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Political turbulence in Canada

Political turbulence in Canada

People call Doug Ford the Canadian Trump… and he is not far from similarities.

Ever since Doug Ford became the leader of Ontario’s centre-right Progressive Conservative Party on March 10th, he has been asked if he is Canada’s Donald Trump. The two have much in common. Big, beefy and blond, Ford inherited a large product-labelling company, yet campaigns against elites who “drink champagne with their pinkies in the air”.

He loathes regulation and taxes, and vows to repeal Ontario’s carbon cap-and-trade system. Two books about his late brother Rob, Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor, paint the surviving Ford as impulsive, undisciplined, indiscreet and a bully.

However, the comparison falls apart when it comes to immigration. Ford bemoans the loss of 300,000 manufacturing jobs from Ontario, but blames an incompetent Liberal Party, not foreigners. Far from bashing immigrants, he aims to woo socially conservative ones. For example, he wants to repeal a sex-education curriculum for primary schools that lists six genders and four sexual orientations. Many immigrant parents pulled their children from classes when it was launched in 2015.

Even a colour-blind populism could be dangerous. Some of Canada’s new populist leaders are reckless with facts, impatient with legal constraints and make budget-busting promises. And they might win.

Polls suggest that Ford will capture the premiership of Ontario, the country’s second-most-powerful office, at an election on June 7th. In Quebec, the party of François Legault, a cultural nationalist, is leading polls for a provincial election in October. And in Alberta, a recently unified party led by Jason Kenney, a conservative accused of sharing Trump’s penchant for “alternative facts”, enjoys a vast lead. National polls tell a similar story. By last month the ruling Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, had fallen into a rough tie with the opposition Conservatives. After a long spell basking in global adulation as an antidote to Trump, Canada is no longer populist-proof, liberals worry.

As the website RealDougFord claims: “Doug will give corporations huge tax cuts, but take the minimum wage raise right out of hard working people’s pockets and put restrictions on a woman’s right to decide her own pregnancy”.

There is little demand for Trump-style isolationism in Canada. With trade equivalent to 64% of GDP, it would strike voters as absurd. And even a whiff of racial prejudice would be political suicide in a country where 20% of citizens are immigrants (compared with 13% in the United States) and the native-born are obsessed with being nice. Far-right groups are active in every Canadian province, but they are small. Violent zealots, such as the shooter who killed six Muslims in a Quebec City mosque to protest Trudeau’s welcoming of refugees, are even rarer.

Instead of ethnic division, Canada’s populists offer unrealistic fixes. For example, Ford says he will fire the head of Ontario’s electric utility, which the premier cannot do. Kenney wants a referendum on federal revenue-sharing, from which Alberta cannot withdraw. Both promise to pay for tax cuts with unspecified savings. And all populists claim to defend the masses against corrupt elites.

Independent economists predict that Doug’s policies are going to lead to massive cuts in public services that families in Ontario rely on – like healthcare and education, as well as huge job losses. Some independent economists predict Ford’s policies will lead to 40,000 jobs lost – including thousands of nurses and teachers.

  • Ford says he will cut 4 cents of every dollar of government spending.
  • Independent economists estimate this will rise to an annual $10 billion in cuts to public services, and 75,000 job cuts.

Perhaps the best test of the country’s reputation for moderation is whether he can run a competitive race without making ridiculous promises or tarring his opponents as un-Canadian.