TORONTO – Though he officially takes up the premier’s mantle on Friday, Doug Ford has already set the wheels in motion for several of his plans for Ontario – and one expert predicts the Progressive Conservative leader will move quickly on his agenda once he seizes the reins of the province.
In the weeks since his party’s sweeping victory at the polls, Ford has vowed to make dismantling the province’s cap-and-trade system his first order of business, a move that led to the cancellation of several green energy initiatives funded through the program.
He has also placed the public service under a hiring freeze, with the exception of essential frontline staff, and ordered that all discretionary spending such as meals for staff meetings be put on hold.
The Tories have also reached out to the group representing Ontario doctors to reopen contract negotiations rather than proceed to scheduled arbitration, saying they want to repair a relationship that soured under the previous regime.
Genevieve Tellier, a political science professor at the University of Ottawa, said it’s unusual for a government to enact such measures before the cabinet is sworn in. She said it suggests Ford is “very serious” about his agenda and Ontarians should expect to see him act on many of his other promises “quite rapidly.”
At the same time, there are risks in acting quickly, particularly when it comes to complex policies with far-reaching ramifications, such as carbon pricing, she said.
“I’m not sure he’s concerned about the long-term consequences. I think he wants to see short-term results quickly and if there are some problems that will come eventually, he will deal with those problems eventually, we’ll see how,” she said.
Ford has not yet said when he will recall the legislature but maintains he wants to start working on his plan quickly.
The Toronto politician, who campaigned largely on a promise of fiscal responsibility but did not release a fully costed platform, has pledged to launch a line-by-line audit of the government’s spending in order to eliminate waste.
Ford has also vowed to return the budget to balance by the third or fourth year of his mandate, and said he would find billions in efficiencies each year without cutting jobs.
Dealing with the financial consequences of his promises will likely be one of Ford’s biggest challenges in the coming year, said Tellier.
“It’s easy to launch new initiatives, deliver on the promises, but then what are the impacts on the budget,” she said.
Ford could bring forward a budget in the fall but it’s more likely he will present an economic update and wait until spring for a full fiscal plan, she said, adding his government will have a busy fall session even without a budget.
Almost everything that was in the Liberals’ last budget was adopted by the government before the election, which means Ford will have to pass legislation to roll back any initiatives he disagrees with, Tellier said.
This includes a minimum wage hike scheduled for next year, which Ford opposes and has promised to replace with an income tax credit for those earning minimum wage.
The Tory leader’s focus on government belt-tightening will also likely affect the size and makeup of his cabinet, she said.
Ford thrust a handful of Tory candidates in the spotlight during the campaign – including the party’s interim leader, Vic Fedeli, and former leadership rivals Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney – which some observers suggested may have hinted at his cabinet appointments.
The premier-designate has also suggested he may reduce the size of his cabinet, which Tellier said is an easy way to appear to be trimming the fat.
Elliott and Mulroney will likely score a cabinet position “to show unity within the party,” said the professor, who also predicted many of the new ministers would come from the business sector.
Whether Ford favours more experienced legislators or fresh faces will depend on the tone he wants to set, she said.
“Will he want to shake up things, come up with new ideas and let’s forget the past, this is brand new, or will there be some kind of continuity?” she said.
Ford and his cabinet are set to be sworn in Friday morning in the legislature lobby before holding a public ceremony just outside the building.