The patronage scandal that continues to batter the premier’s office has hit home for voters, with almost 60 per cent believing the Ford government is corrupt and even more saying too many “cronies” have been hired, a new poll suggests.
The Corbett Communications survey also found that just 10 per cent of respondents think the departure of chief of staff Dean French — whose friends and family members received plum postings — will undo the damage.
“The cronyism question has not gone away; we saw another person outed (Friday)” over ties to French, said pollster John Corbett, referring to the resignation of Ian Neita, a board member for the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
That came just two days after a lawyer who chaired a justice of the peace committee stepped down following a government review — and after a number of other questionable postings were quashed, including French’s son’s lacrosse buddy and his wife’s cousin.
Voters “keep seeing people being outed by various opposition sources and they begin to think that there’s a secret underground of Dean French cronies in the government,” said Corbett. “The problem hasn’t gone away at all. It’s still right top of mind for people.”
The survey of 936 voters taken July 9 and 10 — a little over two weeks after French left as Premier Doug Ford’s chief of staff — saw 63 per cent say the government has doled out appointments to too many cronies, with 57 per cent agreeing with the statement that the Ford government is corrupt. Among PC voters, 10 per cent believe that to be true, the poll found; almost 30 per cent of PC voters “agree too many cronies have been hired” and “disagree the departure of French has solved the problem.”
The poll, conducted using Maru/Blue’s Maru Voice Canada online panel, is opt in and is comparable to a margin of error of plus or minus 3 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
It’s more bad news for a government hobbled by a string of controversies and follows a number of recent polls showing a decline in support for the PCs.
Ford — whose popularity remains steady though low, at 20 per cent of those polled — told the Star earlier this week in an interview in Saskatoon, where he was attending the annual summer gathering of premiers, that the patronage situation has been personally “difficult” for him, as French is a long-time friend and trusted adviser.
“It’s always difficult,” he said. “But I’m sure he would agree that it has to be the best interest of the province, the best interest of the people of the province. And that’s how we are going to govern.”
He also said all appointments will now be more “deeply vetted” through the treasury board.
Corbett described Ford’s unpopularity — with 20 per cent of those polled approving of the job he is doing and 69 per disapproving — as “in the dumper” and “unsustainable” for him to remain as leader.
PCs support has dropped again, putting the governing party in a tie with the NDP and the Liberals, despite the Liberals’ decimation to just seven seats in the election a year ago, the poll found.
In addition, the government’s “for the people” slogan doesn’t sit well with voters, with just one in five polled agreeing with a statement that “Ford cares about people like them.”
His government’s budget has proved deeply unpopular, with almost 70 per cent saying Ontario has the money and should not be cutting back on services that help the vulnerable, the poll found. Among PC voters, about 40 per cent feel the same.
“There are enough indications to really demonstrate that his whole shtick is starting to ring hollow,” about having to rein in the deficit and cut services, Corbett added. “The public is not buying it anymore.”
And Ford’s June 20 cabinet reset “didn’t do anything,” Corbett added. “Nobody all of a sudden said, ‘He’s in good shape now because he’s shuffled his cabinet.’”
Just a quarter of those surveyed think Ford can fix things for the next election, with more than half saying that’s impossible.
Almost half of voters think MPP Christine Elliott would be a better premier than Ford — including 24 per cent of PC supporters, the poll suggests. Elliott narrowly lost the PC leadership race to Ford.
“That’s a remarkable measure of disloyalty to the current leader, when you say the person he beat would have made a better leader,” Corbett said. “There’s a measure of buyer’s remorse among a large proportion of the Conservative voter population in Ontario.”
Corbett said a corruption question might have prompted about 30 per cent of respondents to agree during the height of the gas plants or Sudbury election bribery scandal under the former Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne, “but not a majority of people who live in the province.”
He also noted that things aren’t going well for NDP Andrea Horwath: while she is still the most liked provincial leader, her numbers are also declining.
“She’s kind of missing in battle,” he said, adding Toronto Mayor John Tory is seen more as the “real leader of the opposition” in the province.