Frustrated over Ontario’s blue licence plate controversy, Premier Doug Ford is lashing out at the media in their “little downtown Toronto bubble.”
In his first news conference since Jan. 24, Ford exploded Monday when pressed by reporters about the Progressive Conservatives’ new double-blue plates, which cannot be read in certain light.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said the premier, who wanted to talk about a deal reached with the Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations toward building a road to the “Ring of Fire” chromite deposits in the north.
“I’m shocked you’re even asking me that … I know the media wants to pound on little things. We’re looking at the big vision,” he said at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada trade show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
“You guys, the media, want to stick in this little downtown Toronto bubble and start worrying about little things and disrespecting, in my opinion, the First Nations right today when we’re supposed to be talking about a historic announcement,” said Ford.
“There is more to the world than downtown Toronto.”
He then told the gathered dignitaries, including Marten Falls Chief Bruce Achneepineskum and Webequie Chief Cornelius Wabasse, that people “can’t believe what I deal with this media here in Toronto.”
Ford was on hand to discuss the latest steps in a project that dates back to the previous Liberal government, which would build an all-season road to access potential mine sites and link remote Indigenous communities.
But his government continues to be dogged by the defective licence plates, which were announced as a signature change in last April’s provincial budget.
Revamped versions of the plates should be available from supplier 3M by March 16. Until then, the white licence plates of the previous design will once again be issued.
While Government and Consumer Services Minister Lisa Thompson initially criticized the white design as “Liberal plates,” they originated with the government of Progressive Conservative premier Bill Davis in 1973.
The imbroglio has been politically embarrassing to the Tories, and the premier has not concealed his unhappiness.
“Let’s make no mistake about it, I was frustrated, the minister was frustrated,” said Ford, in his first public comments on a debacle that began last month when a Kingston police officer tweeted about the visibility issues.
“Our minister has responded, the vendor has responded. The vendor had an issue. We’re correcting it,” Ford said.
“There’s zero expense to the taxpayers.”
3M Canada is reportedly absorbing the cost of replacing the defective plates, although the real expense may never be known because the government has signed a nondisclosure agreement.
Some 71,000 blue licence plates have been issued since Feb. 1.
Motorists who have already received the illegible plates will be contacted by mail with instructions on how to get replacements.
Licence plate validation stickers will also be reissued with new plates and any remaining stock of the blue plates will be recycled.
Prior to Ford’s news conference, New Democrat MPP Taras Natyshak (Essex) said “there’s certainly some embarrassment” to the government over the fiasco.
“The fact that the premier avoids taking any questions (in the legislature) on this is indicative. When the going gets tough for the premier, he gets going — out of the building,” said Natyshak.
“It’s the old adage — if you can’t take the heat, you get out of the kitchen. Well, he’s not even in the restaurant when it comes to this issue. It’s embarrassing for him,” he said.
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“Something as simple as issuing licence plates in the province of Ontario — something we’ve done for over 100 years — should be pretty simple and they seem to have bungled this file. They can’t get anything right. This is just another example.”
Meanwhile, the Tories announced Monday that the media will be barred from attending Ford’s $1,250-a-head speech Wednesday night at the party’s major fundraising dinner in Toronto.
The premier banned reporters last year after the Star revealed lobbyists were selling tickets to the event.