Randall White: Could the Ford Nation Survive a Minority Government?

It is now less than a year until the next Ontario election on June 2, 2022. And the latest polling suggests some unsettling prospects for the near political future in Canada’s most populous province. 

According to a Léger survey conducted May 21–23, if an election were held then, 34% of the people of Ontario would vote PC, 26% Liberal, 25% NDP, and 9% Green.

A Mainstreet Research poll conducted May 15–16 had similar results for “decided and leaning voters”: PC 33%, NDP 28%, Liberal 27%, Green 6%.

A Campaign Research survey conducted as long ago as May 2–8 gave the PCs as much as 36% of the current decided vote, with Liberals at 28%, NDP 25%, and Greens 7%.

Philippe J. Fournier’s 338Canada seat projections for Ontario, as of May 19, summarize the implications of these kinds of numbers where the rubber hits the road.

If late May 2021 conditions still prevailed on June 2, 2022, 338Canada projects, the Ontario PCs would win 54 seats, New Democrats 35, Liberals 34, and the Greens 1.

The present Legislative Assembly at Queen’s Park has 124 seats, which makes 63 a bare majority. On the May 19 seat projections, the 54-seat Ford Nation PCs would win a minority government.

One immediate question in this toxic partisan age is would either the New Democrats or the Liberals ever vote to keep a Ford minority government in office for any length of time?

In the abstract there is a 1970s historical precedent for the lengthy survival of Ontario PC minority governments with similar seat allocations at Queen’s Park.

In 1975, in a 125-seat Legislature, the Bill Davis PCs won only 51 seats. The NDP took 38 and Liberals 36. The resulting PC minority government tried to regain its majority with a fresh election in 1977. But PCs did only slightly better with 58 seats. Liberals had 34 and NDP 33.

In both these cases Liberals and New Democrats together had well beyond the bare majority of 63 seats — 74 in 1975, and 67 even in 1977. But Bill Davis’s PC minority government survived until 1981, when it won its majority back at last.

At the same time, it seems arguable that the 2020s are not like the 1970s. And in many ways Doug Ford is no Bill Davis, in personality or policy preferences.

The Davis minority governments of 1975 and 1977 were in any case a sign that the long Ontario PC dynasty which began in 1943 would not last forever.

Bill Davis’s successor as party leader, Frank Miller, did not exactly lose the 1985 election. His PCs won 52 seats. The Liberals took 48 and New Democrats 25. 

But this led to an innovative Liberal-NDP Accord. And that led to the prompt defeat of Frank Miller’s PCs in the Legislature, and the installation of a Liberal government under David Peterson for the next two years, committed in writing to certain policies favoured by Bob Rae’s NDP.

Could the 1985 Liberal-NDP Accord be any kind of precedent for some new Liberal-NDP (or NDP-Liberal) governing agreement in 2022?

Assuming the 2022 final results are close to Fournier’s 338Canada seat projections as of May 19, (PCs 54 seats, NDP 35, Liberals 34, Greens 1), some 2022 NDP-Liberal Accord would not be at all as easy as in 1985.

In 1985 the Liberals had almost twice as many seats as the New Democrats (48 to 25). And they had a slightly greater share of the province-wide popular vote than the PCs. It was easy enough to see the Peterson Liberals as the government, supported in the Legislature by the NDP.

With the New Democrats and Liberals splitting the opposition vote almost equally, as they are in the polling right now, the diplomacy of any progressive alliance against the Ford PCs seems much more challenging.

Not to worry. As CBC polling analyst Éric Grenier has urged, with Ontario’s current electoral system “it appears the PCs could still cobble together a majority government.” (Both Bob Rae in 1990 and Dalton McGuinty in 2011 won majority governments with as little as 38% of the popular vote.)

Yet a week is a long time in politics, and just under a year is even longer. If the people of Ontario become determined to not re-elect Doug Ford in 2022 (as they were to not re-elect Bob Rae in 1995), it is also possible that voters will increasingly favour either the New Democrats or the Liberals as the winning progressive alternative.

Whatever may finally happen on June 2, 2022, the time between then and now could prove fascinating for serious fans and students of Ontario government and politics.

Randall White is a former senior policy advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, and a former economist with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He is the author of Ontario 1610-1985: A Political and Economic History and Ontario Since 1985. He writes frequently about Ontario politics.

The ONW Salon: Ontario has a new Chief Medical Officer of Health — Will It Make A Difference?

Susanna Kelley (Moderator): Doug Ford has announced that Dr. David Williams is retiring and will be replaced by Dr. Kieran Moore. Dr. Williams was criticized for his role in the pandemic’s handling in Ontario over the last year. Will a new MOH make a difference in the crisis or are we so close to being out of danger that it will not matter? We asked David Wills, Chris Loreto and Sarbjit Kaur.

David Wills:

First off, I want to thank Dr. Williams for his 30-plus years as a public servant. It is important to acknowledge a career in the public service, including his service in Ontario’s north.

Second, I want to applaud the choice of his replacement. Dr. Moore is accomplished and well spoken. He has been unafraid to act quickly, shutting down businesses and mandating masks, for example, before other parts of the province. And his region fared better than most because of it.

I’m not qualified to comment on either one’s credentials as a MOH, so I will share my insights in their roles as communicators.

First off, this was not Dr. Williams’ strength. Too often he was confusing and not clear in his messaging, which opened to the door to political interference.

When you look at the strong MOHs we have in this province — Drs. DeVilla, Loh and Moore to name but three — they all have one thing in common.

They give advice based on science and largely ignore the politics at play municipally, provincially and federally.

Dr. Moore will bring that to Ontario.

While it may seem like Ontario is nearing the end of the pandemic, any decent public health expert will tell you that is far from the truth. COVID-19 is rampant in most of the world and we will need a strong leader to give advice — no matter how uncomfortable — for months and years to come.

Chris Loreto:

I too want to thank Dr. Williams for his service to the province, particularly over the last year and a bit. I also want to thank him for agreeing to defer his retirement to get us through most of the pandemic.

I am hoping we are nearing the end; that we are on the verge of a two-dose summer, and that life will come back to normal this fall.

I think having a new MOH at the table will help to bring the fresh voice and perspective needed to finish this pandemic off once and for all. For this I pray, anyways.

Will his presence make a fundamental difference? In the short-term, I do not believe so.

It is in the longer-term, distilling the lessons learned from this pandemic that is where I think Dr. Moore can have his greatest impact.

As much as I want COVID-19 to end, it is likely that it will be something we contend with forever, getting regular boosters to keep it under control.

I would like this MOH, working with a broader provincial team, to be responsible for preparing us for the next pandemic — learning from our mistakes and preparing the infrastructure (broadly defined as people, processes, technologies, and equipment) to successfully weather the next pandemic.

Sarbjit Kaur:

Dr. Williams certainly put in his time and deserves a rest!

I agree that he was not the best communicator and that’s really essential to have as part of the role in a pandemic — when providing information and direction is critical in gaining trust and demonstrating competence.

Having said that, switching to Dr. Moore at this point is rather late in the game. I don’t think it will really erase the mistakes of the past and the feeling that the province really dropped the ball communications-wise.

Certainly, the Ford government must be hoping some new faces and voices will help Ontarians forget some of the horrors of this horrendous pandemic — but I don’t think memories are that short.

And if the entire government doesn’t function better (as a team) Dr. Moore may find it challenging to do much better than his predecessor. Sometimes performance depends on what and who you’re working with!


His number one challenge will be to build back public health.

Too much was ignored by this government and the one before. We were not prepared, and his challenge will be to fight for resources to make sure we are prepared, because there will be a next time.

Public health investment pays off big time, but you don’t get to reap the reward until much later. We need to go back and learn from the SARS report, and learn from our mistakes with COVID-19. Then we can be ready.

In the short term, I am hoping he remains a straight shooter — telling the elected what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. If we stay the course we will get some freedoms back, but I know he will be quicker to sound the alarm bell if needed.

That’s what Ontario needs from him.

Chris Loreto:

 I don’t believe that Dr. Williams told the government what it wanted to hear. I believe he gave them his best advice using information he got from the science table.

Do let me be controversial here. It is for governments to decide policy and to make decisions and not to yield that responsibility to unelected technocrats.

I think one of the things we need to understand coming out this experience is how to balance public health, economic health, and population mental health better in the future.

I would also like to put the last few weeks in perspective. For all the guff Premier Ford took on his decisions in early April, this stay at home order, focusing in on reducing mobility, seems to have worked. Cases were under 1,000 Tuesday.

There is real hope on the horizon. The worst case was avoided — and I am assuming my colleagues won’t give the government one lick of credit for that. But they do deserve credit — not just the blame.

Now, let’s get second doses in arms (I am cheering for federal procurement here) and get the economy re-opened.

Sarbjit Kaur:

Chris, I don’t think anyone gave Ford guff for the April lockdown — people were upset that we opened up too early and had to go back in lockdown in spring when we could have just stayed in lockdown a bit longer in the winter.

And then when the lockdown happened the criticism was mostly around tennis and golf courses and other irrational aspects of it.

I agree with you on the decision-making responsibility. Whoever puts their name on the ballot and is accountable to the voters makes the decisions.

Politicians do have to balance many interests that are not always visible to someone looking at an issue from just one perspective.

However, considering all the information and having good people providing advice and being able to come to a (good) conclusion is the magic of leadership. And if you’re putting people in roles of responsibility and not listening to them — you might as well just put a potted plant there and be done with it.

What I’ve seen with this government time and time again is it has information, experts, advice and plenty of input available to it — but when it comes time to take all that and make good decision — it falters.

It will be interesting to see if Dr. Moore can work with a government that isn’t likely to devote the effort and resources to reforming long term care, investing in healthcare, helping workers and tackling those big structural issues.

More likely they’ll want to hope everyone forgets this whole debacle and concentrate on getting re-elected — maybe offer more buck a beer.

Chris Loreto is the 1st Vice President of the Ontario PC Party and previously served as Chief of Staff to Ontario’s Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Native Affairs in the Harris government. He is currently Principal at StrategyCorp.  David Wills is a Senior Vice President at Media Profile. He worked as NDP political staff at Queen’s Park and provides counsel to federal, provincial and municipal elected officials. Sarbjit Kaur has worked in Liberal politics for 20 years, including as Director of Communications to a cabinet minister in the McGuinty government. She is a former journalist and currently co -founder of KPW Communications.

Hershell Ezrin: Has the New Normal Arrived?

My in-box is starting to fill up daily with more than the endless COVID-19 medical news stories.

There are breathless competing political fundraising appeals talking about how opponents are surging ahead in the election readiness race. “If only 42 more people contribute in the next seven days, the lead of the (fill in the blank opponents) can be overcome.”

Opinion results are being published about which groups are most trusted in our society. The latest results thrust firefighters and nurses to the top of the heap while politicians languish (as usual) near the bottom.

Universities, cultural organizations and other not for profits are surveying their audiences to remind potential donors of the tangible and intangible benefits they offer as well as to gain an appreciation of how these organizations can better serve their potential customers in a post-COVID-19 world.

Life is returning to a new normal.

Pandemic evaluations of the efforts of governments project a sense of an event passed and learning for the next big one.

It seems as if there are as many COVID-19-related media stories focused on exploring the return to normalcy (the timing for in-store dining, school openings or retail shopping, expanded family get togethers, the availability of summer cottage rentals and the all-important admission of fans to sporting events) as on expectations for the timing of that all-important second vaccination, herd immunity targets and future Canadian vaccine production.

Some of that redirected attention is driven by our envious gazes at what is happening in the UK and the USA.

The story is moving on.

Significant policy issues are also starting to re-emerge to capture consistent attention after a period of pause if not blackout.

Not surprisingly, the policy conundrums to be addressed start with the economy.

Inflation is heading upwards; housing prices have become unaffordable for many Canadians while bank profits continue to surge and stock markets rise to record highs.

The largest technology companies are exerting more influence over the public’s daily lives than ever before yet do not pay their fair share of taxes or sufficiently protect consumer privacy, according to their numerous critics.  

The influence of the ESG (environment, society and governance) movement continues to grow globally; there are clear implications for the energy sector which has been a mainstay of the Canadian economy, especially for Alberta and Saskatchewan.

What makes last week’s developments worthy of special note are that the future green energy transition is not simply a by-product of Canadian or U.S. government or court rulings but is also bubbling up from within the private sector itself. 

In recent days, global media have been reporting shareholder “rebellions” over the failure of major energy corporations to set a strategy for a low-carbon future.

A dissident hedge fund successfully replaced two Exxon board members with its own candidates to help drive the oil company towards a greener strategy.

A majority of Chevron shareholders rebelled against the company’s board by voting 61% in favour of an activist proposal — from Dutch campaign group Follow This — to force the group to cut its carbon emissions. The oil company had refused to commit to reduce climate emissions from both its production and sale of oil and gas to meet the demands of these activists.

A Dutch court told Shell that its emissions’ impact had to be cut by 45% over a nine-year span (the company had proposed a lower level) and placed in compliance with the 1.5-degree Celsius warming limit called for by the Paris agreement. 

Closer to home, the ongoing conflict intensified between the Governor of Michigan and Enbridge as they appeared in court. At stake was the state’s efforts to shut down line 5, a key 68-year-old pipeline carrying 540,000 barrels of sweet light crude and natural gas liquids to refineries in the US and Canada. The shutdown would come with a heavy cost for both the U.S. and Canadian economy and jobs.

Supported by a wide coalition of Canadian federal and provincial governments as well as U.S. business and union leaders, Enbridge says it will not close the line short of a court order. The Governor calls the pipeline a “ticking environmental time bomb” — with the potential for a spill in a channel linking two Great Lakes — and has threatened to charge Enbridge with trespassing.

Enbridge’s line 3, carrying crude, including oil sands, from Alberta to a Wisconsin terminal, also faces ongoing reconstruction delays as Indigenous and environmental groups mobilize for large-scale protests and civil disobedience in Minnesota.

Both sides are waiting for a major ruling from the Minnesota Court of Appeals in June on a legal challenge by environmental and tribal groups that are seeking to overturn state regulators’ approval of the project. 

Ironically, Enbridge is seeking to replace its “deteriorating” 1960s-era pipeline to better protect the environment while restoring its capacity and ensuring reliable deliveries to U.S. refineries.

Opponents charge the replacement pipeline would aggravate climate change and risk spills in sensitive areas where Native Americans “harvest wild rice, hunt, fish, gather medicinal plants and claim treaty rights.”

Welcome back to the new normal.

Hershell Ezrin is a Professor of Government Relations, Seneca at York, and former Principal Secretary to Liberal Premier David Peterson.

The ONW Salon: The Pandemic and Women

Susanna Kelley (Moderator): The pandemic has been described as a “she-cession” for women: many have been laid off, some have had to quit in order to take care of children because daycares were shut down, others have juggled working remotely while home-schooling their kids. Women have lost a lot of money and are exhausted. What can governments do to help them get back to normal? We asked Sarbjit Kaur, David Wills and Chris Loreto.

Sarbjit Kaur:

The pandemic has exposed a lot of problems. The impact on women has shown that over time, supports have been eroded or not put in place to keep up with the needs of women.

How long have we been talking about childcare options?

These issues don’t fall on any one political party or level of government but now that we have seen the fallout it would be criminal not to take this opportunity to really assess the information and take the time to support women rather than going back to the status quo.

In terms of support, there are immediate actions that can be taken. For example, the Ontario Liberals have committed to introducing $10 a day childcare. Looking at the gig economy, use of temp agencies is critical as women are in these jobs as well. PSWs, nurses — these are all sectors dominated by women. They need proper compensation for the work they do and the risks they take.

Beyond that we need to have a process to see what the long-term impacts are and how we can support women. It’s a process.

Not sure this government has the appetite for it — but it’s necessary. It’s time to start listening to women. For the sake of everyone.

David Wills:

The data is clear – the “she-session” caused by COVID-19 disproportionately impacted women more than it did men. So, it makes sense that whatever measures we take as part of the recovery, those measures should be to the benefit of women first.

National childcare is a great start. I will get my partisan shot in here, reminding everyone that National Childcare was first flagged as a priority in a Royal Commission by a Liberal government in 1967. I am hopeful they mean it this time.

But let’s look at the care sector more broadly.

Affordable childcare will support more women in the workforce. And so will better elder care.

We also need to look at the salaries of those who work in these jobs — mostly women — and ensure they are paid a living wage with benefits and other supports that are more common in male-dominated sectors.

Think about employer-paid sick days, job protections, collective bargaining — all are necessary to create a better economy that respects and empowers women in the workplace.

Sarbjit is spot on — let’s make sure whatever we do makes things better, and resist settling for what it was like before.

Chris Loreto:

I think we will all be on the same page when I say that it is a national embarrassment that the first time national childcare was promised was the last time the Leafs won the Stanley Cup. Maybe 2021 will be when we finally get childcare and a Leafs Stanley Cup parade.

Fewer women today are participating in the labour force. Women’s jobs were more vulnerable than men’s jobs during the pandemic.

And it wasn’t just the economic costs of the pandemic that hit women harder -—it was also the social costs. I know the sacrifices my wife has made to keep us all afloat during COVID-19. She is lucky to have an understanding employer, but we know not everyone does.

Getting women back into the workforce is not just an economic imperative; it is a moral one as well.

Economically, Canada will not recover unless we recover both employment participation rates and employments rates for women.

Morally, we need to think through what policy measures can be put in place to relieve women of the disproportionate burden of both childcare and elder care. Federal investment in childcare is a good step.

Another good step would be for the feds to become 35% partners in health care and fund eldercare and long-term care through the Canada Health Transfer.

Provincially, Ontario should take up the federal money for childcare and also think through creative ways to support employers in being more flexible with their workforces — allowing women and men to balance family and work.

Sarbjit Kaur:

Beyond the workforce there are other opportunities here.

Many women tried their hand at small business during the pandemic. More than a decade ago when I worked at the Ontario Ministry of Small Business & Entrepreneurship we saw very interesting data showing that women who run businesses (despite getting less support from banks or government) had very high success rates.

In general, our province needs to foster a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation. We spend a lot of money without a lot of analysis of where that money is going and what the return on investment is.

There has been $4.2 billion spent during the pandemic that’s a bit of mystery. Knowing who got funding, support, business support and how much went to women etc. is important. Everyone contributes to those funds and they need to be distributed equitably. And strategically.

We know small businesses generate jobs and are the engine of the economy. If we’re just shoveling money out the door with no idea who is receiving it, what the ROI is and if it’s being distributed equitably — that’s not good government. And a missed opportunity.

David Wills:

Chris makes an important point — too often Canadians, especially women, need to be “lucky” to have an understanding employer. That means we have set the bar far too low when it comes to labour standards.

Too often the interests of the few override what is good for the broader economy and society. We can fix that.

All the heavy lifting has been done on how to make the workforce and economy better for women. As Sarbjit said, governments need to start listening to women.

A recent publication for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives called Women, Work and COVID-19, Priorities for Supporting Women and the Economy, provides an excellent framework. The ideas are not radical — dare I say they are common sense.

There are always excuses by governments to not improve the lives of those who need it most — the economy is in trouble, the economy is recovering, the economy is doing well. It seems like it is never a good time for bold leadership.

I argue that now is the time. People are feeling it, and they want better. They understand the PSWs deserve better wages and working conditions. Paid sick days are a no-brainer to everyone in Ontario except the government caucus.

When we look at all these ideas it is clear what will benefit women the most. And that should be looked at as a good thing and the right thing to do.

Chris Loreto:

We are aligned on the need to do better for women. And I agree, government should listen to women to understand their needs and what policy and program solutions will work for them.

There is no one set of solutions. The solutions will be many and should generally reflect the choices women want to make.

For example, I work in professional services. If a woman goes on a maternity leave and takes 12 to 18 months, the Employment Insurance system is so rigid that she literally has to leave the marketplace for that time — she has to choose — her child or her career.

And I can tell you, for women who have ambitions of being partners in a law or consulting firm, you cannot leave the marketplace for that long. A flexible leave program should allow women to undertake part-time or flexible work if that is what she wants to do. A cookie cutter approach to policy in this respect will just not work.

We can do better. Governments can do better. And employers can do better too. Let’s do better, together.

Chris Loreto is the 1st Vice President of the Ontario PC Party and previously served as Chief of Staff to Ontario’s Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Native Affairs in the Harris government. He is currently Principal at StrategyCorp.  David Wills is a Senior Vice President at Media Profile. He worked as NDP political staff at Queen’s Park and provides counsel to federal, provincial and municipal elected officials. Sarbjit Kaur has worked in Liberal politics for 20 years, including as Director of Communications to a cabinet minister in the McGuinty government. She is a former journalist and currently co -founder of KPW Communications.

Hershell Ezrin: In Appreciation

The pandemic remains most citizens’ primary lens for interpreting events.

Premier Doug Ford’s latest fundraising e-mail boasts of better days ahead, with the caveat that virus variants or vaccine shortages (over which he hints the provincial government has little control) could still challenge this outcome.

The Premier reassuringly writes: “Good news, our plan is working, and brighter days are ahead … the framework I announced on Thursday provides certainty and predictability … by getting vaccinated, we can get life back to normal. Together, we’ll open Ontario and get our economy moving again.”

So goes the cheerleading and credit-taking, when it looks like Ontario is turning a corner for the good.  There is enough goodwill for all to claim some part of the praise.

The Premier appears to be listening to the science table — finally. He is correct in continuing to focus on the encouragement and promotion of vaccine usage. We need only look to our neighbour to the south to see the worrisome trend that their vaccination uptake is stalling. 

In the past, the Premier has commended the contribution of the vast majority of citizens who have endured physical and mental privation. They followed public health masking, distancing and lockdown rules. Suffering a perpetual Ground Hog Day, confined to close quarters, the public deserve the lion’s share of government’s appreciation as well as encouragement to follow those rules for a little longer.

In the same spirit of thanks, Ontarians have much to be grateful for, as we see light at the end of this dark pandemic tunnel.  

We should shower our essential workers with gratitude. Ontario’s first line of defence against the ravages of the pandemic has been its health care workers, aided by a remarkable contribution from other essential workers who have delivered goods, stocked food shelves, kept our streets safe and clean or ensured that basic services continued uninterrupted.

These often under-appreciated citizens have finally gotten some of the government recognition that they have long merited. The Ford administration’s recent acceptance of improving paid sick leave and vaccinating hot spot areas where many of these heroes live is an overdue but welcome start.

Which leads me to spotlight one other group of individuals who have performed admirably while serving the public good under significant stress.

I am talking about public servants. The pivot to providing virtual services and support to the citizens of Ontario and Canada has been nothing short of remarkable.

Appreciation for the role of bureaucrats is uncommon. The praise or catcalls are mostly reserved for the politicians, who regularly court support leading up to the election cycle.

While public servants assess and outline the risks, present the options, design program delivery and execute the political will, it is the politicians who call the shots and must be held to account first.

Building the system to deliver precious vaccines across Canada has been an incredible achievement. Working under the equivalent of “war time” pressures, the Public Health Agency teams collaborated to the point where we now have more first dose vaccinations delivered on a per capita basis than our American neighbours. 

The COVID-19 scientific tables and NACI, the national advisory committee on immunization, faced the nearly impossible task of offering instant certainty, daily, on a subject which literally changed all the time. The fog of the battle complicated their efforts to provide transparent information to guide personal choice. 

How many of us marveled at the system that processed us efficiently at large mass vaccination sites, following the presentation of our health cards? It worked seamlessly right down to the countdown clocks signaling “all clear” following a 15-minute wait before leaving and the printed second dose appointments.

Or the work behind the scenes to create and staff pop-up clinics or stock pharmacies, schools and community centres with vaccines that require special handling? 

Retired doctors, nurses, and health care workers who could administer vaccines were trained and pressed into action. Our military has successfully bridged numerous challenges in our long-term care sector and in hotspots across the country.

There were senior figures who stayed on duty to see Ontario through the crisis such as Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams.

Last week, Helen Angus, Deputy Minister of Health, announced her intent to retire from the Ontario Public Service later this summer. Ontario’s Secretary to Cabinet described her role as follows:

“Over the last 15 months, Helen’s leadership and steady hand enabled the Ministry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, chairing the Health Coordination Table of inter-ministerial partners, public health, academia, associations and health system leaders to collectively support the health response to the pandemic.”

We owe a lot to selfless leaders like these individuals.

Of course, the system was not perfect; lessons learned can help us face the next pandemic better.

I feel grateful to all levels of government who had our backs through this traumatic period. The next time anyone questions whether it is worth paying our tax burden, we can all point to their role in ensuring we could imagine the end of the pandemic.

Hershell Ezrin is a Professor of Government Relations, Seneca at York, and former Principal Secretary to Liberal Premier David Peterson.

Randall White: Ontario and the Québécois Nation in 2021

This past April Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Quebec Premier François Legault sent a joint open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

It urged the federal government to introduce stricter measures at land and air border crossings in the fight against COVID-19 — an especially favourite tune of Premier Ford’s.

A week or so later Premier Ford also confessed “I love Premier Legault.” And, whatever else, co-operation between Ontario and Quebec premiers does have a long history. 

Some still alive today will remember the special relationship between former Ontario Premier Mike Harris and former Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard in the 1990s.

Only a few will remember the 1930s friendship of former Ontario Premier Mitch Hepburn (“Canada’s Huey Long” — the Louisiana Governor whose motto was “Every Man a King”) and former Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis (who later made Quebec the first Canadian province to invent its own flag.) 

No one at all alive today will personally remember former Ontario Premier Oliver Mowat and former Quebec Premier Honoré Mercier in the 1880s. They nonetheless managed the first meeting of Canadian provincial premiers (now an annual event) in October 1887 — hosted by Mercier in Quebec City, and chaired by Mowat.

All this history raises a few quiet questions about a mid-May 2021 letter to PM Trudeau that Premier François Legault sent all by himself. It proposes Quebec amend the Canadian constitution to clarify that Quebecers form a nation whose only official language is French.  

Premier Legault’s proposal is addressed to current growing pressures on the French language in Canada’s French-majority province. But some lawyers and political scientists inside and outside Ontario have raised certain qualms. 

Emmett Macfarlane, associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, has argued that the Quebec National Assembly probably cannot unilaterally amend the Canadian constitution to declare Quebec a nation and entrench its only official language as French. He believes the “courts are unlikely to permit it.”

Tom Mulcair, a Quebec lawyer by profession and former federal NDP leader (and former Quebec provincial cabinet minister), also believes that Quebec cannot unilaterally amend the Constitution Act, 1867, under the “Amendments by provincial legislatures” provision in section 45 of the Constitution Act, 1982. 

Mulcair seems to think as well, however, that Quebec probably can get most of what it wants if it acts in partnership with the federal government (or more exactly “the Senate and House of Commons”), under section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982.   

Mr. Mulcair believes that this constitutional walk with Ottawa is ultimately “the route Legault knows he’ll have to go, one that will require … debate and compromise.”

Meanwhile, according to a brief May 18 report from The Canadian Press, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has now spoken with reporters on the issue.

As explained by the Prime Minister, Ottawa’s “initial analysis has concluded provinces can modify the part of the Constitution that applies specifically to them.” And “Quebec can alter the Constitution to emphasize that it is a nation and that its official language is French — two things that have already been recognized by the federal government.”  

It is arguable that it is in Ontario’s own particular Canada First interest in the 21st century to welcome the federal government’s initial response to Premier Legault’s Quebec nation letter.

Premier Ford’s Conservative government may also remember that Stephen Harper’s Conservative government proposed the motion “That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada” in the first place. 

The Canadian House of Commons voted for this motion 266 to 16, back on November 27, 2006. So almost 15 years later Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can honestly say the federal government has already recognized the Quebec nation — “within a united Canada.”

(And by proposing to amend the Canadian constitution Premier Legault has already signalled his likely ultimate agreement with any “united Canada” compromise.)

Then of course there is Premier Ford’s recent confession of love for Premier Legault. 

With a June 2022 Ontario election in sight, welcoming the Prime Minister’s initial response to Premier Legault’s Quebec nation letter could have some electoral mileage for the Ford Nation as well — in a province where current federal polls show the Trudeau Liberals well ahead of everyone else.  

At the same time, there may still be a significant side of the Ontario PC political base (and beyond) that finds any recognition of a unilingual French-speaking nation in Quebec altogether wrong-headed.

And that could finally prevent Premier Ford from supporting his friend Premier Legault on the Quebec nation issue (despite all its other 21st century attractions) — like Quebec supported Ontario in the April joint letter on Canada’s borders. 

Randall White is a former senior policy advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, and a former economist with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He is the author of Ontario 1610-1985: A Political and Economic History and Ontario Since 1985. He writes frequently about Ontario politics.

The ONW Salon: The Ontario Election Has Begun — Is Doug Ford Fighting Justin Trudeau?

Susanna Kelley (Moderator): Within weeks of Doug Ford appointing a head of his election team for June 2022, ads are flooding the airwaves blaming Justin Trudeau for mishandling the pandemic. Is there anything more to this than electioneering? What kind of a campaign are we seeing unfold?  We asked Chris Loreto, Sarbjit Kaur and David Wills.

Chris Loreto:

I am going to respect the intelligence of our learned audience that reads us every week and say, yes there is an election in a year and pre-election is in the air.

However, the Ford government’s advertising campaign isn’t all about electioneering; it is about putting pressure on a federal Liberal government that has only been too content to ignore its responsibilities in this pandemic and blame the provinces.

The Trudeau Liberals have fallen short on securing our borders. Four letters and counting from our Premier to Justin Trudeau, and crickets.

Which is ridiculous considering that a failure to adequately secure our borders is what let the variants in that are wreaking havoc across the country.

Private jets are still landing at local airports. Hundreds of thousands of travelers have passed through our borders on flights and I would bet a dollar to a doughnut that not all of this travel has been “essential.”

Maybe the federal Liberals are ignoring the Premier’s letters because, well, they are electioneering.

Now, I am sure my Liberal and NDP colleagues will say that “Doug Ford is a bad man and he is putting politics ahead of people.”

The Premier has put politics aside. He has been on Team Canada from Day One, even though his teammates in Ottawa are not people I’d put on my fifth or sixth lines, never mind my top line (#hockeyreference #goleafs.)

The Premier suspended Ontario PC party fundraising for more than a year. Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca and the NDP never stopped. Del Duca and the NDP have been campaigning during the pandemic — non-stop. They have never sought to criticize the lack of federal leadership on COVID-19 — they have both been shameless apologists.

Neither have offered meaningful solutions to the challenge of the century thus far — they have only focused on grinding long-held axes or proposing the replacement of a democratically elected government with a “Pandemic Czar” (why are you running for Premier, SDD?).  

Sarbjit Kaur:

Well, as per the Globe and Mail Tuesday, Canada will surpass the U.S. later this week in vaccinations. We are doing better than the richest country in the world, the country that had the most vaccines — it’s incredible.

So, this attack on Trudeau as a central focus of an election campaign (which may have looked like a good bet a month ago) has just fallen apart. Ford will now have to actually talk about provincial matters and his own performance.

The problem with attacks and sending letters is the other side will typically respond. The PM has clearly responded to Ford’s letters about the border, asking him what more he’d like to do? Would he like to restrict the 30,000 students coming in approved by the Ontario government? The temporary foreign workers also approved by the provincial government?

We know very well the cases are not coming from across borders. If anything, people are griping about the expensive quarantine hotels and wanting some accommodations for the fact that some travelers (especially from the U.S.) are fully vaccinated and can take precautions to isolate at home.

Much like banning tennis ended up being very unpopular, railing against travel may end up being a dud cause as the variant risk gets under control.

Then Ford will go back to yelling about opening up the airport. He needs to make up his mind on what he wants.

David Wills:

I’m a little dizzy from Chris’ spin.

First off, the PCs raised $2.9 million in 2020 — the most of any party in Ontario.

Second, the Ontario NDP — in step with the federal NDP — have consistently pressured the federal government on everything from border controls to paid sick days to fairness for temporary foreign workers. The Ontario PCs are silent on two of the three.

But back to the topic. Yes, this is electioneering. Ford thinks he has picked a winner in attacking Trudeau, but the polling tells a different story.

All polling shows Ontarians and Canadians think the feds are doing a better job than Ontario.

But fighting Trudeau and the federal government is an old chestnut of a strategy. It lets you criticize someone else to distract from your own actions, or in this case, inactions.

The other part of the Ford strategy is to battle someone you are not running against. When he fights NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in public, people see the contrast and they might like the alternative better. Fighting Trudeau has less risk, because even though Trudeau is more popular, it is not a ballot choice.

Second, drumming on the border issue (Ford is not completely wrong on this either) distracts from the inactions by his own government. No paid sick days, overwhelmed ICUs, a clunky vaccine rollout — the list keeps going. Driving a narrative on something not in your control moves the spotlight away.

Remember, an Ontario election is a year away. The federal election will be much closer. Fighting Trudeau now may help Ford, but it will hurt his federal cousins.

But the federal Conservative party insulted Ford by sidelining him in 2019, so there is no love loss. Ford is thinking of Ford Nation, not the Conservative brand in this regard.

Chris Loreto:

I bet many Liberals have been singing “One Dose Summer” to Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer.”

But their inability to procure vaccine is impairing our ability to fight the third wave, avoiding a fourth wave altogether, and delaying our ability to get back normal life.

Almost one-third of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. Less than five percent of the Canadian population is fully vaccinated and we will have to wait to the “Second Dose Fall” to fully re-open. (I am not too sure what the tune is for “Second Dose Fall” is as of yet — please make recommendations).

David, who is Andrea Horwath? Name sounds familiar. And why is she trailing an unofficial party with a leader who doesn’t have a seat in the Legislature?

I look forward to the next election. I look forward to our government being able to get back to implementing Ontario Health Teams that will deliver better integrated healthcare in our communities. I look forward to re-opening our economy and getting on with an economic growth plan that will make Ontario the place to invest in the country. I look forward to moving forward with the most ambitious public transit plan in a generation that will fuel job creation and help fight climate change. I look forward to connecting all Ontario communities to reliable broadband.

I can’t wait to get back to the government’s agenda to make Ontario strong again. It is better than having to fix Trudeau’s messes like the borders and a paid sick day program no one could access.

Sarbjit Kaur:

Yes — Doug Ford was trying to fundraise while isolating in his mom’s basement!

Meanwhile, Trudeau just recently dropped into to town to deliver a bunch to transit money. Reliable broadband and all those nice things also rely on the feds.

People know who is taking care of Ontario and making investments and who is messing with our hospitals, schools (hybrid learning for elementary kids??) and cutting anything while losing $4.2 billion. How do you cut and also spend so much money? Special Conservative talent. Highways that are unnecessary etc.

Anyways the guy without a seat has ideas. $10 a day daycare and such. He’s focusing on what he can do for Ontarians while the other guy is just punching at air.

Typically, before an election you at least take care of your base. The PCs have managed to annoy the golfers, truckers, taxi drivers, parents and kids.  Who is the base at this point? The people attending anti-mask rallies? Oh, wait they’re mad too — about having to wear masks.

I think it will be a very interesting election as this government runs out of ideas (nobody wants that highway) and buck a beer has run its course.

People have seen during the pandemic what supports we need: childcare, good jobs, better employment conditions. The Conservatives are not well positioned on any of these things. It’s not their strong point — never has been.

David Wills:

The Ontario Tories thought governing was all about erecting “Open for Business” signs at border crossings, changing license plates so they could not be read by photo radar and putting stickers on gas pumps that didn’t stick. They backed that up with bragging about cuts to public health, dismissing the value of it to being no more than stickers in restaurant windows.

Then it got hard. And they froze, then flinched. At first, Ford was grateful of confederation and a Team Canada approach. Until it became clear the people saw who was in charge. Then he was back to fighting Trudeau.

The next election will be in the hangover of COVID-19. All the reviews will be underway and Ford will add to his list of failures — long-term care, education, hospitals, paid sick days. He is focused on the border simply because it is not his issue.

Think about the list of those he has blamed: Trudeau, the rest of the federal government, teachers, unions, businesses and most recently, us — the public. We can’t go golfing because he knows a guy who picks up three friends on the way to the course and they crush beers in the parking lot after.

Nothing about what he could do. Stricter rules on safe activities. Make operators adjust to make outdoor activities safer. An advertising campaign reminding us to do our part for a while longer.

But no. He chooses a negative campaign instead.

Chris Loreto is the 1st Vice President of the Ontario PC Party and previously served as Chief of Staff to Ontario’s Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Native Affairs in the Harris government. He is currently Principal at StrategyCorp.  David Wills is a Senior Vice President at Media Profile. He worked as NDP political staff at Queen’s Park and provides counsel to federal, provincial and municipal elected officials. Sarbjit Kaur has worked in Liberal politics for 20 years, including as Director of Communications to a cabinet minister in the McGuinty government. She is a former journalist and currently co -founder of KPW Communications.