A populist politician suddenly announces a major policy change, without warning or advance consultation, with timing designed to ensure maximum disruption, and apparently intended primarily to punish his enemies. Given the Trump-like nature of Doug Ford’s decision to cut Toronto City Council in half and to cancel direct election of regional chairs in four of Ontario’s regional governments, all that was missing was delivery of the message via Tweet! Coming almost two months after campaigning began for this October’s municipal elections in Ontario and only a day before the deadline for filing to run, such a dramatic change has left everyone scrambling and prompted widespread criticism.
It’s a pity that he is no longer around, because Groucho Marx, shown in the accompanying photo, had the ideal philosophy for succeeding in today’s political environment – as evidenced by his oft-quoted statement: These are my principles, and if you don’t like them I have others.
In one of my texts I noted that according to various published reports, some $6 billion was spent on products related to the Pokémon craze during the last three years of the 20th century, much of it in North America. I thought of this when I read in the Throne Speech from Ontario’s new Premier, Doug Ford, that his government believes “that no dollar is better spent than the dollar that is left in the pockets of the taxpayer.”
Let me emphasize that I fully accept that individuals are free to spend their money as wisely or foolishly as they choose and I acknowledge that what I might regard as frivolous expenditures are not necessarily seen that way by others. However, Ford’s belief – as stated – amounts to a less than subtle attack on government spending as inherently inferior to private spending.
When I studied political science at university – over half a century ago – the opportunity to ask oral questions of the governing party was considered one of the means of helping to hold a government accountable. Granted, many of the questions were routine, often raising something of concern to a constituent back home, and there was no way to compel a Minister to give a thorough, helpful answer. Nonetheless, because questions were spontaneous, there was always a chance that one would help to unearth some issue deserving of more public attention, investigation, and possible censure. With so many aspects of Parliament tightly controlled by the party in power, governments usually felt somewhat on the defensive during question period – and that is a healthy thing in a democracy.
C. Richard Tindal, Ph.D is a retired Professor of Government. He taught for 30 years at St. Lawrence College, Kingston and was an occasional Visiting Professor at Queen's University. He has also written and consulted extensively about government.