Is Doug Ford still ‘for the people?’ 1 year later, Ontario’s premier and some voters disagree

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Doug Ford on election night, June 7, 2018. Recent polls suggest his PC government would not win a majority if an election were held today. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

On the campaign trail, and in government, Ontario Premier Doug Ford routinely mentions “the people” in his speeches.

When he won election last year, he claimed his “victory belonged to the people,” and vowed to run a “government that works for the people.”

A year to the day after his Progressive Conservatives won a majority government, Ford marked the anniversary Friday by reflecting on the key achievements during his first year in office.

“Ontario is back on track,” Ford told reporters.

He said the PCs have helped create 190,000 jobs since the election thanks to their pro-business policies and the cutting of red tape.

“Our government will continue to put you first,” he told Ontarians.

During their first year, the Tories have moved at what Ford has called “lightning speed,” pushing through major reforms and budget cuts in areas such as child care, education and taxes.

But despite Ford’s assertion about his government’s success, some voters may be having doubts about the province’s new regime.

“I don’t think he’s going down the right road, but time will tell,” said Brian Morris, who lives in London, Ont., and did not vote for the PCs. He’s critical of Ford’s cuts to education, and his efforts to promote “buck-a-beer.” 

“I think he’s not talking to people of low income,” said Shelly Derocher, who also lives in London. “He seems to want to reduce services and income for people who seem to need it the most.”

After a busy legislative agenda, recent polls have shown support for the Ontario PCs dropping after the government’s first budget introduced austerity measures that included cuts to public health and student assistance.

“Most of the polls we’ve seen have the Tories down somewhere between 30 to 35 per cent support,” said CBC polling analyst Eric Grenier.  

 

CBC polling analyst Eric Grenier says it’s not uncommon for first-term premiers to run into some early unpopularity, but he cautions that Ford had unusually high disapproval ratings for a party leader even before the last election. (CBC)

Grenier said it is not unusual for first-term premiers to encounter some early unpopularity, pointing to former Liberal  premier Dalton McGuinty as an example.  

But he said even before last year’s election, Ford had unusually high disapproval ratings for a party leader.  

“So clearly the things that people did not like about him back then [are] having an impact on his popularity right now.”

Grenier can’t tell if there’s one particular policy that is responsible for that drop in the polls, but one of Ford’s former campaign staffers said the province’s deficit meant the government had to make some tough decisions.

“They were left with a bare cupboard, and the house on fire and Doug Ford had the tough job of getting things in order again,” said Melissa Lantsman, who ran Ford’s election war room during the campaign, and is now a VP at Hill+Knowlton Strategies.  

Melissa Lantsman of Hill+Knowlton Strategies says if the PC government wants to rise in the polls, it should let Ontarians see more of Doug Ford, not less. (Rob Krbavac/CBC)

She dismisses the recent drop in the polls, saying there’s plenty of time for Ford to regain support.

“The people will judge him at the end of the four [years] when he faces the electorate again.”

Grenier said other premiers have survived early stumbles in public opinion polls, but said this is coming at a time when Ford isn’t facing a complete opposition bench in the Legislature.

“Andrea Horwath has not made significant gains in popular support since the last election,” said Grenier. “And the Liberals don’t have a leader. So you would think this would be an opportunity for the PCs to have more of an open playing field, but instead, we’re seeing they’re struggling.”

‘1 year is not enough’

Rafet Sayegh, who runs a coffee booth at Covent Gardens Market in London, thinks Ford is doing well.

“Let’s give him more time in power. One year is not enough,” he told CBC News. 

“I think you’ll see a much more mature government in the second year,” Lantsman said.

She believes Ontario will eventually embrace Ford’s populist appeal.

“I think this government would be better off if it saw a little bit more Doug Ford in it.” 

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