Ontario Election 2018

Dangerous Populism Depends on Irresponsible Journalism

It's pretty simple to figure out why Doug Ford's $1 billion pledge is a non-starter, and any journalist writing about it should explore whether this promise is even feasible.

By Maureen Wilson
Published May 01, 2018

If you're a journalist, what's worse? Bad writing or irresponsible journalism?

Bad writing denotes an absence of quality, whereas irresponsibility is a failure of practice, not prose. We consumers of journalism can survive the occasional bit of bad writing. But misinformation and irresponsible reporting? No so much, especially on a repeated basis.

What appeared today in the Hamilton Spectator on the subject of Light Rail Transit (LRT) was irresponsible journalism. What's more, it's irresponsibility cloaked in a repeated style of contrarianism. But even contrarians have a duty to be responsible, informed and truthful.

This wouldn't be so bad, I suppose, if we existed in a time and place other than where we presently find ourselves. And where we find ourselves is in a world of rising populism.

The electorate has a right to vote for whomever they wish. But in so doing, I would hope that each voter goes into the booth knowing as much as possible about the consequences, intended and otherwise, of their vote.

Responsible journalism can help. In fact, this is precisely why we constitutionally protect journalists' right to practice their art in the first place.

Populism depends on irresponsible journalism. Details are schme-tails and complexity is a vice.

South of our border, Trump got a pass from America's mainstream media for two reasons. First, they didn't know how to respond to and report on the vulgarity of Trump and his in-your-face lies. Some days, they still don't. His public statements and tweets are described as "controversial" as opposed to "racist" and "bigoted".

Second, Trump was good for the news business. Lots of people watch figure skating not to see the landings but the falls. Trump's campaign was dark entertainment of bizarre proportions due to its outlandishness. Until it wasn't. Now it's a dangerous nightmare with serious implications for the rule of law, democratic institutions and norms, and even the fourth estate.

Wait, am I suggesting that Doug Ford is a populist politician pushing a populist agenda? Yes, I am.

Thus far, his campaign ticks off all the populist boxes, including an unwillingness to engage with all media outlets and to answer questions from the free press on his platform, however void of details it may be. But please note that I'm not suggesting that he's a racist or bigot.

There's an expectation among many in Ontario that Doug Ford could win the next provincial election among an electorate seething with anger. Never before has there been such a stark difference in the direction our province might take. So consumers and supporters of the free press should expect a Narnia of journalistic due diligence when it comes to covering the policy announcements of each provincial party leader.

Local newspapers could rise from the ashes of declining readership with in-depth coverage on choice and consequence and then let the voters do their rightful thing: be informed and vote.

Apparently not. In fact, one local journalist failed to fulfill the basic hallmark of journalism, even as an opinion columnist. Instead, he thought it appropriate to play along with one of Ford's announcements without sensing any responsibility to test its logic.

Let's be clear about two things. First, there is no way that Doug Ford is going to give the city of Hamilton $1 billion to spend on whatever it wants. Second, there is no shortage of need in Hamilton. To conflate one with the other is disingenuous.

Why is Doug Ford's pledge of $1 billion a non-starter? It's pretty simple and any journalist or newspaper columnist could and should explore whether this promise is even feasible. It doesn't take much to figure out it's not.

Every time one order of government (federal, provincial, municipal) enters into some kind of financial arrangement with another order of government, a precedent is set.

Handing over $1 billion in unconditional provincial tax dollars to the city of Hamilton will mean that the voters in every other municipality in Ontario should expect Premier Ford to cut a no-strings-attached cheque to them as well. This would bankrupt Ontario.

What's more, it would bankrupt Ontario without any of us being able to hold any leadership at either the municipal or provincial level accountable for how and where our tax dollars were spent.

The Premier of Ontario oversees the finances of Ontario and is in charge of chartering a future for Ontario. Funding initiatives of any size or shape must account for which provincial priorities are supported by the allocation of these resources. It's one of the hallmarks of a democracy. That's how we hold any government to account.

Over $100 million in taxpayers' money has been already been invested in Hamilton's LRT. Legal contracts have been signed.

Whether you support the construction of LRT or not is not the issue. At issue is the fiduciary responsibility of a Premier in overseeing the province's finances. And in this case, this Ford promise doesn't pass the most basic of tests. And neither does Andrew Dreschel's column.

Maureen Wilson is a member of The Useful Knowledge Society of Hamilton.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted May 01, 2018 at 18:30:26

And in this case, this Ford promise doesn't pass the most basic of tests.

So what? It is not about making sense or passing tests. Mr. Ford has promised to cut income taxes and HST by $10 billion, not cut any government spending or employees AND simultaneously balance the budget. That does not even pass the test of grade 2 arithmetic. And that failure does not matter in the slightest bit to his supporters.

Nor does Mr. Ford's promise to find $6 billion in "waste" that somehow magically eluded the Auditor General and all the government's accountants. As a professional accountant, I call that promise an insult to my intelligence. Yet again, it does not matter in the slightest to his supporters.

Mr. Ford's politics is not about "facts" or "reality." That is just so 20th century out-of-date thinking. Today's politics are about tribalism. Mr. Ford is signalling to his supporters that he is one of them. And that is what wins elections today.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted May 03, 2018 at 15:03:11 in reply to Comment 122855

Don't like Doug Ford but the Liberals wasted far more than $6 billion over the past 8 years. They are paying current accounts with borrowed money. Unsustainable.

Not one of these politicians owns the license on bull. Having participated in the past in "stakeholder" meetings at the highest of levels I can assure you that it is all smoke and mirrors. Decisions are made and then studies are done.

An independent auditor should control the accounting so that the people know the real costs of any government decision.

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