(July 6, 2018) Ontario is truly Ford Nation now, its fate tied to the closest thing Canada has to a Donald Trump.
Doug Ford, like Donald Trump, ran for office making sweeping promises that most viewed as mere campaign rhetoric. Upon becoming president of the United States, Trump showed his seriousness by rapidly fulfilling his promises; upon becoming Ontario’s premier, Ford is also fast off the mark in honouring his. Daunting though their fulfilment might seem, they can easily be accomplished by following the Trump blueprint. It begins with radical deregulation.
Ford critics widely deride his pledge to find $6 billion in “efficiencies” in the province’s $160-billion budget, treating it as draconian. It is in fact a trivial target for a businesslike cost-cutter, requiring just four per cent less government spending, equivalent to where government spending was two years ago. Ending corporate welfare alone, according to an Ontario government study, would save about $5 billion. The remaining billion — assuming Ford wants to stop at a mere $6 billion — is well on its way to being accomplished in his first week in office. He’s already instituted a hiring freeze on civil servants and cancelled the Green Ontario Fund, a $377-million boondoggle. Literally dozens of other government programs similarly deserve the dustbin.
Deregulation doesn’t just save money for governments; it spares grief for citizens and companies alike, by eliminating bureaucratic busy-work and the expense involved. Within six months of taking office, Trump’s administration saved businesses and families US$18 billion a year in red tape, equivalent to about $600 million for an economy the size of Ontario. In the Trump administration’s first year, it eliminated 22 regulations for every new one issued — by installing a task force at all government agencies to root out outdated regulations while limiting their ability to issue new ones. Whenever an agency issued a new regulation, its cost to the economy had to be assessed and offset by at least two deregulations. More significant still, virtually all of the Trump administration’s new regulations are minor — everyday rules designed to keep the bureaucracy functioning — rather than major regulations that upend businesses by forcing expensive changes on them.
Those who view Ford’s promises as unattainable should realize he has many of the same tools at his disposable as Trump, plus one that Trump would dearly love — a majority government
The realization by industry that it wouldn’t be blindsided led to the greatest benefit of all from Trump’s deregulation agenda — soaring investment by businesses confident that the government wasn’t going to change the rules of the game on them. As The New York Times put it earlier this year, “A wave of optimism has swept over American business leaders, and it is beginning to translate into the sort of investment in new plants, equipment and factory upgrades that bolsters economic growth, spurs job creation — and may finally raise wages significantly.”
The U.S. economy is now on a tear, with wages up, unemployment down and economic growth outpacing the rest of the industrialized world. The prosperity that that brings is filling U.S. government coffers and making credible Trump’s vow to lower America’s national debt while building up its infrastructure and military.
Those who view Ford’s promises as unattainable should realize that he has many of the same tools at his disposable as Trump, plus one that Trump would dearly love — a majority government. Although the Republicans have nominal control over Congress, because they fall short of the 60-seat majority needed in the Senate to pass legislation, the Democrats are able to stymie many of the major new initiatives that Trump would want. The anti-Trump “resist movement” has prevented Trump from cutting taxes further, from cutting regulations faster, from downsizing government faster, from curbing the national debt. Nevertheless, as even Trump’s fiercest “Never Trump” critics acknowledge, he has already kept most of his promises.
Ford will doubtless face an Ontario version of the resist movement, but unlike Trump, he has no legislative restraints. His unambiguous election victory gives him the votes in parliament to bring about any reforms he chooses. Ontario is truly Ford Nation now, its fate tied to the closest thing Canada has to a Donald Trump.
• Lawrence Solomon is the executive director of Toronto-based Energy Probe. This is the second in a two-part series.