Giving Doug Ford the Anti-Bullying Treatment

Dear Doug Ford,

As you know, today is Anti-Bullying Day, otherwise known as Pink Shirt Day. I saw your video on Twitter with you in your pink shirt, talking about how we need to stand up against bullies. (I apologize, your speech was so platitudinous that my mind wandered halfway through, both times I tried to listen to it.) Most of the people who joined in the subsequent thread have come to the same conclusion I have: we have diagnosed you, the premier of Ontario, as a bully. To honour Anti-Bullying Day, whose focus this year is “Lift each other up”, I’ve decided to treat this issue as I would a similar situation at school, and look beyond the surface. I’m gonna try to lift you up.

Photo by Peter Biesterfeld via nowtoronto.com.

First, let’s establish why we’ve given you this diagnosis.

What is bullying?

Bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”  School age aside, the power imbalance is obviously there, since you’re the premier. And I think you’d agree – even feel proud – that the behaviour is aggressive. And large numbers of Ontarians would also agree that it’s unwanted. And we know that it’s going to go on for as long as you are in office. Lots of time for significant repetitive and/or permanent damage to your victims.

Are you really a bully?

Let’s look at the behaviours. There’s your tendency toward nepotism – you want to put as many of your pals as possible into positions of power near you. It’s always easier and safer to torment others when you have your gang with you.

The same could be said of your attempts to brand the province as yours, with the gang colours of your signage and your license plates – even though, as we know, that last thing turned out to be kind of embarrassing for you because the license plates can’t be read properly. (Sometimes even bullies, surrounded by their friends, can have plans that backfire.)

Most importantly, Doug, bullies exploit the power imbalance by focusing on differences that can become insecurities. In this case, you’ve chosen social differences. And you are definitely making life less secure for lots of Ontarians. When one looks at the people you’ve chosen to victimize, the phrase “pick on someone your own size” comes to mind. Your cuts, made from the height of your throne of privilege, have negatively affected some of the most already-marginalized people in the province.

And so on and so forth. Even before you became Premier, while you were still a Toronto councillor, you opposed a home for developmentally disabled youth in you ward, saying the home had “ruined the community”, throwing in some racist language while you were at it. Honestly, what disadvantaged population have you NOT persecuted in some way? Even when you’ve backtracked on certain cuts, you’ve left more damage than repair.

This is not even getting into the ways in which you’ve harmed environmental policy and set our province back in terms of the climate emergency. Clearly, you’re not thinking about the future – not that of your children or potential grandchildren or anyone else.

The biggest thing that makes me think you’re a bully, though, is how your political career is not… politic. Now that you’ve achieved the governing of Ontario, you don’t seem to give a crap about the things that politicians ostensibly prioritize. You seem unconcerned with optics, ingratiating yourself to the public, or building a legacy of any kind. You haven’t even put true effort into improving Ontario’s budget situation – your budget is actually worse off than the Liberals’. Those are important things when it comes to reelection, so what are you trying to accomplish here? If you don’t want to improve the lives of Ontarians, and you don’t want to get reelected, what’s left?

Just damage. Just you and your posse, tearing down people and the systems that support them. The sad accomplishments of a seasoned bully.

Lots of people think this is about revenge, possibly for the way your brother Rob was treated while in the Toronto mayoral office. Whatever the reason for your behaviour, there’s widespread agreement out there that it looks petty, small-minded, and spiteful.

Whenever I interact with kids who tend to prey on kids weaker than they are, I try to find out more about them. The tougher the student, the more difficult the personality, the more crucial it is to understand who they are. As all good teachers know, the best way to give your students the care they need – and bullies, like victims, need care – is to be able to see their best sides… or at least find some empathy for them. Most of the time, it’s easy to find that empathy. It comes down to what or who has influenced the bully in question.

Why do people bully others?

Aggressive and mean behaviours in kids usually correlate with lived experiences that damaged their self-esteem. Trauma in the family is often a factor. These kids may have dealt with hostile family splits, addictions, violence, loss, food insecurity, and so on. They have, in many cases, been bullied themselves at some point. It’s widely agreed upon that bullies tend to have deep insecurities themselves, which they mask by picking on others. Oftentimes, they are imitating the actions of someone who hurt them.

I’ve been doing some research on you, Doug, to find some empathy for you. Sadly, when I looked up “good things Doug Ford has done,” the page that came up was full of articles about your cuts to important programs. Even the one called “The Top Ten Reasons – no, 115 – Doug Ford is our best premier ever!” was actually satirical. But I did find some things that allow me to see you as a person. That’s the first step.

Here’s what I came up with, mostly from Wikipedia.

  • You grew up in a four-child household, the third in line, between two brothers. That probably wasn’t easy. There may have been a lot of noogies or wedgies or wrestling or whatever – or it may have been worse. (I was also the third of four kids, but between two sisters. There’s a lot less potential for toxic masculinity between sisters, so I’m sure I had it easier.) You probably had to work hard to be you. And based on what the media saw of you and your brother Rob interacting, you were sometimes each other’s best support, and sometimes at each other’s throats. Totally normal for brothers.
  • Your dad would have had to be a special kind of role model to help his sons grow to be good men. Your parents were together, but that doesn’t tell me much. Doug Ford Sr. co-founded the business you’re now in charge of, and later on also became a politician in the provincial legislature, so I have a feeling he was very busy. Maybe not home a lot. (Which, you say, is what makes a “healthy marriage” for you and your wife.) Was he affectionate? Distant? Violent? No idea. But he was a backbench supporter of Mike Harris, so there’s evidence of a certain “screw you” philosophy.
  • When you were a teenager, you worked at a meatpacking plant, and subsequently became an ethical vegetarian. Honestly, you have all my sympathy there. Working at such a place is trauma in itself, since “meatpacking” generally means slaughterhouse, and few people emerge from such a place un-haunted. And Wikipedia says you still don’t eat red meat; good for you.
  • You finished high school, then attended Humber College for two months before dropping out. Well, there’s a big clue. Whatever your reasons were for dropping out, it now makes sense that you have such a hate on for teachers – they all have at least two post-secondary degrees! That must make your insecurities go haywire. No wonder you have to pay yourself and your staff so much, so that you can feel less inadequate.
  • You also, as a young person, asserted your power beyond your family in spite of your middle-child situation. I’ll bet it felt like quite an achievement when you managed to position yourself at the top of the neighbourhood drug-dealing hierarchy in your affluent childhood neighbourhood of Etobicoke North.
  • You’ve been bullied yourself in the media – especially fat-shaming, which is not cool. When you and Rob did your public weight-loss challenge, I’m sure that took courage. Everybody knows that losing weight is a struggle, and that eating healthfully is much easier said than done. And however anti-climactic the result, you raised a decent sum of money. Way to go.
  • There was that time you said you would donate your city councillor salary back to the community, which showed magnanimous intentions and an awareness of the needs in Toronto. I have to say, though, that it would be easier to get excited about this if there were any evidence that the donation had actually happened.
  • Your family also donated 90K to Humber River Hospital while Rob was receiving treatment there for cancer – personally motivated, but generous nonetheless.
  • You have had to grieve the deaths of both of your parents and your brother – your mom’s death particularly recently. My condolences; that’s really hard. I hope you’ve felt supported and had time to process these losses. (If you want, you can really up your cancer-avoidance game by reading The China Study. Also it couldn’t hurt to use your power to make Ontario less polluted. Just a thought.)
  • There was that time you took a bike ride in downtown Toronto with Jagmeet Singh and were a good sport about it – Singh said you were “very warm and friendly” and a “gentleman.”

So, what does all this really tell me? What can I surmise about the source of your personality and political agenda?

It’s nice to see that you’re a person. Despite all the comparisons people make between you and Donald Trump, I don’t think you’re a sociopath or a narcissist. I appreciate that your Twitter feed is much more professional and mature (and on-topic) than Donald’s. I’ll bet that if you weren’t the premier and I met you on a train abroad somewhere, we could have a very pleasant (superficial) conversation as fellow Canadians.

It seems likely to me that, as is so often the case, a lot of your behaviour is learned. I also think that you are angry, and possibly afraid. You are probably pretty stressed, given your job and especially the numbers of people dead-set against you right now.

The big question I ask my students when they are bullying others is: “Are you a mean kid?” Most of them say no. They really don’t think of themselves as such. When I say, “Do you want to hurt people?”, most of them say no. Then I have to tell them, “If you do mean things, it’s the same as being a mean person. If you don’t want to be a mean person, you have to show it with your actions.”

So, Doug, I ask you the same question. Are you a bad guy? Do you want to hurt people? Do you want that to be the legacy of your time in office? Because if not, you’re going to need to do things differently.

As a teacher, I’ve been struggling with a distinct feeling that you don’t give a crap about children, or about the people who work every day to help them grow up to be good humans. So my last question is, DO you give a crap about the future of Ontario? If you do, you have to show it with your actions. Show us that your pink shirt means something, and that it’s not just a white shirt that went in the wrong laundry pile.

***


 

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