The swearing in of Ontario’s new government was, for me a day full of reflection. I entered Queen’s Park through the north entrance, the same place I ventured in 1982 after winning the leadership of the Ontario NDP. When I got to the lobby, I had the chance to see a number of friends – in the picture above Bill Davis is in the background, with Chief Stacy Laforme of the Mississaugas of the New Credit. Neil Davis, Ernie Eves and Isabel Bassett are there as well – David Peterson and Mike Harris were also present. Steve Paikin asked me “why are you here ?” My reply was because I was invited, and it goes with the territory. The rituals of a new government have changed over “my time” – David Peterson’s was outside on the lawn in 1985, mine was in Convocation Hall at U of T in 1990, followed by a reception at Queen’s Park that included opening the building to thousands of visitors for the entire afternoon and evening. The event for Doug Ford resembled those more than the quieter transitions in 1995 and under Premiers Eve, McGuinty, and Wynne.
The Premier’s speech was, in keeping with modern politics, more a celebratory incantation to his supporters, but it did make a point of using the language of inclusion and the need to reach out to those who had not voted for him. This was not reflected in the press release put out by his office which had the heading “Ontario’s first government for the people”. This kind of overkill will not wear well, but again a reflection of the kind of partisan messaging that has become such a regrettable feature of modern politics.
It was a speech about business, prosperity and economic growth, all good things, but had nothing to say of any substance about health care, education, poverty, or reconciliation – so we shall just have to see how the government actually plans to get the province “out of debt and back on track”. It was intended to rouse the faithful, and judging from the celebratory mood in the scorching sun, succeeded.
Mr Harris’s inauguration in 1995 had a feeling of Restoration about it, and there was an element of this in 2018, but Mr Ford’s determination to rebrand his party as his own personal nation, the first ever people’s government, might have grated a bit with those who led the Province in the name of Progressive Conservatism in the past. This is not your dad’s PC Party, and we are about to discover what exactly that means.
Like other governments these days, its messaging will be tightly controlled, and Ministers will be talking to the “centre” on a daily basis. Doug Ford’s campaign was carefully disciplined and choreographed, and no doubt his team will be determined to maintain that mode of operation. But as time goes on events will happen, and it will be tougher to pull it off. The character and competence of the Premier and his Ministers will be tested by challenges and events that they can scarcely contemplate today as they enjoy their first few days on the job.
The day after my election Brian Mulroney phoned to congratulate me and asked kindly “how was election night and the next day ?” I of course said they were both completely enjoyable. He said “well savour it because it doesn’t get any better”. I laughed and spent the next five years realizing how true that was.
There are many fine people in the PC Party of Ontario, and over the years many have become good friends. I wanted to be there yesterday to wish them well, and to remind myself that there are comings and goings, and it is important to remember, as Kipling reminds us, that triumph and disaster are both impostors. One last political note, there is a universal tendency for all of us to over-read the results. “The people” as an abstracted construct did not vote as a unanimous block, like almost all governments in our system Mr Ford won a majority of seats with a minority of votes. Neither victory nor defeat is permanent. A great Conservative of another country and another era said it well when he became Prime Minister “I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole”. The bard said it more profoundly “we are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep”