Doug Ford is turning to old tactics to keep up his attack on corruption. Or perhaps it’s just a sign of how much Canada’s federal and provincial governments have had to evolve in recent years to hit their targets.
On Tuesday, Mr. Ford pledged to build a new highway and expressway along the Highway 401 near Toronto’s airport, if his Progressive Conservative government takes over from the outgoing Liberal government. His plans are similar to the ones he unveiled this month, in an attempt to shift the focus of a graft probe looking into a massive gas plant scandal.
During a campaign speech to hundreds of supporters in Whitby, he said his government would build the highway and the expressway to the downtown Toronto airport. The cost of the plan has not been disclosed.
“With some of the most congested roads and highways in the world, I think you can appreciate why today we announced our intention to build a 6-lane highway to the airport.”
There are a number of reasons why Mr. Ford’s latest move is not entirely new. A few years ago, the province was weighing the addition of expressways to handle growing traffic and growth in the GTA.
Local politicians were up in arms over the idea and federal officials took the unusual step of warning the provincial government that any effort to go ahead with the expressways could result in legal challenges.
A Public Works Canada email obtained by the Canadian Press in 2016 reads: “Substantial costs of designing and developing the project are potentially subject to legal challenges.” In 2013, provincial transport minister Steven Del Duca even cancelled the plan and agreed to finish studying the issue with the federal government.
“We were hearing throughout the province at the provincial level, ‘It’s going to go through, it’s just going to be delayed,’” Frank Delaurier, general manager for planning at the provincial Ministry of Transportation, told the Canadian Press in 2013. “At the end of the day, having the funds is much better.”
Mr. Ford’s theory is that he and his party’s campaign promise to scrap the carbon tax will allow them to build the expressways in time for the 2020 election. That is the plan at least.
If his strategy to tout his initiative seems familiar, it’s because it’s taken shape in many of Mr. Ford’s other pronouncements.
When the Progressive Conservatives first won power, in June, 2018, their slogan was “Stop the gravy train.” However, Mr. Ford’s government made sure the government worked tirelessly for months on the promise to scrap the provincial carbon tax and have the province’s auditor general audit public-sector agencies to identify potential savings. The audit revealed $4.5 billion in potential savings over five years.
The idea was to avoid corruption that emerged when the current minority Liberal government took power in Ontario in 2015. Former premier Kathleen Wynne promised to establish a financial accountability office to comb through deals struck between political parties during government. However, the office was created by the then-NDP government, so it doesn’t enjoy the same jurisdiction the current government does.
Gerry Nicholls, a political science professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, said that many people remember the dodgy deals that transpired under the Liberals, but Mr. Ford’s motives are transparent.
“He’s trying to take this in a direct attack that his predecessor blew up in her face. It’s an issue that is front and centre of attention right now in the wake of Robert Mueller’s Mueller investigation. And that’s why Ford is putting it out there,” he said.
The move to drive home his anti-corruption message is also a reaction to the fact that Mr. Ford’s campaign in the June election was marred by questions about organized crime within his party and associates. Mr. Ford has tried to introduce into his government experienced people to clean up the party, but his pledge to scrap the carbon tax will make the task much more difficult.
The value of the carbon tax, for example, depends on where the fuel is transported. If the province were to scrap the tax, motorists would be paying more in carbon taxes.
“The carbon tax is something his government is on the hook for. It’s there. His plan is to implement it,” Mr. Nicholls said.