Doug Ford has had so many ups and downs in his political career over the past 10 years that he sometimes must feel like a yo-yo.
He was up in 2010 when he won a seat on Toronto city council in his first foray into elected politics. He was even higher that year when his late brother Rob was elected mayor of Toronto.
He was down in 2014 when he lost badly to John Tory in the race to become Toronto mayor, a position that was up for grabs after Rob Ford had to quit the contest after being diagnosed with stomach cancer.
He was up in March, 2018, when he won the Ontario Conservative leadership barely two months after former Tory leader Patrick Brown resigned suddenly after allegations of sexual misconduct.
He was up even further in June, 2018, when he became Ontario premier after leading the Conservatives to a strong majority government less than 100 days after being chosen as Tory leader.
He was down in July, 2019, when he was ranked as one of the most unpopular premiers in Canada after a series of patronage scandals, draconian budget cuts to key government programs, a bully-boy approach to Toronto city council, personal attacks on critics and the media, and more.
He was up yet again this past spring and summer due to his response to the COVID-19 crisis. In a mid-March column I described Ford as acting like a real leader, decisive and looking as if he was “in charge, considerate, compassionate, understanding of the issues and the consequences.”
Today, Ford’s down again — with his poll numbers starting to fall after a huge increase earlier this year, with a growing sense both outside and inside his party that his government’s ongoing handling of the pandemic is a mess.
The first clear sign of the slide is an Abacus Research poll conducted Oct. 8-12 that found the Ford government’s approval rating at 52 per cent, with 24 per cent disapproving. That’s a relatively strong rating, but it’s an eight-point drop in favourable approval from a similar poll in May.
The poll also found that while the Conservatives still lead in voter support with 36 per cent, they’re down five points since the 2018 election. The Abacus survey found the NDP have 29 per cent (down five points since the election) and the Liberals 26 per cent (up six points). The Greens have just six-per-cent support.
In short, the good times are over for Ford.
The reasons for this are numerous: hours-long lineups for COVID-19 testing, a botched return-to-school plan, a chaotic and confusing rollout of his fall pandemic preparedness plan, more business lockdowns and continued chaos in long-term-care facilities.
For all Ford’s talk about a “health command table,” there is growing awareness among the public that there’s little transparency, consistency and confidence in his handling of the second wave in the COVID crisis.
Add to the mix is growing awareness that the
“old Doug” is re-emerging.
That’s the Doug Ford who blames others (especially Ottawa) for testing delays, picks fights with teacher unions over class sizes during a pandemic, moves to ram through legislation to weaken environmental laws, fails to shut down efforts to open the Greenbelt to developers, tries to make it harder to sue nursing homes on behalf of seniors who died of COVID-19, plans to cut the number of statutory holidays for retail workers from nine to three, acts to scrap ranked ballots for all Ontario municipalities and dismantles key oversight boards such as the Human Rights Tribunal.
At the same time, Ford is fixated on the next election, which isn’t until June 2, 2022. He has already filled out many of the nominations for Conservative candidates, far ahead of the NDP and Liberal. He also refuses to overhaul political fundraising rules that favour the Tories.
No leader likes it when the yo-yo is falling, which is happening for the premier. The question is whether Ford has the political smarts to reverse the yo-yo’s current trajectory before the 2022 election — or whether it will fall even farther