Doug Ford steals a page from Stephen Harper on control - 2018-07-04
For all his populist talk about being "For the People," Doug Ford is proving in his very first days in office as Ontario premier that he's really all about seizing power and control for himself. Indeed, in a series of revealing moves, Ford has shown he intends to copy the controversial path taken by former prime minister Stephen Harper by placing total control over all aspects of his government — from staff appointments to media contacts — in his own central office.
So far, Ford has decreed that his office will appoint chiefs of staff for all cabinet ministers, will hire top aides such as legislative affairs assistants and press secretaries for ministers, will provide no daily schedule of his meetings and will censor access by cabinet ministers, backbench MPPs and government employees to journalists. These are all moves that could ultimately infuriate top ministers in Ford's new cabinet and frustrate public servants trying to carry out their normal duties, just as happened in Ottawa during Harper's contentious term in power. Ford's drive to ensure complete "command-and-control" is held by a small group within his own office follows the practice he installed during the election. At that time, many Conservative candidates were ordered not to attend all-party debates and to refuse all media interviews until approved by the central campaign office, which rarely happened.
Clearly, Ford doesn't care if his actions upset his own party members. As he told one candidate during the election, he feels he owes nothing to anyone because he won the Tory leadership on his own and without any help from the Tory party establishment. During the Ontario election, Ford's campaign team was stacked with former Harper staff heavyweights, including campaign manager Kory Teneycke, communications director Melissa Lantsman and field operations director Fred DeLorey. Jenni Byrne, another former Harperite who also worked on the campaign, is Ford's new principal secretary. She will oversee the strict approach on central control. It's a role that apparently suits her. As Harper's deputy chief of staff, Byrne helped enforce the culture of fear that permeated the Harper government. In 2015, the Globe and Mail branded her as "Harper's enforcer" and described her as "the most powerful woman in Ottawa." In Ottawa, Harper implemented a tough communications regime that muzzled scientists, blocked bureaucrats from organizing or speaking at public events and often barred elected Tory MPs from speaking to journalists. Even veteran cabinet ministers had to suffer the humiliation of having to get approval from a 20-something press assistant selected by Harper's office before they could speak to a reporter about a policy issue in their own area of responsibility.