Ontario Election 2018

Privatization a Bigger Risk than Service Cuts Under Doug Ford

A Doug Ford Government is extremely likely to cut public services - but it is even more likely to privatize them.

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 22, 2018

Two weeks before the upcoming provincial election, the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party is in the extraordinary position of not actually having a platform yet. All we have so far is a collection of un-costed promises made by PC leader Doug Ford:

Oh, and while he's at it, Doug also promises to balance the budget sooner or later.

This collection of promises is mathematically impossible to keep. There is no way for Ford to cut total spending by four percent, reduce income tax and corporate tax revenue, increase health and transit spending, maintain public service levels, and balance the budget.

It's pure magical thinking, and the fact that anyone - let alone more than a third of committed voters - takes it seriously speaks to just how dysfunctional partisan politics has become in the Age of Trump.

Cutting Service

It's easy to imagine a Ford government immediately breaking its promise not to cut services. After all, such a bait-and-switch is exactly what Ford did as a Toronto City Councillor under his brother Rob's chaotic mayoralty.

After campaigning on a "stop the gravy train" slogan, the Fords commissioned KPMG to find the the "gravy" they promised to cut. The KPMG report came back empty-handed on "efficiencies" and instead proposed such measures as closing public libraries, cutting subsidized daycare spots, reducing grass-cutting and snow-clearing, cutting back policing, and selling off Toronto Zoo.

Instead of admitting they were wrong (ha!), the brothers Ford doubled down on the KPMG recommendations, even threatening to close an Etobicoke library "in a heartbeat".

Fortunately, saner heads prevailed around the Council table, but Ford consistently voted for service cuts and against service increases during his short, angry tenure: libraries, transit routes, infrastructure, public housing, police levels, and more.

Privatization

While service cuts are an extremely likely outcome of a Ford government, there is another, less discussed but possibly even more dangerous outcome: widespread privatization of public assets.

As a Councillor, Ford voted to sell off public housing while voting against ensuring that the proceeds of those sales be reinvested in renovating existing public housing. He voted to privatize garbage collection. His brother tried to sell off Toronto Zoo, insisting that his proposed cuts were actually "efficiencies".

Sound familiar?

As the PC leader, Ford supports selling alcohol and cannabis through private businesses. It would be easy to imagine him selling off the LCBO and using the one-time proceeds to paper over the deficit for a year.

For its 2016-2017 fiscal year, the LCBO had $5.89 billion in total revenue and paid a $2.06 billion dividend to the Ontario government. A sufficiently ideological government would be willing to forego annual revenue in exchange for a big one-time payout and a gift to the business sector.

Likewise: why on earth would Ford be interested in taking over operation and maintenance of Toronto's subways - unless he is eager to sell them off? Otherwise, he is just taking on additional cost obligations.

The last time the PC Party was in power, from 1995 to 2003, they sold the newly-completed Highway 407 to a private consortium for $3.1 billion in a 99-year lease that granted unlimited control over toll rates to the consortium. The result has been higher prices for commuters and tremendous lost public revenue over the life of the contract.

The PC Party also broke up Ontario Hydro into separate power generation, transmission, electricity market and price management operations in order to establish a private market for electricity generation. Since then, around half the electricity generated in Ontario is by the crown corporation Ontario Power Generation, and the other half is from private electricity generation companies.

The Harris government planned to privatize Hydro One, the transmission agency, but backed off in 2002. (Ironically, it was Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne who partially privatized Hydro One in 2015 with an initial public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange, with the goal of selling 60 percent of the Hydro One shares and retaining the rest.)

Magic Is Not Real

The NDP and the Liberals have had fully-costed platforms since before the writ dropped. Neither document is perfect - both are sprinkled with bits of magical thinking here and there - and reasonable people can debate the relative merits of their approaches, but they are at least credible efforts to make their respective parties accountable for their promises.

Not so Doug Ford's PC Party, which has chosen instead to coast on a mix of partisan loyalty, popular exhaustion with the governing Liberals and simplistic, soundbite media announcements that don't hold up under scrutiny.

In the absence of an actual plan from Ford, we're left with magical thinking - but magic is not real and there is no way for Ford's promises to add up.

For a time it looked like Ford's voter base was impervious to all contrary evidence, but that is starting to change. A lot can happen in two weeks and Ford may yet surprise us with a move that consolidates his base, but polling indicates that his support from decided voters has been sliding steadily since before the Electoral Writ was issued on May 9.

Chart: Ontario election polling averages as of May 22, 2018 (Source: CBC Poll Tracker)
Chart: Ontario election polling averages as of May 22, 2018 (Source: CBC Poll Tracker)

An Ipsos poll released today finds the PC and NDP at a statistical dead heat for the first time.

Investigative journalist Michael Harris has called this election an IQ test for the voters of Ontario. Despair over the outcome of that test may yet prove premature.


Editor's note: RTH has a longstanding policy of not formally endorsing candidates for municipal, provincial or federal election. However, in the interest of disclosure, the author of this article has personally volunteered and donated to Ontario NDP leader and Hamilton-Centre candidate Andrea Horwath's campaign.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted May 22, 2018 at 13:27:20

Kathleen Wynne was unfairly pilloried for being in the same party as Dalton McGuinty and for being an imperfect leader. I think she did do a lot of good for the province. She actually made bold moves meant to do more than just satisfy voters. However, seeing where the polls are now I'll have to simply thank her for her service and vote NDP. Conservatism has gone to holy hell all across the world and Ford is no different. He could do so much damage.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted May 23, 2018 at 18:02:25

The NDP and the Liberals have had fully-costed platforms since before the writ dropped.

So did the PC Party. A fully-costed platform that every one of their candidates signed with a formal, written, commitment to support.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 23, 2018 at 19:45:49 in reply to Comment 122949

On assuming leadership of the party, Doug Ford announced that the previous platform developed under Patrick Brown would no longer be in effect. The PC Party is currently without a platform.

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