Recently Premier Doug Ford was seen on TV participating in a round table discussion with stakeholders and the striking feature of it was how relaxed he was with the format and how clearly he articulated government policy without resorting to notes. That performance is in sharp contrast to his podium speaking style which is forced and unnatural and frankly, hard to take in. Hopefully his communication staff will look for opportunities to stage more of the former and less of the latter.
Then there is the issue of how to articulate policies which in many cases, frankly, consist of reducing funding to various programs. Ford’s government was elected in part because many Ontarians came to the conclusion that the spending programs of the Wynne government, especially the flurry of promises made before the last election, were unsustainable. So strong was the desire for change that voters took a leap of faith on a candidate who was either not well known to people outside Southern Ontario, or to those who did know him, was seen as a pugnacious and controversial member of Toronto council.
So Ford was elected to get Ontario’s finances under control, and unfortunately that means reducing program spending. The NDP and Liberal opposition subscribe to the theory that there is absolutely no waste anywhere in government and that the only solution to any problem is to continually increase funding–never to look for efficiencies. That is understandable because both parties owe much of their support to public sector unions.
If Ford is serious about a fundamental re-structuring of government and program funding he is going to be in the position of continually delivering bad news to one sector or another over the next three years. Based on the stakeholder reaction to the funding reductions announced thus far, it’s going to be death by a thousand cuts for this government unless they change the communication plan. They might want to take a leaf out of the book of Paul Martin, who as Minister of Finance in the Chretien government not only balanced the books and reduced government debt, but managed to sell the tough love to the Canadian public. Martin was successful because he made balancing the budget a shared goal with Canadians. In other words Martin took Canadians into his confidence and outlined the big picture for them in a way that was understandable. That won’t be accomplished in Ontario by having Ministers reciting nose-stretching talking points written by staffers who were in public school when Martin was in charge of Finance. What is needed is a coherent game plan, clearly articulated that provides the why as well as the what, and that treats the majority of the voting public as adults who can take hearing the truth.