#onpoli newsletter - Fraying ties with a friend in need

Once a Trump supporter, Doug Ford is livid at the U.S. president
By Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath - Published on Apr 07, 2020
Donald Trump arrives to speak at the coronavirus briefing at the White House. (Source: CP/Tasos Katopodis)

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Hello, #onpoli people:

COVID-19 is testing relationships everywhere: from married couples spending much more time at home together, to parents and their children. Even the relationship between the United States and Canada isn’t exempt. Like some other relationships right now, it’s strained.

Over the weekend, U.S. President Donald Trump used the Defense Production Act to order 3M, which manufactures N-95 masks, to prioritize U.S. orders over foreign demand. Podcast hosts Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath discuss how that has changed the relationship between Doug Ford and Trump.

A nasty surprise

John Michael: If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times by now — the next two weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario are going to be critical, and that’s why people are being asked to stay home and do their utmost to stay away from one another. And if the province’s growing caseload (and, regrettably, death toll) aren’t enough to keep policymakers up at night, last week Premier Doug Ford got another nasty surprise: U.S. President Donald Trump used his powers to stop the export of critical medical supplies out of the U.S., including to Ontario. Ford, who once upon a time boasted of his unwavering support for Trump, is livid and it’s hard to blame him. We’re all pretty stressed right now, but I have to wonder if the American policymakers understand the kind of damage this move is doing, and how long our memories are.

Man speaks at a microphone with American flag in the background.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks during a media availability in Washington (Source: CP/James McCarten)

From ‘disruptor-in-chief’ to ‘responsible adult’?

Steve: Premier Ford has never made a secret of his admiration for President Trump.  In fact, when Ford was recently in Washington, D.C., he also made no secret of his disdain for Senator Bernie Sanders’ brand of democratic socialism, calling it “scary.”  But just as we have seen a new Doug Ford in how well he's working with Ottawa to manage this COVID-19 crisis, we're also seeing an Ontario premier who isn't hesitating to express his “disappointment” with Trump. We know that Ford came into office hoping to be the disruptor-in-chief for this province, but he is now widely seen as a responsible adult, helming Ontario's response. No bloviating at his daily briefing; no gratuitous insults aimed at other politicians; no making it up on the fly about how effective untested medications may be to treat the virus; no boasting about how high the ratings are for his briefings. I suspect there are a lot of Ontarians who are pleasantly surprised at how well the premier is performing and aren't the slightest bit surprised at how disgracefully the U.S. president is doing his job.

John Michael: This is serious stuff: the premier said on Monday that the province has only a week’s worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) left in our inventory. And if it runs out, it will be at exactly the worst time — when Ontario’s COVID-19 caseload is projected to spike, if the models we saw last Friday are correct. Between this news and last week’s briefing about the potential future death toll, I’m very interested that the government seems to have decided that Ontarians can handle the news, even the scary stuff. Ford also said that he’s “optimistic” that Canada will get an exemption from the U.S. order, but as we write this, nobody knows for sure what will happen next. Unsurprisingly, Ford is adamant that Ontario and Canada not be put in the position of begging for vital supplies in an emergency ever again. The premier said repeatedly last week that he wants to rebuilt Ontario’s medical supply chain inside this province, but for now that’s something the government will have to tackle after the pandemic. (A cheerful reminder for folks like myself who are looking at another month-plus of parenting from home: there will be an “after the pandemic.” Hang in there!)

Memorable moments

Steve: John Michael, you know it's become a thing of mine to watch Premier Ford's briefings, then pluck a quote from them that I suspect will become particularly memorable. Because we didn't do an #onpoli podcast over the weekend, we never did get to discuss some notable moments that emerged from the weekend. The premier has been very careful not to criticize any of the federal politicians he's dealt with. In fact, he holds the deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland, in particularly high regard. But that non-aggression pact clearly doesn't extend to Health Canada, which in the premier's view, is taking far too long to give the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval to personal protective equipment and other things Ontario is waiting for. Ford talked about the need for someone to “rattle the cages" of Health Canada. But he saved his toughest rhetoric for Trump, wondering how the president could “shut things down with their closest ally? That's unacceptable.”

Ford only got 40 per cent of the vote last June 7, 2019, during the provincial election. But I'm guessing he spoke for 100 per cent of Ontarians when he said that.

John Michael: And in the time it’s taken us to write this newsletter, the Premier’s Office now says that 500,000 of the four million masks the province had been waiting on at the U.S. border have been released and will be here soon. If any of our readers are wondering how hard it is to keep on top of events as this all unfolds, here’s a pretty clear-cut example. If this latest chapter in the crisis is winding down, that just means we’re all moving on to the next one. See you in a week, everyone.

Just a reminder...

Want to know more? Check out the latest episode of #onpoli for analysis about the province’s shortage of personal protective equipment.

Have thoughts on the show? Tell us what you think at onpolitics@tvo.org

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