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Ford, Greenbelt, And Singleminded Focus
On How The Left Needs To Respond
So, it’s been one hell of a busy holiday weekend in Ontario, I guess?
Let’s try and recap the last week or so, for people just catching up with the news/the residents of the other 9 provinces who still read my Ontario columns. Last week the Ontario Integrity Commissioner released a scathing report into Steve Clark, Housing Minister and general jackass. Clark responded by not resigning and continuing the fiction that his staffer was responsible for the Greenbelt land swaps.
Since then, there was an illegal lobbyist identified from the Integrity Commissioner’s report, there’s been substantial evidence floating around of said illegal lobbyist (referred to as Mr. X) meeting with high level conservatives at the time of the decisions around the Greenbelt land swaps, and this illegal lobbyist got a $1M bonus for getting a developer’s land approved and on the swap list.
Now Steve Clark has resigned as a Minister, replaced by Paul Calandra, David Coletto has said that a poll he is currently in the field with has the PC vote down a few (last Abacus was 37%, so, say, 33/34), and the PCs are clearly gearing up for a fight. So, is this the government killer so many of my fellow travelers want? It’s hard to know.
The reason it’s hard to know isn’t actually because of the facts – this scandal in any other jurisdiction would be a near lock to see the Premier or Prime Minister step down before the election to save the party. But, I’m the idiot who thought Ford would lose last time, so I’m not exactly able to arrogantly predict this is the end. It could be, but I think people are conflating a few points.
The end of Ford and the end of the Ford Government are different things – this scandal could easily see Ford go, and I think the case he needs to go is exceptionally robust. But the idea that this will continue to stick enough that voters overturn the increased majority they just gave the PCs next time is a much bigger stretch. In some ways, those hoping for electoral damage should pray Ford stays, because if Ford fucks off and the government reverses course, then the PCs will be fine electorally.
The problem for the Ford government is that this land deal is exactly as shady as it’s looked since we got the initial reporting about Greenbelt land being bought for dirt cheap on huge interest loans. Ford let PC insiders, well connected friends, and the guest list of the Stag and Doe rewrite Ontario’s zoning laws, in the name of building housing that only already housing-rich boomers will be able to buy.
The problem for those predicting the imminent demise of the Ford government is that 2026 is very far away, and a lot of the same people who are clinging to the notion that time helps the Federal Liberals are much the same people praying that a scandal a year earlier in the electoral cycle will undermine the PCs. It’s a nifty hope to cling to, but it’s not exactly a reliable one, for all the reasons I’m still not sure Poilievre’s massive lead right now means he will win in 2025. (I’ll also make the point that if the Ontario Liberals wish to attack the PCs on Greenbelt and housing, maybe don’t nominate someone who took $30k in donations from employees of a single developer in this leadership race.)
What the left needs to do is not attack this as a housing story, nor indulge conspiracies about Ford being whacked like someone dealing with a Corleone (although the jokes are hilarious), but use this as the jumping off point for a proper, coherent strategy. One of the takes I’m coming to believe most strongly is that the biggest errors of the 2022 Liberal platform and campaign was its lack of throughline – there wasn’t anything to tie together the various policy announcements and the attacks on Ford. This Greenbelt scandal is the throughline that could boot the PCs, if the left takes advantage.
Use this as an opportunity to do many things together – a commitment to a Hong Kong/New South Wales-style Independent Commission Against Corruption with teeth as a start, but also run every attack on Ford through this scandal. Why don’t we pay teachers and nurses enough? Because Ford’s more focused on making his friends rich to value their important roll. Why aren’t we building enough schools and hospitals for our rising population? Because Ford only cares about building shit when it makes his developer friends get rich.
The left sometimes wants to view politics in isolation – that you can focus on politics at an issue by issue level. You can’t. People won’t take the platforms and go through them line by line to find the one they agree with most. Politicians who are successful are so because they craft a narrative about themselves. Think about the Trudeau 2015 campaign – they would get Canada going forward after years of stagnation by listening to experts and not ideologues. Yes, in specific they had policy offers, but they framed their vote for the terror law and the Child Benefit and the deficit spending as all facets of the same broad theme.
The Ontario left has been unfocused in the Ford era, playing whack-a-mole with the various issues he provides us. What will take this government down is a central narrative about this government, and in this case using the scandal to become something more. Using this as the central frame by which you run every criticism of the government through keeps this in the headlines, keeps the public from forgetting it, and stops the government from pivoting.
One of the reasons I argued for the left to engage on parental rights last week is because it was incredibly obvious that this is going to be used to distract from serious governance issues, so we should try and punt the issue into the long grass politically so that it can’t be used as a distraction. Neutralizing an issue where we don’t have the public on our side so we can focus on issues where we do have the public on side is key if we want to win. This government’s fucking terrible, and beating it is essential.
This Greenbelt scandal is a golden opportunity if the Ontario left seizes it. Whether they will – and whether the Liberals will pick a leader who actually can do so – isn’t clear. But if the left wants to end this PC government, they need to have a single minded focus on the costs of PCPO corruption, or it’ll end in tears once again.