On Sunday evening at 9 p.m. I had a chance to interview Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leadership candidate Doug Ford. The interview ranged from discussing former PC leader Patrick Brown’s policy manifesto, The People’s Guarantee, to the exorbitant fees for provincial and municipal freedom of information requests to problems with the PC Party’s voting processes in nominating candidates and the new leader. Ford had just finished a long day of campaigning, wrapping up in Windsor, so his voice was a bit hoarse and the quality of the call was poor.
I had never witnessed Ford Nation firsthand before until I attended Doug Ford’s campaign kickoff for the PC leadership a month ago. Right away I noticed the populist appeal of the candidate and said as much in a CBC column, saying his detractors would be foolish to underestimate his chance of winning the race because of his appeal to the average voter, especially in the wake of Brexit and Trump.
Below is a lightly edited version of my interview with Ford, with some minor parts missing due to recording difficulties.
So before the opportunity to become Premier opened up you were set to run to try and become mayor of Toronto. In what ways would you still help improve Toronto as Premier of Ontario?
Ford: Well I’ve always said I can help the people of Toronto and the rest of Ontario. As you’re well aware, were a creature of the province, were controlled by the province as well. Transportation for the most part is controlled by the province. And I can help a lot more people across this province than by just being Mayor of Toronto.
To make up for the carbon tax being axed you said you’ll find ‘efficiencies’, and I know you’ve talked about sole-sourced contracts and things like that [before], could you get more specific on what you mean by efficiencies?
Ford: Well let’s start off with the credits we’re paying California. That $469 million right off the hop. That’s done. The Green Energy Act, that’s done. You know, that’s just over-inflated hydro costs. We’re going to review all the contracts. We’re selling electricity at a lower cost to the US than we even pay. So we’ve got a big problem. We’ve got a big problem with the wind turbines. As far as I’m concerned, that whole Green Energy Act is a big scam.
Yeah, and you said you would try and tear up some of those contracts, but it looks like they are pretty bad contracts for getting out of, and I think there are still many years left on some of those contracts–
Ford: No, well we’re going to have to review them. You know, you can’t really tell until you get in there and get your legal team to actually review them. We don’t have access to them at this point. We’re not in government. I’ll ask you, Graeme, do you think you can find four cents on the dollar in government? I’ve been across every single part of the province, every single person says ‘absolutely, more than four cents.’ But even if I want to drill down deep in my own government, in my premiership I can find four cents on the dollar. We shouldn’t be in government if we can’t find four cents in a bloated, bloated government under the Kathleen Wynne and the Liberal government. They’ve wasted so much money… And through a lean system, that balance sheet, we should be able to find savings. As a matter of fact, I know we can find savings and deliver a better service. You know, finding efficiencies doesn’t mean you cut services. The word ‘cut’ is not something I use.
So there are a lot of goodies for Ontarians in [Patrick Brown’s] People’s Guarantee. Can you tell me some of the items you would like to remove then, because you said you would get rid of about 10 per cent, do you have any specific items?
Ford: Yeah, the more I’ve looked into this Graeme, I call it the People’s Magazine. I’ve been in politics 50 years, you know, I’ll tell you I’ve never seen all these policies [inaudible]. I’ll tell you what I’m focusing on, I’m focusing on health care, and reducing wait times in hospitals, which falls under mental health and addiction as well. I think that that’s essential, take care of the people there. I [would] review the education curriculum, as well as the sex-ed curriculum. We’re going to reduce hydro rates, we’re going to get rid of the carbon tax, we’re going to reduce the cost of government. And we’re going to make sure we get rid of the carbon tax.
Okay, you’re not fixed on removing just 10 per cent then? Because there are billions of dollars in additional spending planned in the People’s Guarantee. I know you’re for smaller government, so doesn’t the document run counter to your political philosophy?
Ford: Yeah, when I first started to review it–When I first, when we were starting to review it, every single place I’ve gone and I’ve crisscrossed this province from every single town you could possibly… and I’ve been very transparent, the more I’ve looked into this, this policy program, there are a few good items in there, dental care for seniors, one right off the hop that I’m thinking about. Mental health and addiction [inaudible] that affects a lot of people. And, there are some things in there but we’re going to keep it pretty straightforward, every single talk I have, including today and yesterday, looking forward, moving forward, there’s like five key things that people want done in this province. I’ve talked to enough people to understand that they’re just fed up, they’re being gouged by their government, no matter if it’s federal, provincial or municipal government, they’ve just had enough. Enough is enough. They’re sick and tired of it, I’ve never seen anything like it. Graeme, it’s not even an election, it’s a movement, no matter what political stripe you come from, people have had it.
So do you think it’s similar then, to Brexit and what happened in the US election, that there’s a backlash to liberal politics?
Ford: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Makes me laugh, I mean the folks will say, ‘Well, we underestimated you, Doug.’ They haven’t underestimated me, they’ve underestimated the grassroots people. And then, I’ve never seen this happen. I’ve seen it happen under a municipal government with Rob in Toronto, but I’ve never seen it across the province. The closest thing you can come up with is when Bob Rae was in government and destroyed the province. And even when it was Rae he didn’t destroy it as much as Wynne destroyed it. You know, I truly believe, first of all, I guarantee, she’s done. The question is, do you want to replace her with another Liberal, with a different banner or do you want someone to go in there and challenge the political elites and the establishment who have been running all of these parties for years. And we’re gonna change that, we’ve got the grassroots people. Not about the political [inaudible] lining their pockets. Those days are done, absolutely.
So the same thing happened when your brother became Mayor and you became a Councillor, you guys were kind of anti-establishment, so I’m wondering how you deal with that political class. How do you deal with them moving forward [if you win]?
Ford: We’re gonna treat them like everyone else. The grassroots people have been ignored for years, by our party, by the Liberal Party, the NDP. When I say political elites, people misunderstand what I say. It has nothing to do with money. There are political elites in the NDP, in the Liberals, in the PC’s. They look down on the average person they think that they are smarter, they know better, they’ll tell us what to do, it’s not happening anymore. I know guys who are worth $500 million that will grab a shovel and start digging a ditch. They’re not the elites. The other people that don’t have two nickels to rub together that think they’re better than everyone else. They believe they’re smarter and stick their nose up at the average person that walks by…
So you will keep the $1.9B for the mental health system plan?
Ford: I’m going to make sure, first I have to win the leadership, and then I’m going to get as much information as we have. You see every single government, I’ll never forget when I first went into City Hall, we didn’t know how bad it was until we got there. [Inaudible] I just want to make it very, very clear. I can’t do this myself, Graeme, Rob and I didn’t do it ourselves. There was a whole team. About 40 people. I’m the first to admit that I’m going to surround myself with a lot smarter people than Doug Ford, in their areas of expertise. And listen to the experts, and listen to the people.
So the People’s Guarantee includes introducing a Trust, Integrity and Accountability Act. What do you think needs to be done to make the Ontario government more transparent and accountable because clearly there seem to be problems now.
Ford: Oh, there’s huge problems. To bring back integrity, you gotta make sure everyone’s made accountable. Holding everyone accountable, all purchasing is going online, so people can see it. I don’t care if it’s pens, pencils, toilet paper, it’s going online. Every single bid, we’re going to make sure we have at least three bidders, as we did down at City Hall. We’re gonna make sure that anyone, anyone who is caught with their hands in the cookie jar or making backroom deals, they’re done, no matter what party they’re in. And if it’s illegal, I’m getting them charged and they’ll be going to jail. I’m not messing around. We’re not having backroom deals happening anymore. We have to restore integrity. In my opinion there have been a lot of deals that have been pretty shady that I’ve seen.
Building off of that, at the federal level, access to information requests the fee is $5 and any additional processing fees are waived, but at the provincial/municipal level, I just filed one with the TDSB and it’s about $1000. Would your government look into amending the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act?
Ford: Oh absolutely. Graeme, I always thought it was always $5 at the City Hall. I’m almost positive it was. I don’t know about the board, but you know something? That’s absolutely, absolute nonsense. That’s what I mean by transparency. See I just learned something off you. So it costs $1000 for an FOI?
Isn’t that a way to keep transparency…
Ford: Oh, 100%. I’m going to make sure of that. See, I learn every day. I’m the first to admit it, I learn off of people like yourself… I need people’s help. So if we can do FOI’s, and sending information out, we’ve got a machine, a $141B machine with tens of thousands of employees and as much as we have a great team and want to keep an eye on everything, I encourage people to look into certain issues, that they might find out. Where we get our best information, Graeme, we always have, is the frontline workers that work for the current government. They call us up at City Hall, and we meet with them, you know what I mean? They get frustrated and see their supervisor pull some deal off and we’d call the auditor numerous times to find out what’s going on and that’s where we found a lot of our savings. I’m not just going to rely on our politicians, I’m gonna rely on the frontline workers that see the information, that can tell you where people are doing wrong for taxpayers.
So you would commit then to amending the provincial FOI request system?
Ford: I’d like to take a look at that and amend it, but I’d like to take a look at it before I commit anything and see the exact details. But I can commit to one thing, if it’s $1000, that’s the most incredible, ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen in my life. On the other hand, we’re going to lower it, but everything’s within reason. You can’t make it so all of a sudden you have 10,000 requests a day, something has to give as well.
Okay, so you want to have a happy medium but not have excessive costs?
Ford: We can’t have people going hog-wild, spending $10 million looking up information all day. Serious ones, yeah, absolutely.
So how much should the Ontario government be spending in government ads?
Ford: What they shouldn’t be doing is trying to promote themselves. That’s what they’re trying to do. During an election we should have a ban, on any ads, a year prior, leading into the election. The only ads that should be going on, that is something informing the public, not saying ‘I’m the greatest guy in the world’ or ‘We did this, we did that.’ And that’s what’s happening right now.
Would you cut the ad budget for what the Liberals have increased it to now?
Ford: Well I’ll take a look at it, and start changing things.
Do you know if the PC Party will remove memberships paid for by prepaid credit cards? I know that your team forwarded a complaint. That sounds quite disturbing.
Ford: Yeah you know something. Right away the alarms went off… I’m sure, Graeme, that there probably are a few people that buy a membership with a prepaid card, but when all of a sudden you have a thousand, or two thousand, you know they’re up to no good.
What was the extent of it, that you guys know of?
Ford: Well I don’t know the exact numbers but I know in the past, there’s been thousands of prepaid credit cards and it sets the alarms off. The feds caught on to it. The province [inaudible] We put a complaint in… I don’t trust anyone but the person I shave in the morning. We have to make sure that we hold everyone accountable. That starts at home. I don’t pull any punches.
Some people in your party are disillusioned by all of the things that they’re hearing. First with the nomination processes and then now with the leadership race, the problems that they’re having. They just extended the time to register for the second time. Because of all the problems they’re having [with online voting]. What would you change as PC leader in the party’s nomination and leadership voting processes to ensure that elections aren’t corrupted within the PC Party?
Ford: Very, very simple. I don’t even know what they spend on it. If they can’t even run a leadership race how do they expect to win an election? I’ve never seen more incompetence in my entire life. I want to find out what the cost is. I want to find out why they made this decision to do it. Why don’t we go to 124 ridings? What’s wrong with going with a paper ballot? It’s not expensive. We should have the presidents of each riding association there. [Maybe] we need help from the feds, the federal Conservatives, but I don’t think we should need it. Each campaign should have 124 different locations and this wouldn’t have been a problem. Graeme, I have thousands and thousands of emails and texts and calls and the vast majority of all my calls are “I didn’t receive my envelope, I didn’t receive my PIN.” For seniors who don’t have a computer, ‘I’m in a rural area, I need help.’ It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. I can assure you when I’m leader, the brains behind this, they’re going to be held accountable.
The leadership’s organizing committee says strict security measures are in place. Should PC members really believe them at this point?
Ford: I don’t believe them. I’ll tell you the reason I don’t. The whole system was in a panic a few weeks ago, right? With the technology. There’s people in there. I want to go on the record, I’m not saying that it’s happening, I want to be very clear. What would stop someone from anywhere in the world hacking the system and changing the vote.
Yeah, [Interim leader Vic] Fedeli‘s already said that some information might’ve been hacked.
Ford: Yeah. The system is so complicated. I’m the first to admit, I’m not the IT expert.
Neither am I, and I don’t think the average person is, so how can anyone feel confident in it?
Ford: [Inaudible] if you do it on your computer, you got to take a picture of your ID, take the ID, put it over on your computer, put it on a form, get it verified … they don’t have the code right. There’s a lot of the emails that have ended up in the spam or junk box. It’s just a nightmare, right across the board.
So why do you think Christine Elliott is saying she has confidence in the leadership organizing committee?
Ford: You know something, I’ll let you and the people decide on that. If she has confidence in what’s going on in the last few weeks, that’s it right there, she shouldn’t be leader. How can you fail this badly, and it’s so public and say you have confidence in this. It shows a lack of leadership right there. She hasn’t run an organization, she hasn’t run a company. She hasn’t run a government before. I’ve run government, I’ve run my own business before. That’s the reason right there.
If your team finds signs of vote tampering and you lose will you contest the result?
Ford: We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I can’t comment but I’ll tell you one thing, if thousands and thousands of paid members aren’t allowed to vote and they wanted to vote, and they didn’t get their vote in. They didn’t even mail stuff out until a couple of days ago. Now I hear a whole batch more are going out Monday. Like who’s in charge? You know who’s in charge here? I’ve never seen more incompetence in my entire life.
I’ll just finish it off with one more question. The Mainstreet poll shows you with 36.7% of the popular vote, with members, four points ahead of Elliott. However some are saying you need to win on the first ballot. What are your thoughts on that and how do you like your chances?
Ford: I mean, I feel the wind at my back, I know we have the momentum. Every place I go to, if I had longer to campaign, in my opinion they shortened the campaign on purpose. I’m a better campaigner, I’m more grassroots, there wouldn’t be a competition here, but they cut it down to a couple of weeks. My theory on that is, when you are part of the party would you not want it to expand and be larger and get more members out? You cut it down to two weeks, in my opinion, to make it more difficult for me. But in saying that, we have the momentum, compared to the other campaigns, we’re on a roll right now. I feel it everywhere we’re going. On four hours of sleep a night, we’re working our backs off. I don’t believe in polls. They may be encouraging but the only poll that counts are on Election Day. It’s whoever gets the vote out. At the end of the day, it’s up for grabs right now. And if you don’t get your vote out or if your voters are suppressed somehow, one way or another you don’t get your people out, and people don’t get the opportunity to vote, then I’m outta luck. I’ll tell you one thing, everywhere I go, people may be voting for Caroline or Christine or Tanya probably has a solid base, everywhere you go, as far as I can hear, ‘I changed my vote to you, Doug,’ after I speak to them. I talk to numerous people. ‘I’ve been an NDPer my whole life but I’m not joining the PC party, I’m joining the party to vote for you.’ ‘I’ve been a Liberal my whole life, but I’m joining.’ And people who have never joined the party ever. I’ve crisscrossed the province and I talked to the [members of the local riding] associations that show up, and they say, ‘I’ve never even seen these people before, I don’t know where they’re coming from.’ And so something’s happening, going on out there… I can’t wait to beat Kathleen Wynne, it’s going to be incredible because these days I have to hold back a bit because it’s hard to go after your own team members, it’s hard to go after people who you’ve known for years, but with Kathleen Wynne, the gloves are coming off. Let me rephrase that, the political gloves are coming off. Because they’ll end up spinning that one too.