February 23, 2023

Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday February 23, 2023

Doug Ford and the $150 stag and doe

You never have to worry much about subtlety when it comes to Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

Nuance isn’t in the family genes. When Ford’s brother Rob was Toronto’s mayor, their shared plan for the city’s portlands — a huge waterfront area just east of downtown that’s just yearning for smart development — included a giant shopping mall and the world’s biggest Ferris wheel, for which they were much mocked by the higher orders of city sophisticates.

It didn’t faze Ford, who’s never wasted much time worrying about sophisticates in any case. His lack of artifice was evident when he became premier and made one of his first acts a surprise move to whack Toronto’s city council down to size, chopping it by almost half and thus — by his reckoning — freeing taxpayers of a lot of expensive timewasters. When it came to name a new head to the provincial police force, Ford plumped for a family pal, who later withdrew over the ensuing uproar. When he sought to prevent a confrontation with teachers over a new contract he threatened to invoke the notwithstanding clause, thereby provoking an even bigger confrontation than he’d been trying to avoid.

It’s a trait that doesn’t always work to his disfavour. The obvious sincerity of his performance during the COVID pandemic did much to counter the poor impression he’d made and helped him to easily win a second mandate. Since then he’s reverted to form, publicly urging John Tory to hang on as mayor after he’d admitted to an extramarital affair, loudly warning the city would be “toast” if voters replaced Tory with “a lefty.”

That’s Ford being Ford. Torontonians may have come to recognize that fact; it remains to be seen how far they’re willing to go in accepting it.

At the moment the premier is caught in a very Ford-like situation he utterly fails to understand. Prior to the wedding of one of his four daughters last summer a stag and doe party was organized to help pay the bills, with tickets priced at $150. Questions arose when it became known that a number of developers had attended, given that a few months later the province announced it was freeing up several chunks of land for development in a protected greenbelt around the city, some of which had been purchased by builders after Ford came to power in 2018. At least one of those developers, according to the Toronto Star, was at the wedding fundraiser.

The premier sees questions about the issue entirely as an unwarranted attack on his family.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous. About a $150 stag? You’ve got to be kidding me,” he groused during one heated round of reporter questioning.

“This is the first time in Canadian history you go after any premier’s family, which there used to be an unwritten rule (that) you don’t do that, go after any mayor’s family, any prime minister, but, I guess, when it comes to us there’s different rules.”

It’s highly doubtful this is really the first time journalistic questioning has strayed into a politician’s family life, but you can see Ford’s point. Why are people picking on his daughter over a matter she has nothing to do with?

“No one can influence the Fords,” he’s insisted repeatedly, noting the family’s practise of opening their doors to large throngs of people on a regular basis, with everyone welcome.

Money raised at the stag and doe, he says, was handled by “the boys.” That apparently refers to the friends of the groom, a police officer. Ford is big on the cops. “There’s no secret I absolutely love our police officers,” Ford said earlier in his years as premier when he was criticized for naming a Toronto cop to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. “I’m proud to say that three out of my four daughters are with police officers, so there’s my bias right there as well,”  he said at the time.

His remarks happened to coincide with the announcement of $20.5 million to fight gang violence in a suburban Toronto community. The fact that the appointee was an open fan of the premier and hadn’t applied for the post, and came at a time the commission was looking into a case involving the Toronto police, would have struck him as immaterial. The guy was “top notch.” What’s anything else got to do with it?

Ford sent the matter of the stag and doe to Ontario’s integrity commissioner and was cleared. The premier had no knowledge of any gifts the couple received and “there was no discussion of government business” at the event, the commissioner ruled. Yes, there were developers invited, but they were family friends.

Combining the personal with the political is a Ford trait. It’s part of his appeal to the people who are happy to vote for him. It works both ways, though: If your personal friends are heavy with cops and developers, people are going to ask questions if cops and developers seem to be doing particularly well from your government.

There are legitimate questions being asked about how a few companies came to buy specific pockets of property that were removed from Greenbelt protection. Answering those questions would help preclude the sort of suspicion that leads to intrusive questions about who attended a stag and doe. (The National Post) https://nationalpost.com/opinion/doug-ford-and-the-150-stag-and-doe

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