The Ontario election: Why Doug Ford is the enemy of the “little guy”

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While campaigning as the voice of the “little guy”, Doug Ford’s PC’s are actually joined at the hip with corporate interests that are pushing a detailed policy agenda that will make life worse for many Ford supporters.

Introduction

A previous post made the argument that the core appeal of Doug Ford populism (much like Trump populism) is a cultural resentment against the professional class as opposed to an economic populism in which working and middle class resentment is directed against the wealthy and large corporations. In other words, the “elites” that Ford rants against are professionals such as bureaucrats, academics, lawyers, journalists and teachers who Ford portrays as “looking down” on average Ontarians and recklessly spending their hard-earned tax dollars.

The previous article also described economic populism – in contrast to Ford/Trump populism –  as a politics that argues that the “elites” who really need to be reigned in are the large corporations whose business practices have directly resulted in an increase in part-time, low wage jobs and the loss of high wage, full-time jobs. This decline in good quality jobs with benefits has hurt many Ford supporters and the article asserts that economic populism embraces a set of policies that would significantly improve the economic lives of Ford voters.

The article also argued that Ford, a rich man’s son like Trump, has no interest in improving the lives of everyday Ontarians and his PC program (such as it is), is evidence of this. Put bluntly, Ford supporters are being duped into voting against their pocketbook interests by being led to believe that they are somehow striking a blow against “elites” by voting for Ford. In fact, the reality is just the opposite. Electing a Ford government would hand the province over to a tightly knit network of corporate interests that already have too much influence and whose policy agenda would hurt non-wealthy Ontarians. This is discussed in detail below.

The reality is that a Doug Ford government would hurt the people who voted it in because it would take its marching orders from corporate interests (the real elites) who have a detailed policy  agenda aimed at enriching themselves and the wealthy at the expense of average, hard-working  Ontarians. Those corporate interests are already talking amongst themselves as to who will fill staff positions in the Doug Ford Premier’s Office, in Ministerial offices (Finance, Health, Education, etc.), and in key positions in the Ontario Public Service. They want their people to implement their policy agenda and this agenda will hurt all but the wealthiest Ontarians.

These corporate interests are named below and parts of their policy agenda are discussed in detail. For years, these corporate interests have been working closely with PC MPP’s and staff at Queen’s Park and have had immense influence on the policy positions the PC caucus took on Liberal government legislation and other policy issues.

It is important to note that the two kinds of populism (Ford/Trump populism on the one hand, and economic populism on the other) have considerable appeal to Ontario voters with broadly similar social values – voters who value being fairly compensated for their hard work and for “playing by the rules”. However, when it comes to voting intentions, those not affiliated with a union (many of which are  rural residents not living in communities with a labour tradition), mistakenly lean towards a Ford-style cultural populism which portrays the elite “villains” essentially as “know-it-all” professional types who “think they are better than me”. In contrast, those with a union affiliation (or who live in urban communities with a labour tradition), lean towards an anti-corporate, economic populism most associated with the NDP.

The previous article further argued that Andrea Horwath’s NDP are in a good position to tap into those who hold to this anti-corporate, economic populism. Recent polls suggest that this is exactly what is happening in the Ontario election with a surge in support for Horwath’s NDP – especially in the economically hard hit regions of the Southwest, North and Hamilton/Niagara which have seen a massive loss of well paying manufacturing and resource jobs  in the past decade.

While the NDP may be pulling even with the PC’s in terms of the popular vote, as of this writing (June 1), the most recent polls still suggest that the Ford PC’s have an excellent chance to win  a plurality of seats and a good chance of forming a majority government. Therefore, the question of what a Doug Ford government would actually do during its time in office needs to be examined closely.

The Ford governing agenda: For the “big guy” – not the “little guy”.

The interesting question when it comes to governments that are voted in on a wave of right-wing, populist resentment is how that populist anger plays out in the process of actually governing – i.e., how it is reflected in the actual legislation, regulations, programs, fiscal frameworks, ministerial directives, etc. of the right wing, populist government over the 4-year period of its mandate.

As of this this writing, unlike the Liberals and NDP, the Ford PC’s have not published a costed-out platform although they have posted online the costs of their main campaign promises. This list of campaign pledges obviously leaves out how Doug Ford will pay for his promises. The refusal to release a costed-out platform is not surprising  because Ford style, right-wing populism is not a coherent political ideology but rather a repository of populist resentment. It’s where people express their anger at being disrespected and ignored by electing politicians who appear to share their anger at the political class. At its extreme, this sort of populism expresses contempt for the political order itself (“lock her up!”).

Therefore, leaders of right-wing, populist campaigns spend very little time thinking coherently about what they would actually do as a government. They assume policy details are of little interest to the voters they are appealing to and their campaign policy pronouncements generally focus on getting rid of a few highly symbolic programs of the old regime and are silent on many of the major files that the government will have to deal with over its term in office. Trump’s obsession with getting rid of Obamacare and the Iran nuclear deal are examples of this in the U.S. context as are the Ford proposals to revise the sex-ed curriculum and eliminate the “carbon tax” (i.e. cap and trade) here in Ontario.

But while Ford and his key campaign people may not have given a lot of thought to the specifics of their governing agenda, it is crucial to understand that corporate interests supporting an anti-tax, market-oriented, deregulation policy agenda, certainly have.

So what are the specifics of this “hidden”, corporate policy agenda and who are the organized interests that will be the major influence on the governing agenda of a Ford government?

To answer this question, it is probably necessary to briefly explore a re-alignment of organized business interests that has been under way for a while now in Ontario but has accelerated under the Wynne government. This realignment has essentially seen a range of business lobby groups who formerly could work equally well with either a Liberal or PC government, move to the right and align themselves on policy matters with the PC’s and against much Liberal government policy, legislation and programs. In other words, at the present time, most business interests in this province see only a modest difference between the election of a  Wynne Liberal or a Horwath NDP government, and have a very specific and detailed policy agenda that they have been talking to the PC’s about for a while.

It is important to note that this detailed, corporate policy agenda has broad support within the PC Party. The fact that this agenda was largely absent from former PC leader Patrick Brown’s “People’s Guarantee” and that Ford and his key campaign strategists may be largely unaware of the agenda’s details, should in no way be taken to mean that it will not figure prominently in a Ford government.

However, before proceeding to this “hidden” policy agenda and identifying the organized business interests that will largely determine it, it is only fair to list some of the more signficant official policy announcements made by the PC’s during the current campaign:

  • The PC’s would reduce corporate taxes on large, profitable corporations by a percentage point, to 10.5 per cent from the current 11.5 per cent. They have also said they will take measures to reduce “red tape and stifling regulations” they claim are barriers for business growth.
  • After previously announcing that a PC government would not follow through with the Liberals’ planned minimum wage hike to $15/hr. (from $14 hr.) in January 2019, the PCs committed to eliminating personal income taxes on workers earning under $28,000. This still leaves low-income workers $694 worse off annually;
  • The PC’s say they will save four cents on every dollar of government spending through “efficiencies.” These “efficiencies” will amount to about $6 billion in government program cuts but Ford has not specified what those cuts will be.
  • The PC’s say they will kill the current cap-and-trade program which they say adds 4.3 cents  per litre to the cost of gasoline which, when HST is charged on top of it, comes to 4.6 cents a litre. They will also reduce the gasoline tax from 14.7 cents a litre to 9 cents a litre. The PC’s say the government would not feel the pinch from the $1.9 billion in lost cap-and-trade revenues and the gas tax reduction, because green programs funded with that money will be cancelled. The party also vowed to fight at the Supreme Court of Canada any attempt by the federal government to implement a carbon tax.
  • The PC’s would implement a personal income tax rate reduction that would apply to individual earnings between $42,960 and $85,923. The maximum savings for a taxpayer would be $786 per year, which would go to individuals  earning $85,923 and up, while most families would see more modest savings. The move would be implemented in the third and fourth years of Ford’s mandate, at a loss of $2.3 billion in government revenues.
  • The PC’s would reduce the tax rate paid by small business to 3.2 per cent from the current 3.5 per cent.

Finally, Ford has also promised that a PC government would have a balanced budget by the end of their term although he hasn’t said how he would do this.

But as suggested above, there are many files that Ford won’t talk about during the campaign because they would clearly show that a Ford government would be anything but a champion of the “common man”.

What follows is a description of two important files that illustrate who would really benefit from a Ford government.

Hidden policy agenda item # 1: The labour file.

Other than cancelling the proposed increase in the minimum wage to $15/hr. (from $14/hr.) scheduled for  Jan. 1, 2019, Ford is unlikely to talk much about labour during the campaign. But the fact that Ford may not reveal many details of what a PC government would do on labour policy, should not be interpreted as an indication that a majority, PC government would not make dramatic, pro-employer changes in labour legislation. Far from it.

It should be remembered that former PC leader Tim Hudak’s, 2014 platform was not content with leaving the Ontario Labour Relations Act tilted strongly towards the employer community  where Mike Harris left it.

The Hudak platform, in fact, contained a “right to work” plank that went beyond almost anything existing in U.S. “right to work” states. Right to work provisions in labour legislation make it almost impossible to organize a union. The important question here is where this plank came from and whether the same Ontario business interests that got “right to work” into the 2014, PC platform will push for its implementation under a Ford government.

One of the most important things to understand about the likely dynamics of a Ford government is that the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (a leading business lobby group) is now a virtual branch of the Ontario PC party. Put bluntly, it is almost (albeit, not quite) as hostile to the re-election of the current Wynne, Liberal government as it is to the election of a NDP government. This can be seen clearly in the Chamber’s actions over the past three years on the labour file and, in particular, its activities during the Changing Workplaces Review process and the subsequent debate over Bill 148 (see below).

In 2015, the Ontario government initiated the Changing Workplaces Review to consider possible changes to rules governing Ontario’s workplaces. The process resulted in an interim report and a final report with the final, 419-page report proposing 173 amendments to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act and Labour Relations Act – Ontario’s two most important labour laws. After reviewing the Changing Workplaces recommendations, in June, 2017 the Wynne government introduced Bill 148 which  passed in November, 2017.  Bill 148 contained many(although far from all) of the recommendations of the Changing Workplaces’ final report and generally provided greater protections for employees in Ontario’s workplaces. However, the dynamics around Bill 148’s  passage should be a warning for average Ontarians not to be complacent with a Ford government in power.

In essence, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce put together a coalition  of business groups called The Keep Ontario Working Coalition to fight any and all proposed worker protection changes (especially the minimum wage increase) during the Changing Workplaces/Bill 148  process. The hope of the coalition  was to stall things until a PC government could be elected – a government they were certain would make pro-employer changes to labour legislation that would weaken worker protection rather than strengthen it.

The business lobby groups in the Chamber of Commerce coalition are:

Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services (ACSESS);
Canadian Franchise Association (CFA);
Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers;
Food & Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC);
Food and Beverage Ontario (FBO);
National Association of Canada Consulting Businesses (NACCB Canada);
Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Association (ORHMA);
Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA);
Ontario Forest Industries Association (OFIA);
Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA);
Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA);
Restaurants Canada;
Retail Council of Canada (RCC); and
Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO)

Most (albeit, not all) of these business lobbying groups represent Ontario’s low wage, non-union employers – the employers closest to the Ontario PC’s. With a Ford victory, the Chamber will pull together a similar coalition of anti-worker, business interests that will largely determine the Ford government’s labour policy. But with a Ford government in place, this coalition will be larger and more powerful than the previous coalition and will involve some business groups (like the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME)) that largely held their powder during the Changing Workplaces/Bill 148 fight. The far-right Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB)  will also be central to the anti-labour lobbying.

These groups  will have enormous influence on the PC labour policy under the Ford government  and will not be content to prevent the minimum wage from being increased to $15/hr. from $14/hr. and eliminate some of the other worker protection gains of Bill 148. This coalition will attempt to gut worker protections across the board (employment standards, labour relations, WSIB, apprenticeships, health and safety, pensions, etc.) and “right to work” provisions could very well be on their agenda as it was in former PC leader Hudak’s 2014 platform.

Hidden policy agenda item # 2: Financial regulation

On May 11, 2017 as the CBC continued to publish stories revealing a deeply rooted culture of overly aggressive marketing at all major Canadian banks, a majority of Canada’s financial regulators abandoned an ongoing consultation on a “best-interest” standard that would have strengthened the obligations financial advisors owe to their clients. In essence, the new standard would have made clear to financial customers whether they were dealing with truly independent financial advisers that were legally obligated to give them the best possible objective, financial advice, or with sales people being paid (often on commission) to steer unsuspecting customers towards the proprietary investment products of their employer (i.e. bank, insurer, etc.) – whether they were the best financial products available for the clients or not.

Only the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) and New Brunswick’s Financial and Consumer Services Commission decided to continue consulting about the best interest standard.

Canada’s securities regulators (including the OSC) have been formally consulting with financial industry stakeholders on a “best interest standard” since 2012 and the idea has been under consideration in one form or another for literally decades. The OSC can legally proceed on its own (i.e. without the participation of other provincial securities regulators) and the Ontario government can pass its own laws in this area. Neither have implemented a best interest standard nor have they committed to implementing one.

In April 2015, Ontario Minister of Finance Charles Sousa appointed an independent Expert Committee to consider financial advisory and financial planning policy alternatives. More specifically, the Expert Committee was mandated to provide advice and recommendations to the Ontario government regarding whether and to what extent financial planning and the giving of financial advice should be regulated in Ontario and the appropriate scope of such regulation.

In mid-March, 2017, the government released the final report of the Expert Committee. The report described the challenges facing average investors seeking reliable financial advice and is worth quoting at length:

“More than ever, Ontarians rely on financial planners and financial advisors to help them achieve their financial goals. According to research published by members of the CSA, 49 per cent of Canadians had a financial advisor in 2012, up from 42 per cent in 2006. In 2016, nine out of ten mutual funds were purchased through a financial advisor. In 2014, 70 per cent of new life insurance protection purchased in Canada was bought on an individual basis (by personal or family decision) usually through a life insurance agent. This reliance is compounded by the knowledge asymmetry between advisors and consumers: in 2016, research suggests that 43 per cent of all investors relied almost solely on their advisor as a source for investing information.”

The report’s three main recommendations were: 1) a new, harmonized regulatory framework for those who work in the financial services industry; 2) imposition of a duty to act in the best interests of clients (the “best interest standard” discussed above); and 3) upgraded and simplified titles and credentials for financial advisors based on heightened proficiency requirements.

The Liberal government’s response to the Expert Committee report? First , the government has created shell legislation to create a new organization called the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (FSRA) to respond to the report’s first recommendation regarding the need for a “harmonized regulatory framework”. The legislation has very little content and almost all the big policy decisions about what the FSRA would do have been punted down the road. Secondly, the government has been non-committal on the best interest standard recommendation (essentially leaving it to the OSC). On the third recommendation, it has initiated yet another round of consultations on the issue of upgrading and clarifying titles in the financial advisory industry.

So why has there been so little  progress on a whole range of all important financial regulation issues? Simple – the financial services industry and its allies have been fighting the implementation of a best interest standard and related financial reforms tooth and nail since the idea of a best interest standard was first floated several decades ago. And they will have a strong ally in this fight in a Doug Ford government.

Here are the industry players lobbying against a best interest standard and other financial consumer protection measures – all have close ties to the Doug Ford PC’s.

Tier 1 in the financial industry’s lobbying machinery are the formal industry trade associations. There are many such groups but the most important are: the Canadian Bankers Association (the lobbying arm for Canada’s large banks); the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association (the lobby group for Canada’s life and health insurers); the Investment Funds Institute of Canada (the key lobby group for Canada’s mutual funds); the Investment Industry Association of Canada (IIAC – the securities dealers lobby group); the Insurance Bureau of Canada (the lobby group of Canada’s Property and Casualty Insurers (auto and home insurance)) and the Financial Advisors Association of Canada (generally referred to as Advocis – the largest association of financial advisors and planners in Canada).

But the official lobby groups are only the tip of the financial industry lobbying iceberg. These formal lobby groups not only work closely with each other but also with their individual members’ internal government relations and legal departments. They and their members also retain many of the country’s elite government relations firms, blue-chip corporate law firms, and largest consulting firms (Deloitte, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young , etc.), to support their lobbying efforts. Finally, the financial service lobby groups are also strong supporters of corporate-oriented “think tanks” (eg. the C.D. Howe Institute) which often (although not always) publish papers consistent with the views of the financial services industry.

Also of importance in understanding the dynamics related to the fight against a best interest standard and the regulation of financial advisers is the role of industry self-regulating organizations (SRO’s): the two most important being the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada (MFDA), the organization that provides oversight to dealers that distribute mutual funds and exempt fixed income products and the IIROC (Investment Industry Regulatory Organization), the self regulatory body for securities dealers. Canada’s securities regulators rely on the work of these two national self-regulatory organizations for many aspects of regulation of their member firms (securities dealers, etc.) and their individual employees. That said, accountability for securities regulation ultimately extends from the securities regulator (such as the OSC) to the Minister responsible for securities regulation (generally the Minister of Finance).

Finally, it must be remembered that the securities regulators (OSC, etc.) themselves are funded by “market participants” – not governments. Market participants include securities dealers, publicly traded companies, mutual funds and marketplaces (e.g. the Toronto Stock Exchange).

Ontario’s Expert Panel is not the only body calling for significant reform to protect Ontario’s financial consumers and while not doing much, Ontario’s Liberal Government must be given credit for at least keeping the issues alive and not giving the financial services industry a complete win.

But within months of a Ford victory, the door for pro-consumer reforms to the regulation of financial services will be slammed shut and the millions of Ontarians who rely on their banks,  insurers and financial planners for financial advice that is in their best interest, will be on their own.

Conclusion: The Doug Ford PC’s are in the pockets of big business and against the “little guy”

The labour and financial regulation files are just two of the major areas where the Doug Ford PC’s are in the pockets of the large corporations and against the “little guy”. There are literally dozens of these nearly invisible policy files where powerful interests such as those described above, are desperately hoping for a Doug Ford, majority government.

Doug Ford may claim to be on the side of the “little guy” and the “common man” but with the polls still suggesting a Ford government and the election just a week away, the powerful organized interests described above (and many others like them) are already talking amongst themselves about  the staff they want as advisers in the Ford Premier’s Office, Ministerial offices and in key positions in the Ontario Public Service.

These powerful corporate interests know Doug Ford has given little thought to the details of his actual governing agenda (much less its implementation) and they are determined to be the ones who fill that void with their agenda implemented by their people. And remember, they have been talking to PC Caucus members and PC staff about much of this agenda for a long time now and intend to move very fast to get this agenda implemented.

The implementation of this corporate policy agenda will hurt Doug Ford voters and enrich large corporations and the wealthy.

As election day approaches, it us up to Ontario voters to determine  if these corporate interests will prevail or whether a government (majority or minority) more in tune with the interests of average Ontarians will be elected.

 

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Carol Chambers
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Carol Chambers

We know the devil we have… is Doug Ford going to make it worst for people..as a senior if gas and hydro keep going up our 535 a mth will have us living on the street. Gas at nearly 6 dollars a gal we are doomed…

Anonymous
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Anonymous

he cant do any worse than trudeau and at least he will wear a ;poppy

Dave Snider
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Dave Snider

What a left leaning slant to this story. liberals in power for 15 years and the writer gives them credit for keeping some things “alive” and not burying it. What a joke.

Darlene Genovese
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Darlene Genovese

Really? Wow.. Premier Ford is for the little guy. Ford and his brother did wonders for Toronto..so my votes for him. Liberals and ndp are elitist and show it all the time in favouritism for special interest groups and forget the rest of their constituents! So your blog is irrelevant. Way too many reason to embrace Ford and take back our province.

Reuben
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Reuben

So much assumptions with little prove of any connections. Oh and trump is doing great things for the American economy.