by Thomas Walkom
Ontarians have voted to shake things up.
By electing Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives, a strong plurality of voters have signalled that they are no longer satisfied with the centre-left policies promoted by Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals and Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats.
Instead, they are opting for a return to the old-time religion of tax and spending cuts.
In doing so, they have given Ford carte blanche to do virtually anything he wants.
Some of the former Toronto councillor’s pledges are known.
He has promised, for instance, to pull out of the California-Quebec cap and trade system that Wynne’s government joined in order to fight climate change.
And he has promised tax cuts for big and small business as well as middle and upper-income individuals.
But what spending cuts he will make to finance these promises remains a mystery.
Ford has said only that he plans to find close to $6 billion a year in so-called efficiencies.
One of his first actions is likely to be a wide-ranging spending review with an eye to finding these efficiencies.
Christine Elliott, a former leadership rival who is expected to be one of the key figures in a Ford cabinet, has already said that any review would take a close look at health-care spending, where she said billions are being squandered.
Ford’s victory also spells the beginning of the end of Ontario’s controversial infatuation with renewable energy. The PC leader has said he won’t sign any more wind and solar contracts and will try to renegotiate those that already exist.
He has said he will fight any attempt by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to levy a carbon tax on Ontario. Trudeau has said he would impose such a tax on any province that does not have its own plan for battling climate change.
Toward the end of her mandate, Wynne put in place a series of leftish social policies, including free pharmacare for those under 25 and free post-secondary tuition for low-income students.
It’s not clear if Ford will roll back any of these.
Nor is it clear whether he’ll cancel modest new measures the Liberals put in place to help precarious workers.
The Tories have said they will scupper plans to raise the minimum wage from $14 to $15 per hour next January.
They have also signalled plans to axe regulations that interfere with business profitability. They will argue that this is the mandate Ontarians have given them.
What the PCs plan to do is half the story. The other half is Ford himself. Ontarians have chosen as premier a man who has made a political career out of disrupting the status quo.
As a councillor in Toronto, he and his brother Rob carried on a non-stop feud with those they characterized as the downtown elites. The battlegrounds then included bike lanes and subways.
Municipal politics also gave Doug Ford the opportunity to promote odd and unorthodox schemes, such as his plan to turn the Toronto waterfront into an amusement park.
Now that he’s a provincial politician, Ford still expresses animosity toward the so-called downtown elites. But he has a bigger canvas on which to paint his more unusual moves.
The conventional wisdom held that Ford should never have won this contest. In the spring Tory leadership race he was seen as too right wing and too raw. Indeed, he only narrowly defeated Elliott.
In the election campaign proper, critics dismissed him as a buffoon – a Donald Trump clone who could never appeal to centrist Ontario.
His failure to come up with a fully costed platform earned him a spanking from the usual suspects
But like former Tory leader Mike Harris in 1995, Ford simply forged ahead, repeating his simple low-tax message and ignoring everything else – including the media.
And as with Harris, his bullheadedness paid off. He won seats in all areas of the province, including Toronto. He won them comfortably.
Thomas Walkom is a Toronto-based columnist covering politics.
Follow him on Twitter: @tomwalkom
Copyright 2018-Torstar Syndication Services