Prodded by a boisterous “Build It” chant from the crowd in attendance, Ontario Premier Doug Ford rose from his seat on the lawn of Queen’s Park to deliver one of his trademark pronouncements: This will not be an NDP government.
It is time for “one of our NDP governments to be taken down. That’s what this is,” he said Tuesday, as about 100 members of his Progressive Conservative Party waited in line to enter the lawn pavilion, a place not traditionally reserved for such public events.
That’s how news of Ford’s proclamation spread. The microphone Mr. Ford held sat across from a microphone affixed to an oversized camera mounted on a boom-stick. It worked. A man on stage beside Mr. Ford’s microphone microphone shouted to the people in the lawn pavilion: “Let’s build it!”
With no prompting, Mr. Ford and his party members responded. They huddled together, tore into red foam balls and, with the help of a bullhorn, began pumping them against the umbrellas.
“That’s what leadership looks like,” a man named Dan Smith said.
A short time later, Mr. Ford walked toward the stage in his golf shirt, gleefully proclaiming, “We’re building the 407 north!” The 407 is one of the many major highway projects, many in the automobile-dependent Toronto area, that he has promoted for years. The Highway 417 is in the process of expanding to a freeway, becoming Toronto’s second-most-crowded thoroughfare. The 400 and 407 are two of the major arteries in a region that is Canada’s transportation heart.
But the latest scheme for the highway’s north extension (or 805, as he calls it) relies on the sort of business-as-usual, lobbying-as-usual political methods that in the past have had an outsized impact on building public projects. At times, it looks disturbingly like what Mr. Ford achieved in his first term as premier: holding up the project to maximize political capital.
It involves several issues: prorogation, freezing budgets, canceling contracts, quietly closing businesses, getting rid of bureaucrats (though no policy director); reining in the Public Utilities Board (although the PUB has not been able to stop the plans); putting aside the previous government’s plan (but not the former government’s veto of them); claiming that the municipalities from where the projects would ultimately extend will not be charged for the highway.
The road crosses Ontario; it also would reach Woodstock, the mill town that watched in horror as Doug Ford’s father, Rob Ford, made drunkenly racist and homophobic statements and was eventually compelled to resign. Mr. Ford also took over as leader of the municipal party. His father died at age 47; his son, 44.
And, as with his brother Rob, who tried to help Gary Etchells get elected in that 2015 general election, the mayor of Toronto with the wild hair and ambitious plan to build a subway while at the same time consulting with engineers about updating the city’s aging road and rail infrastructure.
The Etchells’ loss at the polls is remembered by some as an infrequent but deep taste of the first PC Party of Ontario election victory, in 1999.
That year, the party’s slogan was “don’t get stuck.” (The same year, then-premier John A. McLeod promised, “when we get in, we’ll get done.”)
But Mr. Ford has made a bigger, bolder promise. “Our promise is literally to create an economy where we invest, and invest, and invest,” he said at the inauguration of the province’s new legislature in June of last year.
A stop sign at a Dairy Queen looks like the right antidote to that claim. The chain has been in the city of Mississauga for more than a century, and it contains such fast-food delicacies as a drive-through where the first customer places a dessert order at the drive-through window. Cars nearly block the parking lot; even the beep of horns from passing motorists cannot cover the persistent blare of dialing buzzers. A couple of months ago, I stopped there after a long drive from a foot fetishist in Durham.
The Cafe’s co-owner, Walter Poir