People wondering how Doug Ford can dominate Ontario election polls need look no further than his two main opponents. They are the greatest gift he could receive.
One would be hard-pressed to find two more ordinary politicians than Steven Del Duca and Andrea Horwath. Liberal leader Del Duca, a mid-level cabinet minister in the Kathleen Wynne government, could not even hold onto his own seat in the 2018 election. Horwath has already lost three elections as NDP leader and is well on the way to her fourth. Either of them would probably be adequate as the mayor of a small city that wasn’t particularly important, but neither of them are what Ontarians would hope for in a premier.
Despite their obvious limitations, Del Duca and Horwath apparently believe that they are imbued with magical powers. How else to explain their platforms?
Housing is one of their areas of expertise. Both say they will build 1.5 million homes over the next decade. They believe that just the right mix of tweaks, incentives and penalties will push the housing industry into a period of unprecedented productivity. At the same time, both the Liberals and the NDP favor rent controls, not exactly an incentive for landlords to invest in new buildings.
The PCs have the same optimistic housing goal, but at least get partial points for a determined effort to increase housing-sector capacity by training more people in the trades and changing rules so that it’s easier for foreign-trained tradespeople to get jobs in Ontario.
Not only can Horwath and Del Duca make housing appear, they can order up tens of thousands of workers, too. The NDP wants to hire 30,000 nurses and 10,000 personal support workers. The Liberals want an extra 10,000 teachers and 3,000 mental health workers.
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These big hiring promises are up against a stark and rather important reality. According to the latest Statistics Canada figures, Ontario has about 350,000 unfilled jobs, up nearly 140,000 in just last year. High unemployment is gone, replaced by a worker shortage that casts the big political promises in doubt.
Ontario needs to maximize workforce participation if it hopes to meet both government and private sector employment needs. Despite that, the Liberals and NDP want to bring back the basic-income pilot project. A minimum income, supplied by the government, will encourage people not to work, or to work less. We already saw that with federal pandemic wage replacement. Disincentives to work are not what the province’s economy needs. Ditto for the Liberals’ promise to look into promoting a four-day work week.
Both Del Duca and Horwath have pledged to eliminate private sector ownership from the long-term care sector. That would cost billions of dollars and not add a single bed. Worse, Del Duca would then shut down the care homes the public had just acquired, at great cost, and replace them with a swathe of smaller homes that would care for only a few people each.
Horwath threw out a real showstopper Wednesday when she promised to cut the cost of auto insurance by 40 per cent. In the NDP’s world, there is no connection between the cost of insurance and the benefits people receive. She must think the insurance business is like government, where people can get everything they want without having to pay for it.
The Liberals and the NDP have each made dozens and dozens of promises but have failed to define two or three critical issues where they would do better than the PCs. Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, by contrast, is running on the expected climate policies, but also on a promise to double welfare and disability support payments.
Del Duca and Horwath missed a good opportunity in the attack on poverty, especially in regard to the disabled. Both would increase disability support by 20 per cent, but a single person receives only $ 1,169 a month now. The NDP and Liberal plans would still leave them in deep poverty.
Ford has belatedly promised the disabled a five-per-cent benefit increase, which comes to $ 58.45 a month. The amount is so small it’s insulting, but his opponents are so busy dreaming and overpromising to call him on it.
Doug Ford is not destined for the political hall of fame. Despite four years as a premier, he has limited political skills. Articulateness is still a stretch goal for him, as he demonstrated in the first leadership debate in North Bay this week. When Ford speaks, he leaves listeners with the disconcerting feeling that he’s not exactly sure what he’s talking about.
Despite that, Ford is a pragmatic leader interested in improving the basic functions of government, not in reinventing the world. His election focus is tight, featuring jobs and the economy, health-care improvements and affordability. Right now, that looks like a winning hand.
Randall Denley is an Ottawa journalist, author and former Ontario PC candidate. Contact him at [email protected]
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