Recently I haven’t been very sparing in my criticism of the Ford Conservative government in Ontario, and for good reason. Between their refusal to accept responsibility for their part of the botch COVID-19 response in Ontario and their tendency to attack everyone else under the sun in an attempt to deflect blame, it’s been near impossible to not criticize such behaviour. Living in this province, it’s been deeply frustrating to watch, especially when you consider that about a year ago Doug Ford seemed to have finally gotten the plot and was doing a decent job in dealing with the crisis.

But as the months have gone on, the old Doug Ford, the one who was tanking in the polls before COVID, returned with a fury and we’ve seen what we’ve seen. As a result, we’ve seen this happen to Ford’s approval ratings, highlighted by EKOS Research’s Frank Graves:

Yep folks, Doug Ford’s approval rating is just high enough to drink legally in Toronto, but can’t buy a beer in Buffalo or Detroit (whenever the border re-opens). And I guess that Ford’s only saving grace is that Jason Kenney’s approval rating is current in the throws of, but I doubt that’s helping their cause at all. It’s understandable why that rating would be so low, given everything we’ve seen over the past month.

Ontarians aren’t blind and they can easily tell that while Ottawa has botched some things, Ontario is in far worse shape than most other provinces. Given that every province has the same federal government botching the same things, the different factor is provincial governments and their performance. Ford and Co. can’t escape that fact, no matter how hard they try to spin out of it. And yet, we’ve gotten some insightful reporting from Colin D’Mello of CTV Toronto that tells us what the Ford Conservatives are focused on right now and folks, it’s sad:

Yep, it’s not shocking to see that the Ford Conservative government seems to be more focused on “protecting the king” than protecting Ontarians, but it’s aggravating to have that impression confirmed so thoroughly. This piece from D’Mello includes some damning quotes, any which alone would be bad enough, but when put together just makes me want to scream. Where to begin?

  • They’re trying to “change the channel on Ford’s pandemic faults by allowing ministers and public health officials to “wear” the decisions that they make or recommend.”
  • Complaints that “nobody has taken any accountability, Doug Ford has worn it all.”
  • The quote that “that every day the premier is out of the public eye, his poll numbers move in a favourable direction.”

Oof, I would laugh if the results of this weren’t so serious and downright dire. All three of those quotes disturbed me for really good reasons. Firstly, while trying to throw public health officials or ministers under the bus is a tried-and-true strategy of many flailing governments, it doesn’t work when your cabinet has made those decisions and openly ignored the advice of said minister or public health officials. They can’t “wear” any decision that you didn’t advise or make. The evidence is clear that the experts haven’t been making these decisions for a long time, and heck, here is what Ford himself just said a few weeks ago when he was trying to apologize without taking responsibility:

“The buck stops with me”. Seriously, those were his own words, words that he has said publicly so many times before, and yeah, they felt hollow. But the fact is that in a responsible government, the buck does stop with the leader of the government, which in this case is him. It’s not just enough to state it, you actually have to follow through on that. And yes, ministers bear responsibility for botching their portfolios. But when they do, it falls to the Premier to hold them accountable and in many cases, that means removing them. The only cabinet minister that’s lost their job during COVID has been Rod Phillips because of his holiday vacation. His “crime” was embarrassing the Premier. Has any other minister that’s botched a response during this crisis paid the same price? Nope, the Premier has protected them and not held them to account.

So maybe, just maybe, that’s why “Doug Ford has worn it all”. The fact that some anonymous people said that on the record blows my mind, especially when it comes to a Premier who keeps telling us the buck stops with him. If it does stop with him, who the Hell else would wear it? Heavy is the head that wears the Crown, but that’s part of what comes with being the leader of a bloody government. To hear this complaint, as if it were some kind of shock that people actually expected their government to actually take responsibility, is a maddening insight into where this government sits. When you make all the decisions, ignore expert medical advice again and again, and then tell everyone that the buck stops with you, of course you are going to wear it all. And you know what? He should wear it all. He’s the bloody Premier of Ontario, not some random low level civil servant answering phone calls in a call centre.

And that brings me to the last quote, which felt more like it was intended as a punchline than anything else. When your leader’s notable absence during a global health crisis actually improves the publics perception of your government, you’ve got serious bloody problems. I would laugh at this statement of facts (but I can easily picture this being true) but again, the stakes are too high, and the moment is too serious. Premiers and government leaders are expected to be front and centre during moments of crisis. This is a big part of the job, not just doing the work behind the scenes but being out there. Some don’t like that part of the job and if that were it, I could probably shrug my shoulders and deal with that. But that’s not what’s happening here. Reading this reporting, it looks more and more like the Premier is laying low not to save lives or help the COVID effort, but instead is an attempt to save his own political life.

That is just all kinds of wrong. I’ve been saying for the longest time that any government needs to be thinking about the public health problem before them, and not think about the political ones. Yes, being historically unpopular in record time is quite the political problem, but solving that problem won’t come from thinking politically. The solution has always laid in actually tackling the public health crisis and taking it seriously. If they did that effectively and consistently, their approval numbers wouldn’t be in the teens. How do I know that? Because you have Conservative Premiers in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, PEI and Quebec who all have far better approval numbers while dealing with the same problems with Ottawa.

What probably bothers me the most about this story tonight is that it just gives another proof point of where the Ford governments collective heads are at. Instead of their focus being on tackling COVID to the ground and doing what we must to save lives and end this pandemic, they are spending way too much precious time and energy on trying to save Premier Ford’s political future. In short, they’re more worried about the election coming a year from now instead of the global pandemic they’re in right now. Not only is that disturbing, its worrying about how we’ll actually get out of this pandemic. This government needs to get their act together because none of us gain anything by seeing any government fail in a pandemic. Yet the longer that the Premier spends more time worrying about his political standing, the worse off we’ll all be.

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