Doug Ford bogged down our subway, but he could yet lead the way to the TTC’s ‘better way’


To upload Toronto’s subway, or not to upload it, isn’t really the question.

For the answer is a foregone conclusion: Of course Ontario should do it.

Possessed of big pockets and the big picture, the province has long been better placed to own the TTC’s subway lines. Queen’s Park has the ability to bankroll — and borrow for — big capital projects, unlike Toronto’s restricted cash flow and perennial shortfalls.

The linkages in our interconnected megalopolis require us to expand subway planning beyond a Toronto-centric perspective. With the premier of the day directly accountable for subway expansion, he or she is more likely to fund a future relief line than plead poverty.

Opposition to this week’s move by the Progressive Conservative government — signing a framework with Toronto to figure out costs and benefits — shouldn’t blind us to the reality that it’s not just a PC idea.

“The province will begin discussions with the City of Toronto to determine whether provincial ownership of TTC subway lines could provide better transit services for residents in the GTHA, and allow for a better sharing of costs for transit expansion between the province and the City of Toronto.”

A perfectly sensible Liberal proposal. Premier Doug Ford couldn’t have put it any better this week, but he surely tried — promising to “cut through red tape to start new projects and finish construction faster.”

If it was a good idea before — and I’ve long supported it — why isn’t it a good idea now? That’s a better question.

Can the Tories truly be trusted to do it the right way, not merely the right-wing way, to bolster the TTC’s “better way?” Can the party that once downloaded services to offload expenses now be trusted to upload services and own up to the costs?

Can PCs who sold off the Highway 407 toll system, for a song, now save the day? How, exactly, will Ford keep his word?

There’s a reason the Liberals took forever to follow through with an upload, or fulfil past transit promises: cash crunches.

Even when the Liberals found the funding for an ambitious Transit City network — promising LRT expansion tailored to Toronto’s population density — it soon bogged down: Then-premier Dalton McGuinty postponed $4 billion in cash flow when his 2010 budget deficit exploded amid an economic downturn.

Then-mayor Rob Ford, backed by his brother Doug on city council, turned the fully-funded Scarborough LRT upside down by burying it underground — delaying construction and raising Toronto taxes to pay the additional costs. Which takes some of the air out of our current premier’s airy rhetoric about it being time to “speed things up.”

Lest we forget, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT (the trunk line of Transit City) is itself a model for this kind of co-operation, given that the TTC handles operations and the province holds ownership — precisely what is being proposed for the future. Either way, it’s all about the money, of which there’s never enough — not just for future capital spending but present-day operations and maintenance that is past-due.

There’s a reason Wynne’s last Liberal government went out on a limb (and jumped off it) by partially privatizing Hydro One, the much-reviled transmission utility that, in martyrdom, became a crown jewel. The Liberals didn’t do it out of ideology but necessity, convincing themselves that they needed the money for “asset-rotation” — selling off inanimate hydro lines to pay for badly-needed transit lines: copper wires for steel rails.

They sold off Hydro One because they also failed to sell the idea of road tolls to bankroll transit lines. The public wouldn’t buy it.

Where will Ford magically find the money to buy the subway from the city, while funding future maintenance that has piled up? He will surely borrow, but how shall he repay those loans while simultaneously vowing never to raise taxes (forgetting, for a moment, the Scarborough subway tax fobbed off on us by the Ford brothers)?

It’s the right question, but the premier has a dubious answer: The money will materialize out of thin air by selling off air rights to cash-rich property developers building new highrise towers.

Tories who style themselves prudent stewards of public finances have a mystical belief in the magic of no-money-down subway-building, bankrolled by future tax increments or perhaps present-day sell-offs. It’s a big, multi-billion-dollar gamble that not only risks massive shortfalls but massive delays in cobbling together the financing and breaking ground.

Conceptually, provincial ownership makes the most sense. In reality, the current provincial government rarely makes much sense

On balance, it is a balancing act. The best bet, for Torontonians and all Ontarians, is still for the province (no matter which party is in power) to proceed — with caution.

As for fears that a downtown relief line will be neglected by a government more focussed on the vote-rich suburbs, the opposite is surely true. We are long past the tipping point of subway congestion.

Any member of the PC cabinet who gets out of his or her chauffeured car to ride the rails knows that future subway expansion to the suburbs will be a dead end without a relief line in the big city to clear the way. Better that the provincial Tories learn this for themselves (or hear it from voters) — and be held accountable for it — than endlessly fobbing it off on Toronto city hall.

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


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Student fees bankroll ‘crazy Marxist’ councils, says Premier Doug Ford


The Progressive Conservatives are ending mandatory ancillary student fees to tackle the red menace.

That’s the message of the governing party’s latest fundraising email blast sent Monday titled “How broken was education?”

“Students were forced into unions and forced to pay for those unions,” Premier Doug Ford said of the fees that bankroll student government.

“I think we all know what kind of crazy Marxist nonsense student unions get up to. So, we fixed that. Student union fees are now opt-in,” said Ford.

The move last month, which was hailed by Conservatives and panned by student groups, was in conjunction with the government’s 10 per cent post-secondary tuition cut and revamp of the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).

“For all of their talk, the Liberals never lowered tuition. So, we did. We cut tuition by 10 per cent across the board,” the premier said.

“What are the Liberals saying about it now? That we’re gutting the system. These guys are nuts,” he said.

“Take OSAP. A family bringing in $170,000 a year was still getting $2,000 in grants. Sorry folks, but government grants should be for people who need it most. So, we fixed that too.”

Student fees, which can add as much as $2,000 a year to post-secondary costs, fund numerous on-campus activities and clubs, including newspapers.

Only programs that support transit, health and wellness — like athletics, walk-safe programs or counselling — and career services will be mandatory.


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Toronto MP who wrote ‘let’s just whack’ Doug Ford says he was referencing whack-a-mole


A Toronto Liberal MP who tweeted “let’s just whack him” in reference to Doug Ford says he didn’t mean to suggest anyone should harm Ontario’s premier.

On Saturday evening, Adam Vaughan said his Twitter post was in reference to a cartoon featuring Ford’s face and a whack-a-mole game.

“It was never my intent to suggest anyone, anywhere should inflict real physical harm to Premier Ford,” he said. “To those who took offence I’m sorry.”

Ontario government ‘absolutely committed’ to full-day learning, education minister says

In the original tweet, Vaughan was responding to another user’s reaction to Ontario’s government confirming that all-day education for four- and five-year-old children would continue, after stoking speculation it was on the chopping block.

“Excellent news!” a Twitter user named Ceta Ramkhalawansingh said. “Full-day school for 4 and 5 yo’s to stay. Why was this even raised!!!!”

Vaughan replied: “So Frod’s [sic] gang could get folks upset over hurting Kindergarten students instead of being angry over the damage he’s done to University students. Next he will go after young offenders & end “free school” in detention centres…instead of playing whack-a-mole; Let’s just whack him.”

The tweet was met with more than 450 comments — far more responses than shares or likes.

“Completely inappropriate,” one user said. “I am no fan of Ford.”

One commenter said Vaughan, a former Toronto councillor, should resign and be charged over the statement, which he described as a threat.

Vaughan responded to some of the criticism with an image of a whack-a-mole game with Ford’s face Photoshopped in.

He later joked that moles took exception to being compared to Ford.

“APOLOGY: I’ve been contacted by a lawyer representing the Moles of Ontario. They resent being compared to Premier Ford. I’ve tried to reach out, but apparently, they are an underground organization. (No moles were hurt in the making of these cartoons) #sometoriesarewhack.”

The Spadina-Fort York MP did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment from Global News.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Premier Doug Ford promises all-day kindergarten next fall, but says have to wait before decisions are made on its future


Premier Doug Ford promises full-day kindergarten will be offered for the next school year, but parents will have to wait to find out what changes are in store.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday morning at an mental-health funding announcement at CAMH in Toronto, Ford was asked several times about the program for Ontario’s youngest learners.

“We’re consulting with our education partners,” he said. “…But I can tell you that there’s going to be all-day kindergarten next year, and we’ll sit down and you’ll hear from us in the future.”

The premier also said “we look forward to coming up with a solution that’s better than the system that we have right now.”

On Tuesday, Education Minister Lisa Thompson also did not commit long-term to the program, which began almost a decade ago at a cost of $1.5 billion a year.

She said it was “premature” to comment on the program given the consultations with teacher and support staff unions, and trustee associations.

“What I’m saying is this: we’re consulting with our education partners and stay tuned,” Thompson told reporters Tuesday in Scarborough.

“What I’m saying is I’m absolutely respecting the process of consultation. We are listening. We’re asking first, we’re listening and then we’re going to analyze the information that has come back to us.”

Read more:

Education minister says ‘nothing decided’ on class sizes or kindergarten

The government has asked unions and trustee groups to comment on the full-day program, class-size caps in the primary years, as well as a controversial hiring rule known as Regulation 274 that compels principals to choose from among those supply teachers with the most seniority for long-term and permanent positions.

A ministry consultation document asks about full-day kindergarten and it’s staffing model, which is a full-time teacher and full-time early childhood educator with an average class size of 26, with a few exceptions.

The document asks if there are “other models the ministry should consider.”

Before full-day kindergarten was introduced, it was proposed that students continue to be taught by a teacher for a half day, with early childhood educators covering the rest, for an annual cost of $1 billion.

But then-Premier Dalton McGuinty chose the all-day teacher and early childhood education model, adding half a billion dollars to the yearly price tag.

In 2012, in his report to the Liberal government, economist Don Drummond said the $1.5 billion full-day kindergarten program should be scrapped or revamped.

During the 2014 election, former Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak proposed a teacher-only model with a smaller class of 20 kids, saving $200 million.

On Wednesday, Ford said “there’s lots of areas of education that need to be fixed,” and said “I can assure you one thing — it’s very important. Any decision that’s made, it’s going to be better, it’s not going to be worse.”

Ford also said he’s concerned that “half our Grade 6 students have failed math. That’s staggering” and said while teachers “do a great job with our students” they can finish post-secondary studies without any math and then go in and teach our kids about math.”

He was referring to the most provincial standardized testing results that shows 49 per cent of Grade 6 students met the standard in numeracy. The standard is a level 3 or 4, which roughly translates to a B or better.

Ford also said he’d be “more than happy to go in any of the classrooms” to see first-hand what class sizes are like.

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy


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‘Enough is enough’: Andrea Horwath says Doug Ford must rethink hiring of pal Ron Taverner as OPP commissioner


Back to the drawing board.

That’s NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s advice to Premier Doug Ford on the appointment of a new Ontario Provincial Police commissioner.

Horwath said Ford needs to rethink the hiring of his friend Ron Taverner, a Toronto police superintendent, as OPP commissioner because the process has become so tainted.

“Enough is enough. We cannot jeopardize the integrity of our provincial police force and move forward with a political appointment that’s in the best interest of Doug Ford,” she said Tuesday.

“The new OPP commissioner must have the best interest of the public and law enforcement at heart. The process to appoint a new OPP commissioner must begin again.”

“If Ontario’s Provincial Police are going to do its job effectively, there cannot be any doubt about their impartiality or their independence,” said Horwath.

“Now that the Ford government has undermined the investigation into Taverner’s appointment, the people of Ontario, including police officers, will never have full confidence that Taverner is independent, and that his appointment was not a political move by the premier’s office, designed to install someone to protect Ford and do his bidding,” she said.

While the premier has insisted he had “zero influence” on the controversial hiring of his pal, he said two weeks ago that “it’s a political appointment.”

“If I wanted to, I could appoint you OPP commissioner,” Ford told CP24’s Nathan Downer on Jan. 14.

On Monday, Jones said in an interview with the Globe that she expected Taverner to become commissioner after ethics watchdog J. David Wake completes an investigation.

Wake is examining whether the premier broke the Member’s Integrity Act with the appointment. The close relationship between Ford and the 51-year Toronto police veteran has raised concerns about the independence of the OPP.

Taverner, who did not return a message from the Star seeking comment, has resumed his Toronto police duties in Etobicoke while Wake continues his review.

The Star revealed Friday that the integrity commissioner has interviewed OPP Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair, a runner-up for the $275,000-a-year post.

Blair, who is in court to try to compel Ontario ombudsman Paul Dubé to investigate the Taverner hiring, has alleged there was political meddling in the appointment.

Dubé has said he does not have jurisdiction to do so.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1


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‘We heard you loud and clear on Bill 66,’ Premier Doug Ford assures rural Ontario municipalities


The Progressive Conservatives’ retreat on controversial new planning legislation proves the government will listen to municipalities, says Premier Doug Ford.

Speaking to the Rural Ontario Municipalities Association conference Monday, Ford said last week’s cancellation of a contentious section of Bill 66 is significant.

The Ford government backed down on a plan that could have opened up the Greenbelt to development.
The Ford government backed down on a plan that could have opened up the Greenbelt to development.  (Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press)

“We heard you loud and clear on Bill 66,” the premier told about 1,000 rural mayors, reeves, and councillors from across the province at the Sheraton Centre convention in Toronto.

Read more:

Tories’ Bill 66 would undermine clean-water protections that followed Walkerton tragedy, victims and advocates warn

Ford government backs down on plan that could have opened up the Greenbelt to development

After much criticism, Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark last Wednesday axed the one-paragraph schedule 10 to the bill that would amend the Planning Act to allow municipalities to bypass existing development requirements and restrictions for companies promising to create 50 or more jobs.

Projects could have been granted expedited provincial approvals within one year, allowing businesses to begin construction.

Critics had warned that would have put prime farmland and the 1.8-million acre Greenbelt around the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area at risk of development.

Ford assured rural civic leaders that was not the intention of the omnibus legislation that was hastily introduced before the house rose for Christmas.

“Of course, we’d never have approved any projects at the expense of the Greenbelt, water quality or public health,” the premier said.

“But, as Minister Clark recently announced, we will not proceed with schedule 10 of the bill,” he emphasized.

“We’re committed to cutting red tape in a way that protects workers, protects the environment and eliminates waste and we’ll make sure our legislation does exactly that.”

The premier, who was joined at the conference by many ministers and MPPs, stressed his government is “here to listen to you.”

“That’s why we repealed the Green Energy Act — to help local communities have a say on energy projects in their municipalities,” Ford said of the previous Liberal government’s polarizing legislation on siting wind turbines and solar projects.

“Today local communities have final say on these local planning decisions,” he said.

The premier also announced that Clark and Attorney General Caroline Mulroney would soon begin province-wide consultations on muncipalities’ liability.

“We have heard your concerns about increasing insurance costs and the impact that these costs and settlements can have on property taxes and municipal taxpayers,” said Ford.

“We’ve heard your concerns about the ‘liability chill’ preventing everyday activities in your municipalities, like tobogganing and street hockey,” he said.

“We need to make sure that vulnerable injured people are fairly compensated. We’ll need to look at the evidence and develop solutions that make sense.”

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie


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How Doug Ford remade Patrick Brown’s Tories — and all Ontario — in a year


A year ago Patrick Brown was sitting pretty as premier-in-waiting, while Doug Ford was plotting his fledgling campaign to be mayor of Toronto.

Today Ford is sitting in the premier’s office, while Brown is wearing the mayor’s chain of office (albeit in Brampton not Toronto).

Then-Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown, right, looks on as Doug Ford speaks at a campaign victory party to celebrate Raymond Cho's election in the Scarborough-Rouge River byelection in Toronto, on Sept. 1 , 2016. Ford eventually took over as leader after Brown was ousted, setting Ontario on a completely different path, Martin Regg Cohn writes.
Then-Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown, right, looks on as Doug Ford speaks at a campaign victory party to celebrate Raymond Cho’s election in the Scarborough-Rouge River byelection in Toronto, on Sept. 1 , 2016. Ford eventually took over as leader after Brown was ousted, setting Ontario on a completely different path, Martin Regg Cohn writes.  (Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Yes, they’ve traded places — or at least job descriptions. But it’s not just about them, it’s about us.

Twelve months later, Ontario is in a very different place.

What if Brown hadn’t been blown off course on his path to provincial power, and Ford were still in the political wilderness? Where would we all be today?

Brown lost the leadership of his party when fellow Progressive Conservatives abandoned him amid allegations of sexual impropriety aired by CTV News (contested by Brown in an ongoing libel suit). Shifting his mayoral ambitions to the provincial realm, Ford overcame the stigma of his 2014 loss to John Tory by succeeding Brown as party leader and then winning the premiership.

But back to their story, and our history. It’s not just a tale of time travel, but a chronicle of the vast distance the PCs have travelled, taking all of us along with them.

For it was not just Ford and Brown who were transplanted, but the Progressive Conservative personality that was transformed. It is Ford’s party now, but it was very much more Brown’s party then — recruited, revamped and rebranded by him.

The day Brown walked away from the party leadership is the day his ideas faded away from the PC campaign platform ? and fell away from Ontario government policy. Within days of Ford entering the race with a campaign of disruption and destruction, Brown's carefully constructed campaign platform fell, plank by policy plank.
The day Brown walked away from the party leadership is the day his ideas faded away from the PC campaign platform ? and fell away from Ontario government policy. Within days of Ford entering the race with a campaign of disruption and destruction, Brown’s carefully constructed campaign platform fell, plank by policy plank.  (Rick Madonik/TORONTO STAR)

Virtually every member of the provincial cabinet that today pledges fealty to Ford was, up until a year ago, swearing loyalty to Brown with a personal signed copy of his bible in hand: the People’s Guarantee, featuring Brown’s portrait on the cover page, laid out their leader’s vision.

Most of his recruits were fellow travellers and true believers who shared Brown’s modulated conservatism in the tradition of his pantheon of Progressive Conservative role models — Brian Mulroney, Jean Charest, and latterly, Bill Davis:

Caroline Mulroney was a star candidate and Rod Phillips a stalwart. Peter Bethlenfalvy came from Bay Street, Merrillee Fullerton came from her medical practice, and Greg Rickford came from the ashes of defeat in the Harper government — all of them wooed and won over by Brown’s policies, or more precisely, his path to victory.

The campaign of 2018 was always going to culminate in a so-called “change election” that would challenge Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals, but the change envisioned by Brown wasn’t what we got with Ford.

Brown proffered a change of premier, not major policies; a course correction, not disruption; policy continuity, not chaos; continued action on climate change, not inaction; tolerance and outreach for minority groups, not forbearance and retrenchment.

Unlike Ford’s hit list, Brown’s check list would have retained many of the existing Liberal policies that attracted broad support from Ontario voters, according to most public opinion polls, even as Wynne’s personal popularity slumped:

Carbon tax? Check.

Sex-ed update? Check.

Pride parade participation? Check.

Youth pharmacare? Check.

Rent control? Check.

Free tuition? Check.

Daycare enhancements? Check.

In all these areas, Brown hinted at more of the same (more or less) just done better, with no free lunch. Under Ford, all these ideas were done like dinner.

Brown lost the leadership of his party when fellow Progressive Conservatives abandoned him amid allegations of sexual impropriety aired by CTV News (contested by Brown in an ongoing libel suit)
Brown lost the leadership of his party when fellow Progressive Conservatives abandoned him amid allegations of sexual impropriety aired by CTV News (contested by Brown in an ongoing libel suit)  (Steve Russell/TORONTO STAR)

The day Brown walked away from the party leadership is the day his ideas faded away from the PC campaign platform — and fell away from Ontario government policy. Within days of Ford entering the race with a campaign of disruption and destruction, Brown’s carefully constructed campaign platform fell, plank by policy plank.

From the beginning, Ford not only set the agenda but undid it. Rival leadership candidates soon fell into line — first Christine Elliott, who disowned carbon pricing, then denounced Ontario’s updated sex-ed curriculum. Mulroney soon followed by disavowing a carbon tax. The rest was history.

Brown never wanted to rock the boat, merely bail it out. Ford set out to sink it, then salvage it, and relaunch in an entirely different direction.

That he enjoyed clear sailing is largely thanks to Wynne’s Liberals drowning in the waters of discontent. The greater wonder is that he so effortlessly recruited Brown’s recruits to change course, rowing in unison against Ontario’s political currents in the same direction of disruption.

That’s a long way to travel in a year. Not just for Patrick Brown and Doug Ford, but all Ontarians along for the ride.

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


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The Top Ten Reasons — no, 115 — Doug Ford is our best premier ever!


After half a year as your premier, Doug Ford wants you to know one thing:

He has done 115 great things for you so far. Which works out to about one good deed a day (not counting weekends and holidays) since he took office.

Not for him a Top Ten List when there is so much more to boast about. Which he did with memorable immodesty Monday.

If you’re going to humble brag, best know your audience. And the Economic Club of Canada is nothing if not friendly to Ford, who received a standing ovation even before he uttered a word at lunchtime

For their money ($990 plus HST per table) Ford fans found a five-page print out of his achievements at their tables, just in time for the premier’s turn at the teleprompter. The better to keep track of all he’s done.

How indeed does that track record compare to the track laid by Sir John A. Macdonald when he completed the CPR tying the nation together? Or to the pipeline laid by Louis St. Laurent across Canada? Or to the network of colleges created by Bill Davis across the province?

Pshaw. This is history in the making — and unmaking.

“In just six months we have accomplished the impossible,” he explained. “And at your table in front of you is a list to prove it.”

Proof, you say? Here it is — “Promises made. Promises kept” — beginning with this bit…

“June 15. Scrapped the cap-and-trade carbon tax.”

Wait, here it is again … and again:

“July 25: “Introduced legislation to end cap-and-trade carbon tax…

“Aug. 2: Challenged the federal carbon tax in court.”

Still with us? Six weeks later, this entry again, word for word:

“Sept. 14: Challenged the federal carbon tax in court…

“Oct. 29: Met with Saskatchewan Premier Moe to fight carbon tax…

“Oct. 31: Passed legislation to end cap and trade carbon tax.”

Still with us? The buck stops here, but the backpatting doesn’t:

“Nov. 30: Continued (my italics) to challenge the federal government’s unconstitutional carbon tax.”

Lester B. Pearson promised his “60 days of decision,” but Doug Ford has delivered seven months of decisiveness. Our premier knows his history.

He also sees the future. Ontario is on the cusp of “prosperity the likes of which this province has never seen before,” Ford mused.

Never better. But beware.

There are dark storm clouds looming over Ontario, despite his best efforts to protect us from the deluge. No, the biggest threat to this province is not weather events or floods of biblical proportions from climate change, but the changing political climate in Ottawa that will wreak havoc on our economy.

Notwithstanding the premier’s repeated boasts that he dismantled carbon pricing in Ontario, and despite his doomed court fight with Ottawa that will throw $30 million in taxpayers’ money down the drain, Ottawa is about to impose its own federal carbon tax on the province. The result?

“A carbon tax will be a total economic disaster,” Ford predicted.

Let those words sink in: Total. Economic. Disaster.

“I’m here today to ring the warning bell that the risk of a carbon tax recession is very real… you can be for a carbon tax. Or you can be for manufacturing jobs. But you can’t be for both.”

Let those words sink in: “But you can’t be for both.”

That would be news to Gordon Campbell, the former premier of B.C. whom Ford hired as one of his new government’s top fiscal advisers last year. Campbell’s right-leaning government brought in Canada’s first carbon tax a decade ago yet that province has consistently led the country in economic growth.

By Ford’s logic, “the carbon tax isn’t about the environment.”

But in the premier’s lexicon, any references to “climate” and the “environment” put business first (my italics):

“Ontario now has a business friendly climate — an environment that is fostering new jobs and opportunity. We have created the environment for companies to thrive and prosper.”

Oh, and that list? Departing from his script, looking away from his teleprompter, our exuberant premier ad-libbed this one comment: “Wow.”

It is a list unlike any other. But here’s one entry that should be near the top, because it bespeaks Ford’s success as a salesman (even if he didn’t deliver on the original campaign promise):

“Aug. 7: Issued the ‘Buck-A-Beer’ Challenge.”

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


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Doug Ford rewrote the rules, now he wants to redraw Ontario’s borders


There’s nothing wrong with right-sizing local government.

Provided it’s done right. In good faith and with good sense.

A sweeping review of grassroots governance, announced by Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives this week, aims for better services and greater efficiencies. Admirable goals — as long as the goalposts aren’t pushed back, and there’s a level playing field at the local level.

Our inherited hodgepodge of municipal boundaries and services is surely not sacrosanct. Regional government is long overdue for a rethink, given that its roots go back half a century.

But let’s not be naive about the potential to make municipal matters worse in search of ephemeral savings. And let’s not forget Doug Ford’s penchant for issuing edicts from on high about governments at ground level.

Has Ford learned any lessons from the political, legal and constitutional battle that erupted, paralyzing Queen’s Park and sapping his credibility? Have his supine cabinet ministers, who defended the indefensible, stiffened their spines?

The premier not only rewrote Toronto’s boundaries unilaterally, he is redrawing the Greenbelt willy-nilly. He has rewritten the rules for election fundraising, and reinvented cronyism by hiring his pal as OPP chief.

Now, a premier who doesn’t respect boundaries wants to redraw them.

Restructuring local democracy requires consultation, because governance is about process as much as substance. And amalgamation without approval is an abuse of process.

Many in the old City of Toronto remain bitter to this day about the amalgamation forced upon them with outlying boroughs to create a megacity in 1997. The promised savings didn’t materialize, even if service efficiencies did, but the political wounds still haven’t healed.

Notwithstanding Ford’s blind spots, he will rely on the eyes and ears of two long-time public servants with impressive credentials: Michael Fenn was a career bureaucrat who headed Metrolinx; Ken Seiling chaired Waterloo Region for decades.

But they have been relegated to the role of “special advisers,” not empowered as commissioners heading their own independent probe. They have promised to speak truth to power, but they will wield none of their own — not even a platform from which to issue a public report that speaks for itself.

While it’s true that elected governments always have the final say in any event, in this case only one level of government will prevail if the premier does as he pleases. In which case it will fall to Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark to stand up for democratic principles and good governance.

At age 22, Clark served as Canada’s youngest mayor in Brockville. At age 58, is he now ready to exercise his own good judgment and assert his ministerial authority?

When right-sizing municipalities, will the mayor-turned-minister do the right thing?

There will be no shortage of good arguments and ferocious disagreements over the best fit for local governments. There will not only be a push for amalgamation but a pitch for separation.

Should Mississauga separate from Peel Region, as Mayor Bonnie Crombie hopes? How will the sprawling regional municipalities of Halton, Durham and York emerge? Will Brampton be given short shrift merely because of Ford’s petty rivalry with Mayor Patrick Brown, whom he succeeded last year as PC leader?

This will not merely be an exercise in redrawing the municipal map, but an opportunity for Ford to draft his own political roadmap. What are his motives, what of his grudges?

The legacy of Toronto’s amalgamation — which made sense on so many levels — is that melding disparate political cultures is more art than science. It’s easy to imagine even greater divergences in other regions of the province.

How exactly will the promised consultations take place? Will they be limited to perfunctory online input, like the government’s outreach on sex education? Will the province merely mediate between rival political camps, or seek input from affected voters, perhaps relying on referenda to resolve disagreements?

Municipalities are creatures of the province, owing their existence and boundaries entirely to Queen’s Park. But they should not be manipulated like pieces on a chess board, nor their people treated like pawns.

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


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Doug Ford met with Ron Taverner while search for OPP commissioner was underway


Premier Doug Ford continued to meet with Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner even after the search for a new OPP commissioner was underway.

Sources told the Star that Ford had breakfast with Taverner, 72, at Wally’s Grill — a Rexdale diner near the offices of Deco Labels, the Ford family’s business — on Sept. 12.

That was one week after Vince Hawkes, 56, announced he was retiring as Ontario Provincial Police commissioner, triggering the hunt for a new head of Canada’s second-largest force that eventually led to Taverner’s appointment.

The close relationship between the premier and Taverner has raised concerns about the independence of the OPP.

Ford dines frequently with his long-time chum as both the Star and the Globe and Mail have independently confirmed.

They say meetings between Ford and Taverner during the search for Hawkes’s replacement raise questions about the hiring process.

“Ford has claimed that he had ‘zero influence’ on the choice to appoint Ron Taverner the OPP commissioner, but that story is crumbling,” said NDP MPP Kevin Yarde (Brampton North).

It was a formal complaint from Yarde that sparked an ongoing investigation by integrity commissioner J. David Wake into whether there was political interference surrounding the Nov. 29 appointment.

Taverner has put off assuming the post until Wake’s investigation is concluded, and returned to his previous position with Toronto police in the meantime.

While the premier, who has yet to be interviewed by the ethics watchdog, insists he had nothing to do with the hiring, he said it is within his purview.

However, the OPP’s commissioner’s post has not traditionally been a patronage appointment.

On Monday, Ford told CP24’s Nathan Downer that “if I wanted to, I could appoint you OPP commissioner.

“It’s a political appointment. Kathleen Wynne had a political appointment. Dalton McGuinty and the 14 other premiers prior to that,” Ford said, dismissing a complaint and ongoing court fight by OPP deputy commissioner Brad Blair as “sour grapes.”

Yarde urged Ford to “come clean about events leading up to Taverner’s appointment.”

“The police cannot be controlled by a politician,” the New Democrat said, adding “there’s a fear in the OPP and throughout Ontario that that’s what Ford is attempting by rigging the system to install an ally in the commissioner’s seat.”

Last month, iPolitics revealed that the Progressive Conservative government quietly modified the job listing for a new OPP commissioner on Oct. 22, two days after it was initially posted.

That helped Taverner meet the criteria, as the superintendent was two ranks below the initial threshold to qualify for the position.

On Oct. 9, Ford’s Twitter feed featured a photo of the premier with the superintendent and other Toronto police officers at Wally’s Grill.

“Having lunch with some of our excellent police officers in Etobicoke today. It’s always great to hear from those on the front lines protecting our communities,” Ford tweeted.

On Tuesday, the premier’s office said “this particular meeting was with a number of police officers who serve Etobicoke — the community Premier Doug Ford is proud to represent at Queen’s Park.

“For the first time in 15 years, the brave police officers who we count on to keep our communities safe have a government at Queen’s Park that will support and listen to them,” Ford’s office said, noting the premier “regularly meets with front-line police officers from across the province to hear feedback on how the Ontario government can better support their work.”

According to an NDP freedom of information request, Ford also met with Taverner on July 30. The Globe disclosed Monday that the two men also met on Aug. 16 at Wally’s, and again on Aug. 28 at the premier’s cottage.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1


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