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Crises make for strange political bedfellows

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premier Ford and PM Trudeau

Ontario Premier Doug Ford with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo: CP24

In the last few weeks, an understandable, yet strange, crossing of political divides has more and more frequently appeared in Canadian politics. This has taken the form of partisans on both sides of the political aisle handing out praise to otherwise mortal political enemies.

One of the more notable articles to have appeared came from TVOntario flagbearer Steve Paikin. Paikin is known in political circles as one of the fairest interviewers in Canadian media, typically wading into debates on his show only to shore up the losing or most unrepresented side – whether that be left or right. But it’s also known that he leans a little left and is more sympathetic to the province’s Liberal and NDP parties.

Paikin penned an article last week for TVO entitled, “The biggest political surprise of the COVID-19 crisis? Doug Ford”. His article asked, “Quick now: Which politician has impressed or surprised you the most with their competence and leadership during the COVID-19 crisis?” “I think this one’s a slam dunk, actually. The answer is Doug Ford.”

Paikin continued, “…Ford has never tried to downplay the significance of the crisis…Instead, Ford has taken to the podium every day during the crisis and conveyed deep empathy for the public he serves….He also declined to take any partisan potshots at this time. In his speech in the legislature earlier today, he noted that this was no time to talk about ‘the blue party, the red party, the orange party, or the green party. It’s about coming together. We’re all Team Ontario and Team Canada’.”

A few days later, long-time Toronto Star columnist Bob Hepburn wrote an article entitled, “Surprise. Doug Ford is Performing Well.”

In the article, Hepburn says Ford – in his press conference declaring an Ontario state of emergency –  “…looked like – and acted like – a real leader.”

While the article was peppered with what Hepburn thought were Ford’s previous shortcomings, he was forced to admit, “Ford was decisive and looked to be in charge, considerate, compassionate, understanding of the issues and the consequences.”

“Ford appears to be trying his best to deal with a tough situation. He’s been calling business leaders to solicit their views on how to proceed. He’s listening to the advice from health-care experts. He’s met with the Ontario’s other political party leaders. He’s come across as reasonable, going so far as to praise Ottawa lately for its handling of the crisis after initially criticizing the Trudeau government for not doing enough”.

Even on social media you can find frequent cross-the-aisle praise for Ford. For instance, OPSEU union President Smokey Thomas said, “I always give praise where praise is due, and yesterday the Premier spoke and acted like a leader. He put aside partisan politics, stepped up to the plate and worked with political leaders of all stripes to find ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

In addition, after Ford’s state of emergency declaration, ETFO President Sam Hammond tweeted, “Another sound, timely, decision by this government.”

It should be noted that Ford himself has led this reach out across the aisle. Paikin noted that Ford has frequently praised his federal counterparts, saying about Chrystia Freeland, “I’m a big fan.” Ford also showed support for Prime Minister Trudeau, tweeting, “The measures PMJT announced today are important steps to help keep our economy and people strong.” Before later saying, “Thank you to Justin Trudeau for closing the Canadian border to all visitors. This is an important step in protection Canadians and combatting the spread of COVID19.”

It was also noted that in a press conference, the often at war with mainstream media Ford offered is typical adversaries praise saying, “I want to thank the media. You’re playing a massive role in helping us out…There are a lot of great articles in the Toronto Star.”

Ford has actually always shown a talent for knowing when to be highly partisan and when to be magnanimous. His opponents should recognize that by now.

Clearly this spate of ‘reaching out’ from so many who are normally sworn political enemies is attributable to the current, unparalleled healthcare crisis. Prior to it, our world had become enveloped in hyper-partisan vitriol, aided and abetted by the relatively new phenomenon of social media, replete with its courage magnifying veil of anonymity. But it shows that humanity can pull together no matter its differences, political or otherwise.

Our best and brightest minds are working tirelessly to develop potential treatments and a vaccine for COVID-19. Modern medicine will, as it almost always does, temper calamity. “And then when that’s done”, as Leader of the Official Opposition Andrew Scheer recently commented, “we can resume the battle of ideas and the philosophical differences.”

premier Ford and PM Trudeau

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