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Bob Hepburn: The neutering of Doug Ford

Toronto Star logo Toronto Star 5 days ago Bob Hepburn - Star Columnist
Doug Ford wearing a hat: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, right, and Premier Doug Ford attend the Premier's Stampede Breakfast in Calgary in July. Ford insiders say having Kenney campaign for federal leader Andrew Scheer in Ford’s Etobicoke neighborhood this week was hugely insulting to the premier. © Jeff McIntosh Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, right, and Premier Doug Ford attend the Premier's Stampede Breakfast in Calgary in July. Ford insiders say having Kenney campaign for federal leader Andrew Scheer in Ford’s Etobicoke neighborhood this week was hugely insulting to the premier.

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

Think back to last November, when Doug Ford was riding high after leading the Conservatives to a convincing victory in the Ontario provincial election.

Fuelled by an oversized ego and bully-boy approach to politics, Ford loved to brag about how he trounced the Liberals and Kathleen Wynne, how he was a premier “For the People” and how he was going to make Ontario great again.

But Ford wasn’t stopping there — he had his sights on an even bigger target, namely Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who, as he told Conservatives at the party’s annual convention, was “next” on his political hit list.

Also watch: Trudeau asked why he keeps using Doug Ford as his ‘punching bag’ (Provided by Global News)

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And in his private moments, Ford reportedly went so far as to dream of one day replacing federal Tory leader Andrew Scheer and becoming prime minister of Canada.

Ah, those were heady days!

Now, less than a year later, Ford is a disgraced premier, shunned even by many Conservatives, sidelined in the current federal election, whose popularity ranks lower than even that of Wynne in some of her darkest moments as premier and who is openly booed by crowds, which plays on every insecurity he has.

The end result is that Ford has been neutered politically, with power, influence and leadership effectively taken away from him.

Those responsible for this action include federal Tory leader Andrew Scheer, Ontario cabinet ministers and backbench MPPs and Ford’s own political staff.

They all acted after watching Ford self-destruct in a wave of scandalous patronage appointments, petty attacks on Toronto city council, a mean-spirited budget that unfairly targeted children and the disadvantaged and a ruthless leadership style that demanded total obedience by cabinet ministers, MPPs and political staffers.

Today, Ontario has a government with no real leadership, no sense of direction and, at this point, little chance of winning back support from voters who have abandoned Ford in disgust.

A clear sign of a government in disarray is to witness the sheer speed and volume of times Ford has caved in on policies he had championed in his early days as premier.

Also watch: Singh says voters in Ontario 'let down' by Trudeau, Ford (Provided by Global News)

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In recent months, Ford has reversed his stand on sex-ed education, on a French-language university, on cuts to social services, such as a child benefit that pays for essentials like diapers and food for children in vulnerable families, on cuts to children’s aid societies and more.

Ford also caved in during the last-minute contract negotiations with the 55,000 school support staffers, who had threatened to strike this week. Ford gave the workers almost everything they wanted, including $20 million to ensure hundreds of workers laid off in September could be rehired and another $58 million a year to create more support for special education students.

Adding more insult to the publicity-hungry Ford, Conservative operatives told the premier to keep a low profile on the education talks and to avoid been seen as gloating about getting a deal.

Most embarrassing for Ford was being ordered — yes, ordered — to keep out of the federal election.

And rubbing salt into his wounds was Scheer’s decision to bring Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to campaign on his behalf last weekend throughout Ontario, including just a few hundred metres from Ford’s house in Etobicoke. A Ford insider said this week the premier considered the move a complete insult, the lowest form of disrespect to a sitting premier in his own province.

Because Ford is now persona non grata in so many circles, Conservative insiders are turning to the few stable, reliable cabinet ministers for leadership, such as Finance Minister Rod Phillips and Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

In truth, Ford has no one to blame but himself for the sorry state he finds himself these days. For all his bravado about his political smarts, he actually is tone-deaf to what voters will accept in the way of cost-cutting and the personal whims of a leader. It has happened because of his boneheaded moves — and sheer arrogance.

Ford’s biggest problem, though, is that he still hasn’t learned how to lead a government. He isn’t smart, sophisticated or engaged. Ultimately, he is a failure for those who voted for him — and for the entire province.

Bob Hepburn is a politics columnist and based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @BobHepburn

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