It must be pretty easy for Americans to look north of the border and see us Canadians as an infuriatingly smug people. I can absolutely understand why. We contribute our two cents (or our nickels, since we eliminated our pennies) into their political melodrama all the time without any invitation. One of these Canadians is my mother, and her excuse is that “What happens in the United States affects us.” That’s her justification for all thirty times she’s shared petitions on Change.org calling for Donald Drumpf’s impeachment. However, while I can understand how this Canadian hectoring can irritate, the dumpster fire that is the current White House resident has made it very easy for us Northerners to brim with smugness every time they glance southward. And nine out of ten provinces remain smug. One no longer is: the one in which I live. That would be Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, who this week elected as its premier a walking black hole by the name of Doug Ford from where all human comprehension never escapes. Ontario, we are entitled to zero smugness. Make all appropriate adjustments now.
Not everyone will be aware that the phenomenon/affliction called Ford Nation, over which DoFo presides like a ringleader, predates the current White House administration and the electoral saga that begat it. DoFo served as a Toronto City Councillor for a single term beginning in 2010. The ward was previously represented for a decade by his brother Rob, who ascended into the mayor’s chair. You may know him better as Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor.
To call Toronto City Hall from 2010 to 2014 a shit show would be an insult to the Musea Della Merda, an actual museum in Northern Italy dedicated to feces. (That joke turned out way more elaborate than I planned, but there’s a vacation idea. Look it up.) Both brothers campaigned to eliminate a budget shortfall by “stopping the gravy train” (ending government waste) while guaranteeing “no service cuts.” Once elected, RoFo hired accounting firm KPMG to conduct an external audit, only to find out that any existing government excess that could be eliminated was not nearly enough to make a difference. Then, when the budget shortfall turned out to be (surprise, surprise) even bigger than expected, totaling $774 million, the brothers threw out their guarantee of “no service cuts.” Every city service was now on the chopping block, from daycares to mass transit to homeless shelters. Those things don’t fit in my definition of “gravy.” They would have all been lost if the brothers hadn’t been out-voted by the rest of city council.
This hack-and-slash attitude is a key trait I’ve witnessed in conservative government over the past twenty years. Tories seek to repair the economy while preventing society’s most vulnerable from participating in it. They claim power by railing against the wasteful spending of the day. The Ford Brothers had their “gravy train,” just like Drumpf later had his “swamp.” And the electorate believes them, because if there was enough waste to explain all their economic woes, then that means the economy will be fixed just by ending the waste! Isn’t that wonderful? It’s much better than the alternative reality – that there isn’t enough money to provide the services our society needs, meaning more tax has to be collected or we need a massive overhaul to our entire way of conducting business. No! That’s too hard and unpleasant to even consider! The gravy swamp thing is much better!
Government waste is always a fantastic thing to uncover. It basically reveals the villain, which isn’t you. It’s those dirty politicians. Those people are the reason we have such an enormous deficit. It’s because of Ben Carson’s $31,000 dining room set!
Of course, politicians should respect the tax dollars citizens pay, and be called out for waste. That was how RoFo was able to curry favour with the city at large in the first place, by selling himself as the councillor who best managed his constituents’ money. And before he became mayor, there were a number of Toronto city councillors exposed as wasteful. There was Kyle Rae who three himself a $12,000 taxpayer-funded retirement party. Adam Giambrone billed the public $4,000 for French lessons. My own ward councilor, Sandra Bussin, was ridiculed for expensing a $205 bunny suit.
But let me remind you that the budget shortfall totaled $774 million. Those examples of government waste, while egregious and shameful, don’t come anywhere close to explaining the budget shortfall. It’s almost as if the City of Toronto had more jurisdictions dumped on it by the province, but only had the relatively static revenue source of property taxes with which to fund them.
It should be obvious to voters that politicians who attribute out-of-control deficits to wasteful spending are either liars or rubes. What would happen if we got a politician who told us the truth: that the social programs on which we depend aren’t funded properly, and that we need new and innovative revenue tools to sustain what we have?
The Fords are not that type of politician. They routinely voted against progressive measures, no matter how miniscule. RoFo was the lone “no” vote to end the police’s practice of carding. He was also the lone “no” vote against setting aside shelter beds for LGBTQ+ youth. Notice I didn’t mention DoFo. He had a horrible attendance record during his time on Toronto City Council; in his final year as a councillor he missed 53 per cent of votes.
When RoFo was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, he dropped out of his mayoral re-election campaign, and DoFo was tagged in to take his place. In fact, RoFo ran for and won his brother’s council seat. DoFo ended up losing the mayoral race, and until recently, was just running the family’s sticker business.
Now, in what seemed like a whirlwind, DoFo assumed leadership of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party, and won a majority in the provincial election. In a cruel regurgitation of Ford Nation politics from eight years prior, DoFo promised to find at least $6 billion in “efficiencies” inside Ontario’s budget without having a single person lose their job, all while failing to identify where the cuts will be found. I’m not excited about reliving my years under a Ford municipal government writ larger at a provincial level, especially since his majority status leaves his opposition critics powerless.
I have grown exhausted by politicians who inflate the importance of wasteful government spending as an election issue. The loudest of those, like DoFo, know full well that waste is not the reason for our economic woes. But they yell anyway, because they know it will stir up anger in enough people, and that will get them elected. To these Machiavellian politicians, the ends truly justify the means.
Here’s hoping one day this stops working.