Doug Ford brings heat but little light in Progressive Conservative budget response

OPINION: Anyone who was hoping for a detailed explanation of what the new Tory leader would do as premier will need to wait a little bit longer, writes John Michael McGrath
By John Michael McGrath - Published on Mar 28, 2018
PC leader Doug Ford delivered remarks Wednesday at Macdonald Block, in downtown Toronto, in response to the Liberals’ 2018 budget. (Matthew O'Mara/TVO)

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Budget day is a time for detail-oriented reporters to pore over the government’s presentation of the province’s finances, and for the opposition to tell the public what they would do differently.

Apparently, nobody told Doug Ford about the latter part — or if they did, he chose to ignore it.

Reporters asked the new Progressive Conservative leader — repeatedly — what he would do differently were his party to form government after the June 7 election, but Ford offered few details.

Would he keep the Liberal child-care program, intended to pay daycare fees for toddlers starting in 2020? Wouldn’t say. Would he keep the Liberal pharmacare program, OHIP+, which is already paying for prescription drugs for people under 25 and will, under the 2018 budget, cover those over 65 as well? Wouldn’t say. How would he fill the $2 billion hole that his promise to end the Liberal cap-and-trade program will create? Wouldn’t say.

There were only two real points of clarity in Ford’s response to the budget on Wednesday. One, he would reverse the changes that the Liberals are making to personal income taxes — changes that will add $275 million to provincial coffers this year but raise taxes on 1.8 million people making more than $80,000. Ford says he believes these changes mark another instance of the Liberals making Ontario a hostile place for businesses and high-earners. (The Liberals, in turn, may welcome the chance to battle the Tories over income inequality.)

Ford’s other pledge (and it wasn’t new) was to ensure that a “three-stop, fully funded” subway be built in Scarborough. As a Toronto city councillor, he voted for the subway and the tax increases building it would require. Yes, Doug Ford voted to increase taxes. The three-stop subway extension was originally proposed in 2013 (when the Liberals were desperate to win a by-election in Scarborough, which they did), but the plan never made sense: the city’s planning department eventually determined that the only way to make a subway — any subway — work with the pot of municipal, provincial, and federal money available was to eliminate two of the three stops.

Now, it’s true that the one-stop subway project is kind of ridiculous, although not for the reasons Ford thinks. Returning to the three-stop plan would add few actual riders, would cost hundreds of millions more, and would require overturning the will of the City of Toronto, whose mayor, John Tory, has said he doesn’t want to re-open the subway debate. (Of course, if Ford becomes premier, he may enjoy making Tory feel as if he’s wearing short pants yet again.)

Cities outside Toronto can breathe a little easier: Ford did say he’s not planning to blow up their transit plans and start over.

There’s a tendency, among reporters and the public alike, to give Ford an easy out on detailed policy questions, since (a) he’s new to provincial politics, and (b) he’s not exactly detail-oriented in his answers to begin with — so far, he’s preferred bumper-sticker slogans. But voters don’t have time to let Ford learn on the job. The election is less than three months away.

The Tories will eventually produce a platform that contains at least some actual policy details. But it won’t be anything like the People’s Guarantee, created under previous PC leader Patrick Brown, a document that practically screamed “Please don’t be afraid of us; we’re moderates.”

Ford is offering something different. Hopefully soon we’ll find out what that is.


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