Here are the top five things he needs to do:
Create a realistic deficit-elimination plan
Ford managed to skate through the election without really having to get specific about what his platform will mean to the big picture on revenue, spending and the deficit. As premier, that’s a luxury he will no longer have.
By law, governments in Ontario have to show a plan to eliminate deficits, but Ford can’t settle for the Liberal approach. It boiled down to saying that we can spend a ton of money now, then somehow spend way less in the future. Ford has to eliminate the deficit within his four-year term.
Ford likes to talk about finding efficiencies through a line-by-line review of the budget, efficiencies that won’t cost a single job. There will be some of those, but not $6-billion worth. What’s really needed is a value-for-money audit of select government programs.
The first place to look is the $5 billion government gives businesses in the form of grants, loans and tax credits. These have already been studied five times and the most recent look at 12 programs found no proof of value.
That doesn’t mean they are worthless, but businesses are getting a tax cut. They can’t have it all. Ford has promised a modest trim. He should phase the program out. Some cuts won’t be popular. Politically, Ford needs to get the spending reduction done in two years.
Bite the bullet on power
Ford has said he will use the Hydro One rebate to reduce power bills, and transfer conservation programs to the tax side. Combined, that will cut power bills an additional 12 per cent. That’s workable, but it would be insanity to leave the Liberals’ 25-per-cent power bill reduction in place.
That will cost us $21 billion in interest if it’s left to run its 10-year course. It’s a total waste of money and it adds $2 billion to the deficit, a figure that’s rising every year. Ford needs to phase the Liberal plan out ASAP, and any adult who can do arithmetic should agree. It will mean bending an election promise, but that’s the lesser evil.
Tackle health care
It’s time for Ontarians to stop blindly defending OHIP, as if it’s the finest system in the world. We actually get underwhelming results for what we pay compared to similar systems in Europe. That’s well established. We need some new thinking.
With an aging population, Ontario can’t afford to keep doing things exactly the way we do now. Ford’s promise to add long-term care beds to reduce hospital crowding is a first step, but it’s not a plan. We need one.
Ford has some real positives, in that he has the goodwill of doctors and two MPPs with an exceptional grasp of health care: Christine Elliott and Merrilee Fullerton. Ford has to seize the moment.
Establish personal credibility
The four actions described above will help, but Ford needs to show us what kind of leader he will be. We can safely assume that Ford will never be a detailed policy guy, but he can turn that weakness into a strength, if he lets the talented and experienced people he will appoint to cabinet take real responsibility.
Canadian governments are too often run by the minions in the premier’s or prime minister’s office. Let’s go with the people we elected.
Being premier of Ontario is a big, daunting job. If his term is to be a success, Ford needs to show he’s up to it, in a hurry.