Doug Ford is historically unqualified for the job he seeks, but the media keep applying a lower standard to his performances.
By Ryan McGreal
Published May 11, 2018
Is it important for Ontario's top lawmaker to understand how laws are made? Is it a "gotcha question" to ask someone who wants to lead the Legislature to demonstrate that they know the basics of how the Legislature works?
QP Briefing reporter Chris Reynolds set tongues wagging this week when he asked Progressive Conservative Party leader Doug Ford to explain how a bill becomes a law.
Reynolds: You're running for the political leadership of this province. I don't mean to be impertinent, but I was hoping you could explain to the people of Ontario how a bill becomes law, just step by step.
Ford: Well, you know something, my friend? We can run through that, and I know this is a gotcha question and everything because that's your game, big smile on your face.
But don't worry, we're gonna show you how many bills we're gonna pass. We're gonna pass endless bills down there. And I hope you're down there to watch the bills get passed.
Ford knows bills. He has the best bills. Endless bills. I feel like I've heard this song before.
Amazingly, political commentators and media pundits are hotly debating whether Reynolds' question was fair. Detractors insist it was an inappropriate attempt to embarrass Ford.
Are you freaking kidding me?
In what universe is it a "gotcha question" to expect a major party leader campaigning to run the Legislative Assembly to know how it works?
It's only a "gotcha question" if he doesn't know the answer - and if he doesn't know the the answer, he has absolutely no business running to become the Premier.
I've seen comments pointing out that most Ontarians don't know the specifics of how a bill becomes a law. That's true, sadly, but most people aren't running to be the Premier.
I've also seen comments arguing that the question is unfair because reporters would never have asked the same question of Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne or NDP leader Andrea Horwath.
Well, of course not: no reasonable person would have any reason to suspect they don't know how a bill becomes a law. And if either was asked, they would have had no trouble whatsoever providing a reasonable answer.
Doug Ford, on the other hand, has done nothing to reassure voters that he knows what he's doing.
The three leaders had their first televised debate on May 7. People who only read the media summaries - i.e. most Ontarians - likely came away with a vague sense that Ford performed adequately because he managed to shuffle through it without throwing any tantrums.
This is a failure of news coverage and a disservice to voters, because Ford's performance was not adequate. It was dreadful.
Both Horwath and Wynne vastly outperformed him with their breadth of knowledge, their clear, nuanced understanding of the issues, and the detailed specifics of their policy proposals.
Ford, in contrast, gave a stilted, low-energy rote performance that demonstrated minimal understanding or knowledge and endlessly parroted the same handful of shallow slogans.
There's been a bit of chatter concerning Ford's patronizing comment about Wynne's appearance - "You've got a nice smile on your face there" - but very little about how astonishingly thin and unprepared he was for any kind of serious discussion.
He provided absolutely no ideas about how he is going to find billions of dollars in "efficiencies" in government operations and implement billions more in tax cuts and bring the budget into balance - all without cutting public services or laying off employees.
This is straightforward magical thinking. It's pure nonsense. It's the sort of thing you'd expect from a wacky fringe candidate, not the leader of a major party with 40 percent support from committed voters.
It is simply Not Normal™ for the leader of the PC Party to be debating on the level of an anonymous Toronto Sun comment troll. But the normalization of his candidacy gets a huge boost from the fact that the media expectations on him are so much lower than they are for his competitors.
Face it: if Wynne's performance was as shallow and vapid as Ford's, the pundits would be flabbergasted. It would be game over for the Liberals. The Premier has lost it.
Likewise, if Horwath came into the debate that unprepared, media would tear her apart. How can the NDP possibly claim to be a viable alternative when their leader obviously doesn't understand the issues and can't explain how she will pay for her promises?
But Ford gets a pass.
A big part of the double standard is because Wynne and Horwath are women. It's an ugly but indisputable fact that women in politics are judged a lot more harshly than men. They have to be twice as qualified to get half the respect, and voters turn on them more quickly for much smaller gaffes.
But it's also because Ford is a shameless populist whose base supports him uncritically, and even after the Trump phenomenon, the media have not yet figured out how to treat this new political dynamic appropriately.
Ford is the over-privileged son of a multi-millionaire business owner and Conservative power-broker who pretends to be a self-made man. He was born on third base and acts like he hit a triple.
He's a one-time city councillor whose single chaotic term was a daily freakshow of shouting, bullying, lying and furious victimization whenever reporters or colleagues challenged him or his brother, the Mayor.
During this week's debate, Ford insisted, "Unlike both of you, I've actually helped run a government." Remember that he was saying this to a three-term MPP who was previously a three-term city councillor, and a four-term MPP who has been the Premier for the past five years!
Ford has never sat in the Ontario Legislature as an MPP. He has made no effort to bone up on the complicated issues and challenges the Ontario Government has to deal with.
His understanding of the issues never rises above empty sloganeering. He does not even seem to know the most basic function of how the Legislature works.
He has done none of the hard work of preparing himself to take on the job he seeks.
What Ford has done is foster an uncritical cult of personality among his base of "Ford Nation" hardline supporters who are either indifferent to his total lack of qualification or actually see it as an asset rather than a liability.
For the rest of us, who would rightly object if anyone else was trying to become premier without bothering to develop a baseline of necessary competence, we need the news media to do a better job of holding all the leaders to the same common standard.
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