Although largely a result of timing, comparisons between Ontario Premier Doug Ford and U.S. President Donald Trump were inevitable from the start. Both were elected on a tide of right-wing populism, promising to bring years of corruption and complacency to a halt by draining/stopping the swamp/gravy train. Both have zero hope of ever gracing the cover of People‘s Sexiest Man Alive issue. Both have hair of a color typically unseen outside a urology lab. Both claim that their wealthy upbringings have had little impact on their characters today. Both inspire passionate loathing from their “elite” opponents.
But those comparisons are all cosmetic. In many areas where it really counts, Ford is a vast improvement over Trump. He works hard, even if his projects aren’t as significant as he wants Ontarians to believe they are. He’s not flagrantly racist or xenophobic. He has no record of sexual misconduct or marital infidelity. He has punted sexual harassers in his ranks with great speed, instead of making excuses to keep them on staff until they become even more embarrassing – or praising them to the skies after their departures. And as much as he is the strongest personality in Canadian politics today, he takes up only a fraction of the oxygen that Trump can take up in a single tweet.
Nonetheless, in recent weeks, Ford has demonstrated that some similarities between him and Trump are both meaningful and fair to point out:
He is far too willing to interfere in matters best left to designated professionals.
Thankfully, Ford will probably never have to deal with the extradition of a Chinese tech executive accused of violating sanctions. But he has proven to be less than trustworthy in cross-border business decisions, most notably the sale of Spokane-based utility company Avista Corp. to Ontario’s Hydro One, announced under the previous Liberal government. After Ford’s government forced out former Hydro One CEO Mayo Schmidt, followed by the departure of the company’s entire board, Avista became wary enough of their meddling to drop the deal altogether, resulting in $133 million in penalties for Hydro One.
The firing of one CEO, however high his salary, was never destined to provide genuine relief to Ontario ratepayers. But the Avista debacle indicates that Ford put even less thought into the consequences of Schmidt’s turfing than it initially seemed. Like Trump, currently hoping to use Meng Wanzhou’s arrest as leverage in ongoing trade disputes with China, he doesn’t realize when he is creating a new problem while trying to solve a current one.
He has an impulse to attack the media when cornered.
There is a subtle difference here, though. When Trump gets questions about unflattering stories, he dismisses them as “fake.” Ford does not go so far as to cry outright dishonesty – we turn to Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod for that, although she apologized later – but he does cry bias, which is only slightly less worrisome. He did this during the Progressive Conservative leadership race earlier this year, when he declared himself best equipped to “stand up to the media.” He did this after being repeatedly asked about his involvement in a family friend’s appointment as commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). And if he has not ordered Queen’s Park staffers to drown out reporters during news conferences, he hasn’t discouraged them, either.
Ford’s anti-media comments are not so frequent or vitriolic that they will force newspaper offices to hire armed security, or seriously ask if their employees can expect his help if detained overseas. But no politician has ever looked thicker-skinned after complaining about the media. The way to avoid pointed questions is to give reporters less to ask about.
He is more concerned with loyalty than competence.
For one, that family friend, whom the Ford government admitted fell short of the professional threshold required for the job. For another, chief of staff Dean French, who has repeatedly committed a cardinal sin among political staffers: Never become the story. Whether it’s having an Ontario Power Generation staffer terminated, asking the OPP to buy a “camper-type vehicle” for the premier’s office and hide the costs, or directing other staff to order police raids on outlaw cannabis stores, Ford refuses to view his top aide as the liability he has become.
Political staffers, as a class, rank somewhere between telemarketers and street preachers on the list of people who deserve respect. But there is a reason most of them have political backgrounds: They have a better understanding of boundaries not to be crossed. French, who hadn’t been involved with a campaign for 20 years before joining Ford’s, either does not understand or does not care. Neither does Ford, reportedly too blinded by friendship to correct this mistake. But at least there’s no word of the two of them organizing payoffs for porn stars.
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