Here’s why Doug Ford loves talk radio.
He gets to speak his mind. Especially when he can’t stand what he’s hearing from the seat of his chauffeured SUV.
That’s what happened when Global’s Alan Carter had me on his AM 640 noon show last Monday. As premier, you get to jump the queue — no waiting to be invited on the show, no sitting in line behind other callers.
When Ford speaks, talk radio listens.
And when the premier shares his brainwaves on the airwaves, it opens a window into his heart and soul. Beyond his obsession with booze, the premier has other passions — and compassion, he insists, for the people whose lives are being upended by his latest budget cuts, be they people who need legal aid, hospital patients, or high school students and teachers.
Carter had asked me about Ford’s latest fundraising letter, in which the Tories talked up beer in corner stores with this carefully crafted pitch: “You aren’t a baby and the government shouldn’t treat you like one.”
Call me a crybaby but I’ve never been a fan of beer in convenience stores, not for reasons of maturity but efficiency — I long ago advocated for it in supermarkets to keep costs down, and can wait until the current distribution agreement expires in 2025. What worries me more is a premier who doesn’t sweat the details — his gamble on prematurely breaking an ironclad contract with the big brewers just to please the convenience store lobby (damn the damages, even if it’s a billion-dollar boondoggle); his empty buck-a-beer promise (fizzled fast); and his vow to fire the Six Million Dollar Man who ran Hydro One (at no cost — except the subsequent fees that cost the utility $130 million).
But back to Ford’s latest fundraising tactics. Give the Tories credit for clever clickbait, written to push the buttons of their loyal donor base:
“You should click here to donate $1 right now.”
Listening to us deconstruct his tactics on the radio, Ford felt baited enough to berate us.
“Thanks for saying all that misleading stuff that forced me to call because I was just, I almost hit three telephone poles listening to (you guys) mislead the public,” the premier complained on the air.
After letting Ford defend his honour on buck-a-beer (“A couple of beer companies were able to go in there”), and rebut the Hydro One hit (“That’s not 100 per cent accurate”), Carter used his anchoring skills to redirect Ford toward other challenges facing the province.
Non-alcoholic issues. Like the 30 per cent cut to legal aid buried in this month’s budget:
“This is what drives me crazy, Alan, that no one does their research,” the premier countered. “OK, the lawyers are making more money than the people that actually need the system to help them.”
Interestingly, my own research reveals that legal aid is designed to compensate lawyers (at a relatively low rate) for their work — not to put money into the hands of clients. Never mind, Ford has a better answer:
“If anyone needs support on legal aid, feel free to call my office. I will guarantee you that you will have legal aid.”
There you have it — just call me. If Ford can pick up the phone and get on talk radio no trouble, surely an indigent person needing a lawyer can get through to the premier’s office based on this publicly stated personal guarantee.
And then Ford showed his soft spot for the refugee claimants he has publicly berated as “illegals” over the past year, and specifically targeted this month. Beyond the cuts, legal aid has also been ordered to stop any work on asylum cases, forcing people to wait for Ottawa to pick up the slack.
But the premier volunteered that he understands what they are going through.
“By the way I don’t blame these folks — I’d be doing the same if I lived in a country that isn’t providing a lifestyle for myself and my family,” he mused.
Empathy, however, only goes so far. Ford then lapsed into what he so often does — take a complicated issue and oversimplify it — by implying that anyone who slips into Canada between crossing points must be an impostor, not a deserving refugee or a desirable immigrant.
“I get calls all the time, those are the people I’d call immigrants, those are the people that support us … pay their taxes and raise their family. And then you have the refugees. I have no problem with refugees, they’re leaving war-torn countries, they’re in line.”
And then there are “illegal border-crossers” who Ford claims are all scamming the system. In fact, while many border-crossers are rejected as unqualified, many others have had their refugee status confirmed and been allowed to stay, while Ottawa looks for a fix.
But the premier has made his point, and he’s sticking to it. He has laid down the law, and he wants it enforced:
“We have rules. You can’t jump the line.”
Unless you’re the premier trying to get on talk radio. Then you go to the front of the line.
Martin Regg Cohn is a columnist based in Toronto covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @reggcohn