Like premiers before him, Doug Ford has gone to war with Ontario's teachers. Martin Regg Cohn writes that Ford is hoping for his Mike Harris moment:
For months, the Progressive Conservative government has scorned the teachers as ungrateful and greedy. Now, they are raising the rhetoric to fever pitch, fantasizing that they can replay the Mike Harris playbook from 1995, when another PC premier took teachers on.
But Ontarians have seen this scenario one time too many. Ford is in no position — politically or fiscally — to reprise the Harris role of pretend Robin Hood, purportedly taking from rich teachers to give to poor taxpayers.
Today, Ford’s popularity is in free fall; his first education minister, Lisa Thompson, was thrown under the bus; and her successor, Stephen Lecce, is the new fall guy. Call it the domino effect.
Thompson had proudly announced that average high school class sizes were jumping from 22 to 28, and loudly proclaimed this would make students more “resilient.” No matter that thousands of teaching jobs would be cut from the system, she argued that students would be enriched by four mandatory online courses — an untried experiment.
Lecce leapt to the rescue, dialing down the teacher-student ratios from 28 to 25, and cutting the online courses from four to two. Enraptured by his rhetoric, Ford fell in love with his new “all-star” minister, hailing his persuasive powers in public.
However, Lecce soon headed for the rocks. That's because he's not the one calling the shots:
The politician pulling the strings here is the man who controls the purse strings behind the scenes on Ford’s behalf, Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy. A little-known business executive who boasts of his Bay Street credentials while baying about a supposed Venezuelan or Greek-style bankruptcy crisis in Ontario, Bethlenfalvy is the driving force behind the contrived austerity emergency. Yes, the government inherited a major deficit last year, but only half as much as he first claimed ($7.4 billion, not $15 billion, and only after Bethlenfalvy ignored outside experts by pretending Ontario didn’t enjoy an $11 billion surplus in employee pension funds).
The revised deficit was close to Kathleen Wynne's projected deficit. And the difference between the two figures is roughly the same amount of revenue the government lost when Ford cancelled Ontario's cap and trade system.
Put simply, Ontarians know they've been conned. And they know their premier is not a bright guy.
Image: Niagara At Large