Doug Ford is the author of his own misfortune


Six months after finding a path to victory, Doug Ford’s Tories are losing their way.

Every government stumbles early on. But it’s hard to recall a party in power that has fallen so far, so fast.

Our embattled premier is uniquely accursed because he is so often the author of his own misfortune. At year-end, Ford keeps running the ball into his own end zone — colliding with allies, trampling on teammates, fumbling at every turn, blinded by hubris.

Emboldened by a landslide victory, Ford imagined himself an all-powerful disrupter who could demolish the Liberal legacy in a flurry of pronouncements. But slogans are no substitute for strategies.

To this day, Ford’s greatest weakness is that he imagines himself powerful enough to defy reality, the laws of political gravity, even the laws of the land: defying Ottawa on carbon pricing; defying Toronto on the size of city council; demonizing the courts when they ruled against him; dismissing Charter rights when threatening to override them; defying corporate governance by firing top executives of government-controlled companies; alienating Francophones by undermining minority language protections; and disrespecting the police by interfering with their independence.

For no premier before him had ever rebranded his or her mobile phone number as a kind of public trust, as if proving a special bond with the people. Just call me (or text me) — anyone, anytime.

The myth of the mobile link may be popular for those prone to the personal touch — provided you don’t do the math for all 13 million Ontarians with access to a phone. Equally, the promise of roadside signs declaring “Ontario is open for business” has a certain visual and rhetorical appeal — provided you don’t do the math for businesses deciding on multibillion-dollar investments.

“My friends, a new day will dawn in Ontario,” Ford pledged solemnly at his swearing-in ceremony on the eve of Canada Day.

“You have trusted us to keep our word, to work tirelessly every day on your behalf with integrity and transparency.”

Today, those early promises have been held hostage to hyperbole:

  • Disturbing news reports about political interference by the premier’s office in the upper echelons of policing in this province have sparked an independent inquiry, forcing the premier to (temporarily) backtrack on a brazen attempt to install an underqualified crony, Ron Taverner, as Ontario Provincial Police commissioner. The Star also detailed how Ford’s chief of staff, Dean French, demanded that police arrest outlaw cannabis retailers and parade them “in handcuffs” as a publicity stunt.
  • Ford’s capricious decision to downsize Toronto’s city council in the middle of a municipal election was not only unprecedented, but went unmentioned in his own provincial election campaign. The subsequent court battle brought out the worst in the premier, who trash-talked our independent judiciary and tried to rewrite the history of our written constitution.
  • The premier’s impetuous plan to reduce French-language protections for Ontario’s francophone minority placed his government in double jeopardy — unable to account for any specific savings, while foolishly trying to put a price on language rights that are part of our history.
  • The sacking of Hydro One CEO Mayo Schmidt — dubbed the “Six Million Dollar Man” by the Tories on the campaign trail — ended up costing the government-controlled company more than $150 million in unforeseen fees when the province’s meddling prompted U.S. regulators to scotch a planned takeover bid of an American utility.
  • The Tories’ environmental policies have been poisoned by the political environment. By dismantling Ontario’s cap-and-trade program, and disavowing carbon pricing in any form, Ford is spoiling for a futile court fight with the federal government, which has every legal right to impose a national carbon tax as a backstop. In his most peculiar pronouncement to date, the premier boasts about wasting more than $30 million in taxpayer funds on lawyers waging political war in a legal setting.

In all these areas, the common theme is defiance and disruption, with little to replace the destruction — beyond roadside signs and bumper stickers. It is a road map for more U-turns, more climbdowns, more own-goals, more about-faces, more losing face.

If Ford doesn’t slow down, take stock, learn lessons, and change course, he is destined to sink even further. The challenge is not so much ideology as competency — and personality.

Perhaps the premier imagined himself in a bowling alley, where hurling a ball brings the pins crashing down — only to be righted again, automatically and reliably, by the mysterious machinery behind the walls. In reality, the machinery of government is not quite so predictable, and the province not so indestructible.

Years ago, politicians could act out such fantasies by lacing up their bowling shoes and padding down to a bowling alley hidden in the basement of Queen’s Park. But the bowling alley closed long ago, and the people of this province are not a set of pins so easily set right again.

Martin Regg Cohn is a columnist based in Toronto covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @reggcohn


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Alberta government ‘censored’ Indigenous book, undermining reconciliation in schools, author says


A prominent Indigenous author says the Alberta government’s decision to turn the page on one of his graphic novels used in schools is undermining its commitment to reconciliation. 

David Alexander Robertson says a teacher, who had students read Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story for years, reached out on social media last month after noticing it made Alberta Education’s not-recommended list for classrooms. 

The graphic novel — for students from Grade 9 to 12  — explores the real-life story of a 19-year-old Cree woman who was kidnapped and murdered in The Pas, Man., in 1971. 

« It’s concerning to see books being censored in this way, especially in an era of reconciliation where we need those truths, » he said in an interview with CBC Radio’s Unreserved host Rosanna Deerchild

Robertson, 41, contends the list — used as a reference for school boards, schools and teachers — becomes a form of censorship of Indigenous voices in a chapter of Canadian history that should be examining racism, sexism, colonialism and institutional failures.    

This isn’t the first time Robertson’s books have been flagged as inappropriate in Alberta.

7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga is a four-part graphic novel that follows the story of an Indigenous family over three centuries. (David Alexander Robertson)

In September, his first-ever graphic novel series, 7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga, was named on the Edmonton Public School Board’s so-called « Books to Weed Out. » The school board defended its decision, saying the site’s purpose was to help teachers make informed decision around their use of resources and not to suggest that books be made unavailable. Outcry prompted the board to ultimately take down the book review site. 

« These are the books that we need to be reading. If we’re putting them on a list that we’re saying, ‘don’t read these books,’ then I think that probably matches a pretty good definition of what censorship is, » the award-winning author said.

But the province stressed its « unwavering » commitment to the accurate reflection of Indigenous history.

By fall 2020, Alberta Education plans to introduce a new curriculum that « honours the history and perspectives of First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities » for students from kindergarten to Grade 4. The curriculum will be introduced in stages. 

If we take that out of [students’] hands, then how are we going to teach them about it?– David Robertson, author

Last year, the Alberta government revamped lesson plans for teachers from Grade 1 to 9 about the history of First Nations, Métis and Inuit — and the legacy of residential schools. It was part of a trial to incorporate recommendations made by the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and was made available as a resource to be taught at the discretion of teachers, individual schools and boards.

Administrators must ‘get with the times’

Writing Osborne’s story in a graphic novel was a way to « bridge the gap between the classroom and the outside world, » Robertson says, and draw attention to the issue of violence against Indigenous women.

« The book looks at the night she died, but it also asks people to think about what led to her death and then what we can do about it now, » he explained. 

It would take 15 years before murder charges were laid in Osborne’s death, and the case went on to become the basis of an Aboriginal Justice Inquiry.

Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story is based on a young Cree woman who was murdered in northern Manitoba 47 years ago. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Officials from the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission determined that racism, sexism and indifference in the northern Manitoba community marred the police investigation from the start.     

Robertson argued stories about missing and murdered Indigenous women, suicide, the legacy of residential schools and reconciliation « need to be woven into the fabric of who [youth] are as Canadians. » This is done in schools, he says, and serves to deepen the discussion about Indigenous issues. 

But teachers can’t do this with their students, he says, if they shelve some resources — like books. 

« As administrators and educators, we need to do the work to understand these things ourselves rather than just say this is not going to the classroom because we think it’s too difficult to learn, » Robertson said.

The province, school boards and teachers need to recognize stories like Betty ‘bridge the gap between the classroom and the outside world,’ Robertson says. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

So far, Betty is one of the only young adult books to address missing and murdered Indigenous women, Robertson says. 

« If we take that out of [students’] hands, then how are we going to teach them about it, » he asked. 

‘It’s truth’ 

Education Minister David Eggen was unavailable for an interview with Unreserved, but in an email statement, a government spokesperson said the province’s concerns about Betty centred on « graphic representation of sensitive content, » including sexual assault, which the ministry explained could be upsetting to students and must be taught in « age appropriate ways. »

« We have a duty to our students to ensure resources with explicit content are handled with due care and contextualization, » the province said.

« Explicit content has the potential to trigger short term and long term emotional and psychological responses from students who may have in the past or are currently experiencing related trauma. »

If it is written by an Indigenous author from their lived experiences: it’s truth.– David Alexander Robertson

However, the province said if a school or teacher would like to use Betty, « they can still do so as it’s ultimately up to them to decide what resources are used to teach students. »

The ministry noted it reviewed 10 of Robertson’s books and determined eight met its standards. 

Robertson says he wants to see such decisions « made in a more informed way, with the right people involved. »

This revelation, he explained, led him to re-evaluate the province’s commitment to truth and reconciliation.

« We talk about reconciliation, but the truth part of that process comes from Indigenous peoples’ voices, sharing our stories through literature, and art, and dance, and all of these different avenues, » he said. 

« If it is written by an Indigenous author from their lived experiences: it’s truth. »

Written by Amara McLaughlin. Produced by Unreserved’s Stephanie Cram.


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Victoria-based author Esi Edugyan wins second Giller prize for ‘Washington Black’


TORONTO – Victoria-based author Esi Edugyan has won the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for a second time with her latest novel “Washington Black.”

Published by Patrick Crean Editions, the novel follows the saga of an 11-year-old boy who escapes slavery at a Barbados sugar plantation with the help of the owner’s kinder brother.

Edugyan secured the top prize after a season flush with acclaim for “Washington Black,” which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Writers’ Trust fiction award.

READ MORE: Iconic American author Tom Wolfe dies at age 88

A five-member jury praised “Washington Black” as “a supremely engrossing novel about friendship and love and the way identity is sometimes a far more vital act of imagination than the age in which one lives.”

Runners-up include Patrick deWitt for “French Exit,” Thea Lim for “An Ocean of Minutes,” Sheila Heti’s “Motherhood” and “Songs for the Cold of Heart” by Eric Dupont, translated from French by Peter McCambridge.

WATCH: Giller prize-nominated Paige Cooper visits The Morning Show

This is Edugyan’s second Giller win, having previously received the honour for “Half-Blood Blues” in 2011, both times beating out fellow contender deWitt.


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