Right out of the gate, let’s be clear about something: Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s tears don’t mean a thing.

Ford’s crying act at today’s press conference streamed from his late-mother’s backyard — which hilariously cut out part way through — was a show. A bit of theatre where a man in too deep, too wedded to his own dim ideas about governing, and too arrogant and stubborn to change course, made a show of emotion. Woe is Doug? Fuck Doug.

Ford said his government would be coming out with a sick leave program to supplement the federal one. Sure, fine. He had no details, though plenty of superlatives, and gave no timeline. Believe it when you see it, but not a moment before.

He did make one thing clear, though. His government’s refusal to do anything to protect workers was deliberate. He made the choice to get workers sick, to expose their families to illness and to pour gasoline on the raging COVID-19 inferno in his province.

When asked why his government had cut sick leave in the first place, and why they hadn’t reinstated it once it was clear it was necessary, Ford was clear: “I just don’t believe in hurting the businesses more than they’ve already been hurt.”

There’s little that needs to be added to that point.

But you can see how the whole spectacle of Ford’s press conference was cover for not doing anything at all. It started off with an apology of sorts. Not an apology for letting things get too out of control, but an apology for moving “too fast.” 

Doug was sorry for making people mad at him. Sorry for a bunch of police forces embarrassing him publicly, by tepidly claiming they’d turn down (some of) their new jackbooted powers. Sorry that things had come to a point where he has lost control, and been seen to have lost control.

Doug was feeling sorry for himself, in other words.

He was sorry for crying, sorry for working too hard — “I’m going more than 18 hours a day, every day, seven days a week. I’m not gonna stop” — sorry for not being a tough stoic man-guy. Some will no doubt buy this schtick. 

But does this sound like a guy with whom the buck stops, as he repeatedly claimed? Forgive me, I’m going to quote Ford at length here, but I think it’s revealing:

“And you know something to say that — that I’m the reason there’s a third wave around the world, because it is around the world — to say that I’m responsible for not securing our borders that brought these variants and caused the third wave. To say that I’m responsible for not having enough vaccines, that we wouldn’t be in this position. If we had tightened our borders, if we had ample vaccines, like countries around the world. We wouldn’t be in this position right now.”

That’s not a guy who is taking personal responsibility for his failures. That’s not the words of someone who means what they say, when they “sincerely apologize.”

It’s all part of a show, a one-act play where the leader goes through the motions of contrition, who lets his voice crack and a few tears run, so the cameras can record the moment and he can give off a false aura of caring.

Ford’s half-assed breakdown is emblematic of so much of the theatre of his pandemic response.

Last week, when he announced a whole suite of measures, they seemed draconian and senseless for a reason. No one even seems to know whose idea it was to close playgrounds or formally turn Ontario into a police state. In a CBC story that was published hours before Ford’s press conference, plenty of finger pointing goes on, but one thing becomes clear: they did what they did to be seen doing something. It didn’t have to be good, it didn’t have to make sense, it just had to be something.

“Various sources close to the government say the decisions came amid panic over the latest modelling for the pandemic and fears that Ford’s approval among voters would suffer badly if he was not seen to be taking action,” CBC reported.

And that’s how we ended up with Ford standing in a backyard spewing nonsense and playacting apologia. It was a show for us all, just another scene in the ongoing saga of Ford’s leader-man gong show. There was nothing to it, no new measures, no concrete timelines, no actual point. It was theatre. All that we got was a brief look behind the curtain. Of Ford letting out his inner thoughts. 

When choices were put in front of him to do something to blunt the first wave, he chose not to. “I don’t believe in putting the burden on the backs of businesses throughout this pandemic,” Ford said of the decision.

And that is the core of Ford’s pandemic response. When forced to choose between businesses and workers, Ford has always chosen businesses.

As hospitals fill up, as the healthcare system breaks down, as Ontarians die, that is what we’re left with. Doug Ford had a choice, and he chose death for his people.

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