan attack, all while forcing private companies to take part with no reasonable way to refuse them or fight back against it. It’s some ugly stuff, but was vintage Doug Ford in that moment.
So while we might be able to look back on that time differently now that we find ourselves in these difficult days, I would argue this decision isn’t just the last distant ring of this story. Awful decisions like those taken back then matter today for a couple of reasons. Firstly it was just an example of bad government on their behalf, and frankly that always matters in my view.
But most importantly in these times is to think of the resources that were spend and wasted because of this whole sticker episode. Think of the millions of dollars wasted by this Conservative government on forcing those damn stickers onto gasoline pumps across the province. Think of the millions more wasted on the radio and print ads that were put out there to augment that partisan campaign, the very same one that Justice Morgan took to the woodshed on Friday. Then add to those thoughts the hundreds of thousands (or maybe millions) this government spent so far fighting to defend this law in the courts. And that’s assuming the Ford Conservatives decide not to fight this further and appeal it.
That is a lot of money that was effectively flushed down the toilet that we could really use right now to help fight COVID-19. It was flushed not in the service of Ontarians, but in service of the political goals and needs of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario and in turn, the Conservative Party of Canada. That was all about trying to give the federal Conservatives an electoral boost from the coffers of Ontario’s taxpayers and this judge called it out for what it was.
So yes, you can look back at this story and think of it as “not that important” in the grand scheme of things, but I would disagree on this level. Lots of smaller stories like these, costing dollar values far into the millions, really start to add up and waste a lot of our fiscal capacity. That really matters in moments like these when all hands are on deck and we need every dollar we can to fight this bloody pandemic. I can’t help but think how those millions wasted on those bloody stickers and ads could have been much better used trying to fight COVID, or making our schools safer, or helping businesses survive these hard times. Every dollar you waste means one less dollar to put towards your needs. That’s not the approach the Ford Conservatives have taken in their short time in government, and this story was just a timely reminder of how they wasted public funds for their own benefit, money that we could really use now.
We can’t go back and change what happened, but we can hope this government won’t repeat it again. Appealing this ruling would just compound it and I hope that the Ford Conservatives just take this “L” and don’t appeal. Now is not the time to throw more good money after bad defending their partisan waste of public funds. How they decide to respond now will go a long way to show if they have gotten it and will tell us a lot going ahead.