“And so dear friends
You just have to carry on
The dream is over.”
Those words by the Beatles’ John Lennon in his 1970 song “God” could easily apply these days to Caroline Mulroney.
The dream harboured by the Ontario attorney general when she first entered elected politics in the summer of 2017 was that one day she would become premier of Ontario and eventually move on to become Canada’s first elected woman prime minister.
But that dream is over, shattered by a series of actions that have made her look weak, ineffective, indecisive, intimidated and humiliated.
The latest blow to the dream came two weeks ago when Premier Doug Ford’s government announced it was eliminating the position of French Language Services Commissioner and scrapping the plan approved by the previous Liberal government to create a French-language university in 2020.
As the minister responsible for francophone affairs, Mulroney was tasked with selling the cuts to outraged Franco-Ontarians as well as francophones in Quebec and other provinces.
She did so with great gusto, despite widespread condemnation about the cutbacks from across the country, including from federal Conservatives who fear a backlash in Quebec and in Ontario ridings with a large French-speaking population.
Without shame or hesitation, Mulroney insisted the moves were necessary as part of efforts to reduce government spending. She also tried to blame both the former Wynne government and the federal Liberals for the cuts.
Finally acknowledging the outcry, Ford backtracked in recent days and announced his government would maintain the French language services commissioner but transfer the position to the ombudsman’s office, return the office of francophone affairs to being a ministry and hire a senior adviser on francophone affairs for the premier’s office.
By then, though, the damage to Mulroney’s reputation had already been done.
This wasn’t the first time Mulroney has looked bad since winning her seat in the June 7 provincial election.
The first came in late June when in addition to her post as attorney general she accepted the downgraded role as minister responsible for francophone affairs, which no longer was a full cabinet position. She should have insisted Ford retain the post as a full ministry, as it was under the Liberals.
The second came in July when Ford failed to include a single word of French in his initial throne speech, an insult to Franco-Ontarians. Either Mulroney didn’t raise the point in advance of the speech or Ford simply ignored her. Regardless, she appeared unconcerned or ineffective.
The third came in September when Ford said he would use the “notwithstanding” clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to override a judge’s ruling that Ford’s move to cut the size of Toronto city council in the midst of an election was unconstitutional. Mulroney defended Ford’s action, despite almost universal condemnation, including from her father.
Importantly, there’s a pattern here with Mulroney — on all her major files she’s either missing in action or acting as Ford’s subservient puppet.
Indeed, she has failed to distinguish herself in any way.
And while it’s true a cabinet minister must toe the party line or step down, Mulroney might want to study the example of her own parliamentary assistant for francophone affairs, Tory MPP Amanda Simard, who has been outspoken in her criticism of the cuts to Franco-Ontarian services.
Now Mulroney is in full damage control, desperate to salvage a shred of credibility, especially among francophones. It will be hard given how she championed the cutbacks, in stark contrast to her father, who had a well-earned reputation for defending French minority rights.
How is she ever going to win support from these voters? How is she ever going to win support from voters horrified by her backing of Ford’s shameless abuse of the “notwithstanding” clause? How is she going to win support from voters everywhere who despise Ford?
Unless she can figure that out, John Lennon’s words will be forever true: “The dream is over.”
Bob Hepburn is a politics columnist based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @BobHepburn