Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/11/2018 (1157 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was all buddy-buddy with Ontario Premier Doug Ford for a little while. Now, all of a sudden, not so much.
Mr. Ford looked like a winner back in June when he defeated the ruling Liberals of premier Kathleen Wynne, taking 76 of the 124 legislature seats with 41 per cent of the vote. Pretty soon, he was railing against the federal Liberals’ carbon tax in chorus with Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe and calling for the defeat of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the next federal election. Andrew Scheer’s kind of guy.
Mr. Ford turned up at the Conservative party’s August conference in Halifax, where his fierce attacks on Mr. Trudeau won a rapturous response from conference delegates. Mr. Scheer went to visit the Ontario premier at his Queen’s Park office in October to be photographed with him and cement his close ties with Mr. Ford.
Then came the list of Ontario spending cuts. Mr. Ford won the election on a program of cutting taxes and reducing the size of government by finding efficiencies, though it was never clear what that meant. Finance Minister Vic Fedeli started spelling it out Nov. 15. Among others, three promised campuses for existing universities were scrapped. A promised French-language university for Toronto was scrapped. The positions of the child and youth commissioner, the environmental commissioner and the French-language commissioner were eliminated.
These things must be done, Mr. Fedeli explained, because the province is running a huge deficit and has to reduce spending. The deficit stood at $15 billion when the Conservatives came to power. They have reduced that to $14.5 billion, but there is still a long way to go.
For a premier who wants to be a player on the national political stage, the attack on French-language services seems an odd choice. Outside of Quebec and New Brunswick, French-speakers are small local minorities who often, as in Manitoba, have difficulty winning recognition of their needs for provincial government services in French. Ontario premiers are usually careful to show sensitivity to their French-speaking electors.
Doug Ford, however, is not into sensitivity. He has a deficit to reduce and he cares nothing for the precarious peace among language groups in Canada.
Andrew Scheer has to care deeply about linguistic peace. His party has an old reputation among francophones for indifference to French speakers’ linguistic needs. He is currently fending off the challenge of the People’s Party of Canada, founded and led by Quebec francophone Maxime Bernier, who quit the Tory party in a huff when he lost the leadership race to Mr. Scheer. The last thing Mr. Scheer needs is a flare-up of Canada’s recurring exchanges of grievances and recriminations between French and English.
Now here comes Doug Ford, reminding French speakers of all the reasons why they feared and mistrusted the English, and the Conservatives.
Back in June, and still in August, Doug Ford looked to many Conservatives like the man who had found the way to defeat ruling Liberals, the man who was opening the path to power for Mr. Scheer and his party. Now, he is reminding some Ontario voters of the reasons why they kicked the Conservatives into Opposition in 2003 and kept them there for 15 years.
Mr. Scheer is wisely publicizing his sympathy for French-speaking people in Ontario. Mr. Ford, however, is not listening.