Profits in a Time of Pandemic

Doug Ford

The Ford government’s corruption is the product of conflicts of interest that are almost too boring and commonplace to merit comment

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | May 7, 2021 • Current Events

Precisely when ontario’s long-term covid-19 commission issued its final report, the Premier restored Norm Sterling to a political stage the former Minister of Environment and Energy had vacated one decade ago. You’ll recall Mr. Sterling in his connection to the Walkerton Tragedy, where the combination of carelessness and a late-April-to-mid-May rainfall contaminated a township’s water supply and produced over two thousand illnesses and six deaths. The Walkerton Inquiry introduced themes of negligence and under-resourcing which also returned to the political stage this week, in the work of a COVID-19 Commission whose chief co-counsel, John Callaghan, was a participant in the Walkerton investigations. Welcome to Ontario health crises, where it’s déjà vu all over again.

Those who back in the day referred to the Mike Harris cabinet as Ministers Against — the Minister Against Education, the Minister Against Health, and so on — were not surprised to learn that the man chosen by Premier Ford to preside the Greenbelt Council was against the Greenbelt Act. Or, to put this in a more precise way, against the idea of a Greenbelt Act which designates lands as protected in cases where someone wishes them to be expeditiously undesignated as such. This business of the expeditious redesignation of lucrative lands brings us to controversies over the Premier’s recent and, in the words of David Crombie, “grossly expanded use” of Minister’s Zoning Orders, or MZOs, as well as to developments concerning development: chief among them the proposed 400-series highway running fifty-two kilometres northeast from the 401 at Halton to the 400 at Vaughan. The NDP Finance Critic, Catherine Fife, has accused the Premier of operating under cover of Covid for the benefit of party donors, a charge which arrives as the evidence mounts of the government’s cosiness with the real estate, construction, and property management industries.

The leap from long-term care to MZO may seem as long as the GTA West corridor, yet both have a connection to Vaughan. The RCMP confirmed an investigation this week of a pro-Ford astroturf and propaganda outfit calling itself Vaughan Working Families, registered in 2018 by Vaughan Health Campus of Care, whose Chair Michael De Gasperis is a director of TACC Developments, a CEO of Arista Homes, a PC donor and fundraiser, and a warm acquaintance of Stephen Lecce. Another LTC outfit connected to Vaughan Working Families, UniversalCare Canada Inc., has brought a thirty-five-million-dollar lawsuit upon itself as a result of Covid-19 deaths at the Villa Colombo Vaughan Di Poce Centre, named after the real estate developer John Di Poce. (It used to be harder to put your name on these buildings. The recent proliferation of hospital wings and health and patient care centres named after developers is another Ford gift to donors.) In fact, of the developers close to the government, Di Poce owns the most acres along the proposed 413.

Throughout the pandemic the Ford who ran for Premier as a plain-folks populist ignored the needs of frontline and essential workers, denying them paid sick leave and front-of-queue vaccinations and sensible policies with their interests uppermind. His cuts early in the administration made Ontario more vulnerable to crisis just as the Harris cuts had done decades earlier. The rules he put in place were too often murky and at odds with science. To all appearances, the Premier improvised as he went, showing no evidence of learning along the way. In the absence of political leadership, ordinary citizens turned to arrangements like Vaccine Hunters Canada to obtain their relief. Ford didn’t create the underlying conditions but he was slow to act when, as the Commission final report puts it, “the pandemic shone a spotlight on a reality that existed long before COVID-19.”

According to the findings, the province’s long-term care homes had been neglected and underfunded for decades by successive governments, suffered severe staffing shortages and lack of training, were easy targets for the uncontrolled LTC outbreaks that were “among the worst in the world,” and received little notice until “a parade of sickness and death” made it impossible to ignore the long-standing problems. In a May 3 QP Briefing interview, John Callaghan quoted from the notes of a Canadian Armed Forces member who witnessed the deaths of twenty-six LTC residents from lack of “water and a wipe down.” In the meanwhile LTC operators like Extendicare (now involved in a $200-million class-action lawsuit) issue dividends. Chartwell has praised its pandemic performance and awarded its executives bonuses that are larger than those of the year before, on top of salaries exceeding one million dollars. A spokesperson for the man who made all of this profiteering possible, by engineering the deregulation of Ontario’s long-term care industry, said that “Mr. Harris’ drive and passion to provide great services and quality care to our aging population was one of the reasons he was asked to join Chartwell as chair in 2003.” Harris is estimated to have profited from his eighteen-year association with Chartwell to an amount of $3.5 million. One man’s tragedy is another man’s comedy.

Now some have awoken to the fact that the road to hell is apparently paved with drive and passion. Canada’s Shareholder Association for Research and Education urges that Mr. Harris (who in any case is expected to step down next year) should not continue as Chair of Chartwell Retirement Residences, citing concerns about the safety of customers and employees, as well as “significant legal, regulatory, financial and reputational risks.” Now that sounds like the Mike Harris I remember. There have been calls for the resignation of Premier Ford as well, most notably by David Moscrop in the pages of the Washington Post.

Whatever the outcomes, there are lessons to be learned, the chief among them that Ontario does not learn lessons. So long as negligence and nature are provisioned enclaves in which to collude unimpeded — and in this province, they are provisioned as a matter of custom — we will have more Walkertons and more LTC disasters. The Ford government is not the first nor the last corrupt government to rule this province. Its apparent incompetence is the product of conflicts of interest that are almost too boring and commonplace to merit comment. Many have suffered this past year, but we have not been in this together — not those collecting the dividends and bonuses, nor those placing private profit above public interest, nor those who claim responsibility without consequences, nor those who use their years in political office to serve their masters and secure their future pelf. ⌾

Populism and the Elites

Under Doug Ford, Ontario politics will likely be organized around an enemies list of cultural foes and special interests. We’ve been there before.

✎  Wayne K. Spear | March 13, 2018 • Current Events

IT’S NOW CERTAIN that a battle, between the people and the elite, is coming to Ontario. As it did in the days of Mike Harris, the province is about to flirt with populism and might even go beyond flirting, to courtship and consummation.

Mike Harris

We heard quite a lot about the elites—always plural—when Rob Ford was mayor and Doug was the hype man and principal enabler of his brother. The word comes to us from an Old French noun derived from the Latin verb ēligĕre, to elect. The elite, in other words, are the elected, or chosen. Like Doug Ford.

Only, to hear Doug tell it, he’s no member, or even friend, of the elites—too-clever snobs who bore the common folk with lessons in etymology. They’re not defined by income or by power, but by culture and attitude. They live downtown and drink Chardonnay, and they use big words, and they mock the lives and values of the town and suburbs. Elites think they know better than you, and they think that they are better than you. And they have been chosen to lead and have made a balls of things.

There’s no necessary connection of this elitism with political power, beyond annoyances like support for bike lanes and streetcars. The list of elitist traits which drive Fordies around the bend has few explicitly ideological entries. Mostly it’s stuff like fixed-gear bikes and smugness and drinking champagne with a pinkie extended. Doug Ford complains about the elites the way that anglos are sometimes known to kvetch about the smell of east Indian cooking.

Elites are irritating, and you know them when you see them. The circularity of this term applies to its cognate, liberal, which is also defined as someone who is irritating. Critics may thus be condemned as elites and liberals, without further ado, because the terms boil down to something which is entirely in the eyes of the beholder.

Populism has some of the same characteristics. Nothing is objectively populist—the thing is set of attitudes and postures, a performance that is front to end a matter of individual interpretation. It helps to use rough and “plain” language, and to express ideas that would be scolded in polite company. Populism requires the claim that what matters most in this world is the little guy, and as a rule a populist will go out of his way to affect an unvarnished outlook and demeanour, the little guy being typically conceived as rough around the edges. None of this is incompatible with ulterior political motives like self-advancement and self-enrichment. History is filled with populist candidates who ascend to power on a pile of corpses.

The principal evil of elitism, which populism ostensibly sets out to vanquish, is the idea that some people or ideas or pursuits are objectively better than others, for instance that a Harvard graduate is a better choice of governor than an unlettered man who says y’all and ain’t. Moreover, it’s impossible to talk usefully about the Ford Nation idea of elitism without mentioning the aesthetics of social class.

It’s no coincidence that Doug Ford, like his brother, is large, whereas his political opponents have tended to be relatively slim. (The same is true of Donald Trump.) Class snobbery is such that large bodies will be subjected to often unspoken but condescending judgements, especially when they are bodies that sweat and that are clothed in ill-fitting clothing. Stephen Harper and Preston Manning, well aware of eastern prejudice, invested in makeovers before attempting to run for national office.  This earned them a great deal of suspicion and ridicule, but all politicians make their concessions to the masses. Ford is no different. His populism, however, is less accommodating than its predecessors, and as such it is more nakedly a display of something that is common to all populism, the compilation of resentments built up over time.

There is an entirely different way to conceive of populism, as an expression of the inherent decency and dignity of ordinary people, ordinary being defined as neither wealthy nor politically powerful. Many decades ago, generations of the political left cultivated the revolutionary conception of the self-educated worker, possessing a mind and consciousness of her own and equal in physical and intellectual prowess to her presumed social betters. This form of populism established workers’ libraries and orchestras and universities, and it advocated not only bread but roses, which is to say the attainment among the common people not only of bare necessities but of beauty. Rather than tearing things down, out of resentment for those at the top, radical populism sought to lift up the people and to make privilege a universal condition. Nothing was thought too good for the working classes—whether champagne, Bach, or caviar.

The populism of M. Trump and Ford is not, however, radical or revolutionary, and it doesn’t look very deeply into the nature of the system against which it has declared war. The anti-elitist populism we will get from the Ontario PCs, assuming Doug Ford becomes Premier, will very likely resemble the program of M. Harris. It will be a negative form of populism, conceived entirely in relation to an enemies list of cultural foes and special interests who must be brought low. And when one is consumed by the work of bringing things low, a generalized condition of lowness, with perhaps a few winners, is likely to take hold. After eight years of watching the Harris Conservatives tear things down, the voters tired of anti-elite populism and chose another path. We forget this at our peril.

Anal Tax and Sex Carbons

The Ontario Conservatives Know How to Entertain

✎  Wayne K. Spear | February 27, 2018 • Politics


I WATCHED THE ONTARIO PC leadership debate last week, and while I found it a touch dull, there’s no denying that the Conservatives understand, and can deliver, entertainment. The entertainment value of the race to replace former leader Patrick Brown, for example, benefitted early on, with the entry of the up-and-coming political neophyte, Patrick Brown. He’s a fresh face, and he’s never governed, but, according to various rumours, he once had a leadership role somewhere but stepped down, or maybe didn’t. It’s not clear. No doubt we’ll learn more about this mysterious Mr. Brown from the papers, should he decide to re-enter, or re-re-enter the race. Or wherever we’re at now.

Hot Anal Sexleft to right: Anal Sex Woman, Too Sensible for Ontario, That Mid-Level Drug Dealer, Has A Famous Dad

The Ontario PCs are the most diverse of the provincial political parties. There’s something for everyone at the Conservative salad bar: the faux-populist entrepreneur, with mid-level experience in the retail pharmaceutical trade; the fresh and photogenic outsider with the famous last name; the family-values Puritan; the polished and informed candidate far too sensible to ever be elected by Ontario voters. And possibly Patrick Brown, who, if he re-re-enters the race, will distance himself from the theatrics of the previous Ontario PC leader, as well as of the previous leadership candidate, Patrick Brown, and Patrick Brown.

CommosJust say OhNos! to Commo-fascisms

Far and away, the top issues in the 2018 Ontario election are anal carbon and sex tax. If you watched the first debate, you heard the words carbon and anal quite a lot, just as you have over the past eight years, in your local church and grocery store. Every man, woman, and child is talking about these things. That’s because there’s hardly a citizen who is not daily imperiled by anal carbon and the sex tax. The build-up of carbon in the anal cavity is not only messy, but painful and dangerous, and it makes sitting for long periods, or passing waste, excrutiating. Anal carbon is said by some to effect the climate negatively, especially bovine anal carbon, but although anal carbon is taught in the schools, the evidence of its effects on climate is inconclusive. That, and the fact it encourages our children to hoard carbons, is why all the Ontario PC candidates repudiate the teaching of anal carbon in the classrooms, describing it as “making parents uncomfortable.” Whether it’s man-made anal carbon or mixed couples.

As for the sex tax, sex used to be the only fun thing you could do in Ontario, other than maybe stealing shopping carts, without spending money. And now the government is making sex expensive by taxing it. (The Ontario puritans are ruining everything. At this rate there will soon be liquor laws!) The HST, having sex tax, is highly unpopular in Ontario, as was the Great Sex Tax, or GST, before it. That’s why, wherever you go in Ontario, people are forever talking about sex taxes and anal carbon, unless they are talking about anal tax and sex carbon, which are also very common topics of discussion in the coffee shops of this province. You see, the principal concerns of all the people that live in this part of the world center on a single tetravalent chemical element from the periodic table, basically a lump of coal, and on the hole in their ass. That may be the best way to understand this leadership race, and why it may end with Ontario getting a lump of coal and an asshole.

The Once and Forever Candidate

If Doug Ford runs for everything, one day he just might catch something

✎  Wayne K. Spear | February 8, 2018 • Politics

DOUG FORD’s run for mayor had already started when a path to Queen’s Park appeared, and if Ford loses in June who doubts that October will coax his return? The man is always running, or teasing about running, as if there could be a doubt. The only variable is the destination. In the past five-or-so years, Doug Ford has imagined himself the succesor of Stephen Harper, Tim Hudak, Rob Ford, and now Patrick Brown. And in between he has run, or has said he would run, for municipal council and the provincial parliament. Doug Ford, the once and forever candidate, always ready to run everywhere for anything.

Doug Ford

The Etobicoke Kennedys, we locals sometimes call the Fords, and not entirely with irony. They are now a three-generation political dynasty, if you include nephew Michael. And before you dismiss this comparison as too generous, remember that the Kennedys had a more-than-passing familiarity with intrigue and pills and thuggery, and that the flattering myth of Camelot was just that. Doug lacks even an interest in the mechanics of charm, and his style tends more toward resentment. But resentment is a cheque that someone will eventually cash if only you carry it around long enough. The populism of Mike Harris enjoyed scant currency until Bob Rae had made the 905 sufficiently angry. For seven years, from 1995 to 2002, Harris’ nonsense was Common Sense. The voters didn’t want a government, they wanted a wrecking ball. Has Kathleen Wynne brought them back, yet, to this point? She seems to have been trying.

Doug Ford took a third of the vote in the last Toronto election. One in three voters, over 330,000, endorsed his message of rampant insider corruption and gravy-train elitism. He’s only ever had one message, of outgroup anger and burn-it-to-the-ground populism. Folks, he hates the people that you hate, and he’ll poke them in the eye. For you, folks. The Doug Ford myth is reverse Camelot, where the rotten elites are inside drinking Chardonnay and have locked all the good people out. Reverse Camelot isn’t a myth about public service or even ideology—it is an appeal to the tribe, a call to charge the gate, a war of cultures. That’s why Ford has been able to survive when his claims—such as being an ordinary outsider, rather than a wealthy and well-connected member of a multi-generational political family—turn out to be objectively false. It’s not about Doug Ford, it’s about the people and the things that Doug Ford hates and will endeavour to confound.

I’ve lived in Ontario long enough to know that phony populism, of the kind peddled by Doug Ford, goes around and comes around. He’ll tell you he’s running for Premier because it breaks his heart, folks, to see what’s happening to his beloved province, not because he was raised on the mother’s milk of political ambition. He’ll tell you he’s just like you. He’ll tell you he’s going to Queen’s Park to clean things up, not because he craves the power of office, of any and every office. He’ll tell you only he can fix what is broken, and that only he can drive out the elites. Maybe this time it will work. If it doesn’t, he’ll be back, running the path towards another office. When Doug Ford arrives at a fork in the road, he takes it, hoping that eventually it will come with a meal.

Life After the Fords

John Tory

YES, IT’S TRUE that Rob Ford was elected to the Toronto municipal council in his Etobicoke ward—and, yes, it was a landslide: but the Ford era of this city is now in remission. When the counting of votes was complete, Doug had received 34% of the popular vote to John Tory’s 40%. When Olivia Chow’s take of 23% is added, it appears that two-thirds of the voters were finished with the circus, or the gutter, or whatever the personal metaphor happened to be.

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It’s Not About Ford: It’s About How A Hateful Ford Nation Poisons Toronto

WavinPFLAG_large

THERE’S A DISTINCT ethical calculus that applies to addiction. Here’s an example: mayor Ford’s indiscretions over the years – the bad choices of personal friends and associates, the bursts of erratic behaviour, the denials that there’s a problem – are “the drugs talking.” He’s not completely in control of himself. The drugs and alcohol are, and his actions should therefore be seen as at least in part the symptoms of an illness, or a compulsion, that keeps him in its grip. He’s an addict, and he needs help, and it’s a good thing he’s now seeking it.

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In Defence of Rudeness

writing-on-paper

MY WRITING FALLS into several categories. There’s the paid, professional writing I do for others, on a range of topics. There are historical pieces, obituaries and profiles of famous people and places. There are meditative or reflective articles, what are sometimes called “human interest stories,” concerning parenting or ageing or travel, and so on. Then there are my political and polemical works, digging into a position and attacking an idea or a public official. Today, we’re going to consider this final category, and the charge it invariably engenders, from a small minority of readers, that I’m impolite, judgemental, arrogant and mean.

This essay is an apology for rudeness in the old sense of the term apology – an account, explanation and defence.

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Rob Ford and the Criminals, continued

Rob Ford

HERE’S A USEFUL piece of reporting for your consideration. It was written by Renata D’Aliesio and published in the March 13, 2014 edition of the Globe and Mail, under the headline “Ford knew of football coach’s criminal past, court documents show”:

Rob Ford penned a character reference for his assistant football coach’s sentencing for dangerous driving and assaulting a police officer, court documents reveal, marking at least the third time he has written a letter of support for a convict while in public office. The letter, composed on behalf of Payman Aboodowleh in 2009, confirms Mr. Ford knew of the volunteer coach’s violent history when he invited him to work with high-school athletes. As with his other letters, Mr. Ford’s acclamation of Mr. Aboodowleh was written on official City of Toronto stationery, sparking concern from a veteran Ontario Court judge who questioned whether the then-councillor may have misused his position of authority.

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If the Ford Brothers Win

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THE FORD BROTHERS seem confident of an autumn electoral victory, and they’ve good reasons. Rob Ford has admitted to lying to the public, and his lack of self control and dignity have become matters of non-controversy: yet he remains in office and enjoys a healthy approval rating, as well as a credible prospect of a second term. His powers and office budget have been reduced, yet the Fords are as bombastic and arrogant as ever. Both Doug and Rob are uninterested in – indeed, hostile towards – public policy and the workings of government. Their contempt of politicians and the political process constitutes a good portion of the duo’s appeal. After all that has transpired, it is difficult to imagine the scandal that might end their political careers. Could it be that there is no such scandal? The Ford brothers behave exactly as people who believe that it could.

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The Roundtable Podcast 57

Week of 14.12.2013

Mandela

Nelson Mandela: July 18, 1918 – December 5, 2013 | Josh Matlow urges council to hit pause on Scarborough subway | Top Ten List: How to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017 | Game: Finish the Headline | Beyoncé | Featured Article: The End of the College Essay, An essay | Police In Thailand Lay Down Vests and Barricades In Solidarity With Protestors | Music: Greg Ashley, “True Love Leaves No Traces” | Google is now funding numerous Tea Party groups | Bots now ‘account for 61% of web traffic’ | Public-health advocates pushing for graphic, cigarette-style health warnings on wine, beer and liquor containers

Download entire podcast (320 kbps mp3) | Visit The Roundtable on Facebook.