Tommy Douglas’s famous grandson says it is “offensive” for Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives to compare themselves to the social democratic icon.
Kiefer Sutherland, the film and TV star, on Monday fired off a tweet blasting Ford and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod for likening themselves to the late NDP premier of Saskatchewan, who was once named “the greatest Canadian” for creating universal health care.
“Mr. Ford, your tweet has recently come to my attention and I can only tell you that you are correct, my grandfather Tommy Douglas was fiscally responsible,” wrote Sutherland, who currently plays a U.S. president in the Toronto-filmed Netflix drama Designated Survivor.
“In addition to balancing the budget of Saskatchewan, he also provided the province with paved roads, health care and electricity. He did it all within four years. Contrary to your argument, it was never at the expense of social and human services to those in need,” he said.
“I personally find your comparison of your policies to his offensive,” the actor continued to his 500,000 Twitter followers.
“So I can only ask, as the grandson of this man, for you to stop posting his picture and using his name as part of your political agenda. After all, I knew Tommy Douglas and you, sir, are no Tommy Douglas.”
Sutherland, the son of actors Shirley Douglas and Donald Sutherland, added in a post-script that Ford is “lucky my mum’s not active on Twitter.”
His missive was a response to a June 2 tweet by Ford of an opinion piece MacLeod wrote for the Financial Post.
MacLeod’s piece argued that what the Tories are doing at Queen’s Park now is inspired by Douglas’s premiership of Saskatchewan from 1944 until 1961.
“It may seem odd that a Conservative minister from Ontario would speak so highly of the former socialist premier of Saskatchewan. And yes, we would differ on a lot of things,” the minister wrote.
“But whatever our competing views on the role of government, Tommy Douglas recognized, as few have since, that a vision is meaningless without the means to make it a reality,” she said.
“So I wonder what Tommy would make of his NDP descendants at the Ontario legislature. Not a day goes by when the slightest trace of fiscal discipline isn’t met with outrage from the opposition benches, accompanied by charges of ‘putting our children at risk’ and ‘abandoning the most needy.’”
The minister also criticized “some quarters of the news media” for “clickbait headlines about our government feature frightening language such as ‘slash,’ ‘ripping away resources’ or ‘taking the axe’ to one thing or another through ‘secret plans.’ (Like our spring budget, for example, which is about as secret as a grocery store flyer.)”
She concluded by saying “Tommy Douglas would approve” of the PC efforts to “make government work for the people again — not the other way around.”
Ford’s office was unrepentant about the analogy.
“After 15 years of waste and mismanagement Ontario was in precarious fiscal position. In plain language: we were on the brink of not being able to afford things like universal health care and education. Something had to change to protect what matters most,” said Kayla Iafelice, the premier’s press secretary.
“The facts are simple. Despite what others have said, we’ve increased funding for health care by $1.3 billion and education by $700 million,” Iafelice said Monday afternoon.
“We’re proud of our decision to balance the budget in a responsible manner, while showing compassion and protecting what matters most to real Ontarians,” she said.
For a 2004 CBC show, the broadcaster asked Canadians to vote on who the greatest citizen was. Douglas finished first, followed by Terry Fox.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie