Rivers: What the debate really needed was a director to bring order to the chaotic muddle.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

May 11th, 2018



“I guess we’ve come to expect that everything about Ford is fake,” she said. “The stories are fake, his facts are fake and now we know his supporters are fake.” (Deb Matthews – Liberal campaign co-chair)

Matthews was commenting on reports that Doug Ford’s team had hired actors to sit in the audience and cheer for him at the City TV leaders’ debate earlier this week, the first such head-to-head of the campaign.

Ford actors

The actors

Though, rather than actors, what the event really needed was a director to bring order to the chaotic muddle the TV station had the nerve to call a debate. For one thing the leaders were forced to stand for the entire time, looking awkward and uncomfortable and…sad. It was absolutely the worst format for a debate. In that formation the loudest and most persistent eventually overcomes the others – as if that kind of behaviour is what we most desire in a premier.

Horwath and Ford mostly talked in general platitudes and Wynne kept getting into the weeds – an occupational hazard when one actually understands the files. The leaders were then scored for their performance by instant phone-in polls, which no doubt were also populated by another lot of actors from each of the three parties. And what with the street interviews and backgrounders and endless number of moderators, it was a bun fight to behold.

Ford is the clear front runner in the polls, which has nothing to do with his policies or even his qualifications for the job. His alternate facts on the state of the economy and unemployed are just plain inaccurate – lies, or worse, ignorance. And his rationale for another tax cut makes absolutely no sense given a recent report by the OECD indicating that Canadians actually pay lower taxes than Americans.

PC Leader Doug Ford faced a barrage of questions from Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in Monday's CityNews debate in Toronto.

PC Leader Doug Ford faced a barrage of questions from Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in Monday’s CityNews debate in Toronto.

Ford has locked onto a couple of wedge issues which are working for him, such as the outrageous salary paid to the chair of Hydro One – “the six million dollar man”. But Ford’s unproven allegations about the Liberals rewarding their friends and unfounded claims of corruption are unworthy of someone wanting to be Premier. This kind of politicking will only reinforce the comparison Kathleen Wynne is trying to make between Doug Ford and Donald Trump.

Ford has also accused the Liberals of cooking the books, and has found an ally in Ontario’s overzealous auditor general (AG). Her’s is a complicated, arcane argument, that the surplus money the province holds in pension assets should not be counted in order to make the budget appear balanced. Her position is untenable, however, given that she and previous AG’s had accepted that way of accounting in the past. And it begs the question of whether she would still feel that way if the pension account were in deficit, thus creating a provincial deficit.

Ford wicked smile

Doug Ford

But Ford is on solid ground attacking the size of Ontario’s growing debt, particularly as the latest provincial budget just serves to increase the debt. Of course his piety on this matter is compromised, actually shot to hell, when he acknowledges that his promises will also increase the provincial debt. In fact his promises ring in around $16 billion, more than either of the other two. Added to that, Ford’s proposed cancelation of Ontario’s cap and trade carbon tax would add another $2 billion or so in lost revenue.

Ford might have more credibility were he equipped with a fully costed campaign plan. He could always fall back on the one his party had approved last November, when Patrick Brown was still leader. Instead, we find him just alluding to the billions he plans to throw into the very areas where he also plans to make undisclosed ‘efficiency’ cuts of some 4% (~ $6 billion) from the budget.

Presumably one can always find efficiencies in a budget the size of Ontario’s. Yet as Wynne tried to point out before being drowned out – actually talked over – by the other candidates, Ontario’s government has the lowest per capita cost of any in Canada. That would make Ontario already the most efficient in the country. And does anyone believe Ford’s claim to be able to cut costs without eliminating jobs and laying off the civil servants whose programs get axed.

Andrea thumb up

Andrea Horwath

NDP leader Horwath gave the warmest and most sincere TV performance, but she failed to make any clear winning points, leaving the question of how she differs from the current premier up in the air. That shortcoming was partly a casualty of the format, in which policy questions were allocated a mere 45 seconds.

The Premier was even more challenged trying to sum up 15 years in a 45 second commercial sound bite. And after 15 years in office people need to understand the rationale for policies like renewable energy, cap and trade carbon taxes, the Green Belt, measures taken to help lower housing prices across the GTA and so much more.

If Wynne loses this election, which looks inevitable at this point, it will be less about what she and her party have done than her failure to explain it. Wynne is clearly the most intellectual of the leaders. Yet egg heads tend to get caught up in the details and miss the big picture. Populists resonate better with the public. And in the war of style over substance, style usually wins.

wynne red glasses

Kathleen Wynne

There will be more opportunities for debate among these pretenders to the throne, hopefully in a more traditional debate format. That would give Andrea Horwath more opportunity to explain the math and strategies behind her campaign policies. It would allow Mr. Ford to become more confident in front of the cameras and to get a handle on the files he needs to better understand in order to win a debate, let alone govern the province. And it would offer Kathleen Wynne more time to better account for her party’s record and why.

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes regularly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.     Tweet @rayzrivers


Background links:

Ford’s Actors –    Lower Taxes in Canada –    Coyne on Ford –     McParland on Ford

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2 comments to Rivers: What the debate really needed was a director to bring order to the chaotic muddle.

  • Gary

    So, I gather Ford didn’t shoot himself in the foot or blow away other important body parts in this debate (I didn’t see it). That is good news indeed.

  • Mike

    I don’t want to take sides in the political debate about what things money should or should not be spent on. Nor tell people how to vote. There are always conflicting priorities and these decisions are, or least should not be easy. They get to the core of what do we want the government to do for us versus what should be left for people to do for themselves.

    Unfortunately over the last 15 years the current government made their decision easy by taking the people’s credit card and borrowing $200 Billion dollars (see information below) to buy favour across lots of factions. The current government has promised to continue to run deficits and borrow more ….starting with $0.5 Billion per month, rising to close to $1 billion per month. On top of that because of our massive debt (highest in the world for a non-federal government), we pay $1 billion in interest charges per month. If interest rates rise, this will go up significantly. This is ruining the future for everyone including people paid directly or indirectly by the government as the government will be forced, in not the too distant future, to cut across the board and that will impact everything including pension funding, benefits, etc.

    An example is the hydro rates. The government got taken by the ‘green energy promise, which again, in itself is not bad, but the way they chose to support it was to pay 10x the going hydro rates in 25 year contracts committing us to very high rates for a long time. When people started to scream about the increases, they did what they know how to do, used our credit card and borrowed money to defer us paying for it until a few years later, conveniently after the election. The Ontario Auditor General’s report said the government will have to borrow $18.4 billion to cover the discounts promised to electricity customers over the next decade. The government will then need to pay out an additional $21 billion in interest over the next 30 years for borrowing this money. The report also said the structure of the plan – which the Ontario AG claims violates the government’s own accounting rules – creates the need to pay $4 billion in additional interest charges.

    There is lots of jargon out there about investing in our kids future etc. but in fact we are ruining their future because we’re not paying for these things now as we use them. It needs to stop and start to turn around. The economy in Ontario is doing ok according to most reports, so this is a time we should be running in budget surplus and paying down the debt so hopefully for the younger folks, you will see an Ontario free of this burden. The government grew their annual program spending $70 Billion in 2004 to now spending $120 Billion (does not include interest).

    Sadly, this will not change until more people put pressure on all candidates and parties to be financially responsible as we all have to. This is most important issue in the election but even the media is not pushing it. It needs to come from the voters which is all of us. Please consider it.

    Fiscal Year Net Debt
    (CDN$ billions)
    2018-2019 325.0 (projected)
    2017-2018 308.2
    2016-2017 301.6
    2015-2016 295.4
    2014-2015 285.4
    2013-2014 268.0
    2012-2013 252.8
    2011-2012 236.2
    2010-2011 214.5
    2009-2010 193.6
    2008-2009 169.6
    2007-2008 156.6
    2006-2007 153.7
    2005-2006 152.7
    2004-2005 140.9
    2003-2004 138.8
    2002-2003 132.6
    2001-2002 132.1
    2000-2001 132.5
    1999-2000 134.4
    1998-1999 114.7
    1997-1998 112.7
    1996-1997 108.8
    1995-1996 101.9
    1994-1995 90.7
    1993-1994 80.6
    1992-1993 61.8
    1991-1992 49.4
    1990-1991 38.4
    1989-1990 35.4
    1988-1989 35.5
    1987-1988 34.0
    1986-1987 31.5