Whatever happened to the gravy train? It was the beating heart of Ford Nation during its formative years at Toronto City Hall. The promise to stop it made Rob Ford mayor and brought brother Doug into politics as Rob’s minder, and thence to Ontario’s premier.
The answer? Doug Ford is the gravy train now. It’s not unusual. You become what you denounce. Whether you ever really meant it is irrelevant. .
For example? The COVID carnage in long-term-care homes, in which Canada led the developed world and Ontario leads all provinces. Deaths in for-profit LTCs were four times the rate in municipally owned homes. So Doug’s reform bill, with little debate permitted, vastly enlarged capacity for those homes. Three former Ontario Progressive Conservative premiers have chaired private, for-profit LTC boards.
Or child care. Ontario was the last province to sign, costing parents. Why? Education Minister Stephen Lecce, who was lead negotiator, wanted for-profit daycares covered, while also providing them time to grow their share of kids.
Or new highways in the GTA. The routes Ford has approved aren’t the best environmentally; they’ll likely increase congestion and won’t speed trips by more than about 30 seconds. But they’ll surely make lots of money for developers who already own land along those routes.
Doug identifies with these people: small- and medium-level businesses. Even car drivers seem like alternate cronies. So he rebated them their mild plate sticker fees. That would’ve paid for 12,000 more nurses, but buds are buds.
We’re not talking about corporate titans. The federal Liberals are more comfy with those and when they make expansion announcements, as in Windsor last week, Doug adds sweeteners and tags along, looking a little sheepish. They’re not his peeps. When General Motors shut down a plant in Oshawa, he didn’t get folksy about it — he just said the deal was done and he could do nothing about it.
In health care, he shrinks public testing for COVID, opening opportunity for gougers who charge up to $400 per test. It’s rudimentary grifting. Or he tries opening space for private hospitals to do basic surgeries to “ease the backlog.” But the best way to do that is add staff, like nurses. Yet he limits them to yearly increases of one per cent, driving them out of the profession (or into the new “clinics”).
In education, Ontario now requires more online high school courses than any other jurisdiction. COVID experience has shown those truly suck, but there’s profit in it for private education providers, plus it’ll cut teacher numbers, undermining unions.
The basic economic model here is: you plunder the public sector for guaranteed profits, since needs like health and schooling are recognized as universal. You create nothing that wasn’t there; you just take it over and it becomes less efficient, since you must deduct the profit that was your motive for acquiring it. You cut costs, mostly labour, for the same reason. It’s all covered by public money. You just have to scoff it up and send the bill to Doug. Even Loblaws is shifting its focus from food to health care.
Part of the upside here is Doug isn’t ideological at all, even if he sometimes seems to wish he were. He didn’t adopt the truckers, he’s flexible on minimum wage, etc. He’s become Bill Davis without the style and likability (and easily missed depth). Or maybe he’s become Patrick Brown. The thinking person’s Harperite, Ken Boessenkool, says Doug is about customer service. But who are his customers? Not “the people.” His cronies, especially dodgy developers.
That’s not awful news. Doug’s only real loyalty seems to be to those cronies — and they’re not world-class ganavim, like Jeff Bezos, bankers or the oil industry. They buy up parcels north of Toronto and wait for Doug to build a little superhighway so they can get rich selling homes and plots. It could be worse. He’s the engineer on the gravy train. He even looks a little like Sir Topham Hatt.
This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.