Chairman's Desk

Ford’s Fast-Paced Summer Agenda Proving Critics Wrong

When political parties, who have spent years wandering aimlessly in the wilderness of opposition, eventually come to power, they are often counselled by their new advisers to pause and take a moment to catch their breath.

This advice is offered not just with the best of intentions but for good reason as well: campaigns are stressful affairs that drain resources and exhaust staff. And then the transition of power – a cumbersome and inelegant process – starts. Choosing a cabinet. Hiring staff. Reconciling the promises of a platform with the realities of government – all while trying to find the bathroom – takes time, effort and attention to detail.

The reality is that getting a government fully up and running takes months. That’s why it isn’t difficult to understand when newly elected parties opt for the easier and safer route of taking their time to establish their footing before surging onwards.

As they have already done with so many conventional approaches, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives have opted not to follow that familiar path.

Shortly after their election, the government announced it would bring the legislature back this summer to tackle its immediate priorities. The move was greeted with mixed reviews, to say the least.

Proponents argued that a short session would act as a proof point of directional and philosophical change from the previous government.

Critics, on the other hand, argued the platform on which the PCs were elected was light on detail and provided little guidance in the form of a legislative road map. They cautioned that the opposition knew their way around the house better than a neophyte government would, that traps would abound – that it would be a government that was ungrounded and would be error-filled.

A general consensus seemed to emerge: after the whirlwind leadership change and a frantic election, a Ford government would be far too rickety to provide many meaningful changes during a summer session.

But there turned out to be a problem with that analysis: its foundation.

Ford has carried his campaign for premier, which was driven, focused and on-message, into his government – a government with action as its hallmark.

To the astonishment of many seasoned observers, the new government, which had been told over and over in the lead-up to election day that many of its policies were unrealistic or downright unachievable, proved conventional wisdom wrong.

Firing the Hydro One CEO and board without a massive severance. Reducing the price of beer to a buck. Closing green energy plans without a lawsuit.

All not only accomplished but accomplished with uncommon speed – after all, just weeks have passed since the election.

Instead of the clumsy, disorganized government that common wisdom said it would be, it has demonstrated itself to be a deft and capable one that is far more at home with the machinery of government that might have first been obvious.

Much of this is due to the abilities of the people the new premier has recruited to join his administration. Without a government at Queen’s Park for 15 years, and with a federal government held by the Trudeau Liberals, many experienced conservatives were available to move to a new home.

That is particularly reflected in the premier’s own office.

Dean French, his chief of staff and closest confidant, is familiar with the wheels of power and understands well how to adjust them to ensure a Fordian view of government is delivered.

Jenni Byrne, his principal secretary familiar to many, is a flawless executor of policy initiatives, with an intuitive sense of the values of Ford coalition voters.

But, in the end much of it comes down to the boss himself, a leader who is demonstrating himself to be a disciplined and capable premier.

It has been three months, and this is a government proving itself to be one to be reckoned with – one that is smart, with its finger not just on the pulse of the electorate but also on the levers of power.

Stakeholders beware – this government is one that will go down in the books, and not for its inadequacies.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on August 12, 2018.

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