Doug Ford: The Heart Of Resilient Leadership

Leadership during a pandemic requires a set of skills that fosters collaboration, connectedness and out-of-the-box thinking.

What is the real definition of effective leadership? Is it merely about leading a group of people? Is it connected to seniority or one’s position within the hierarchy of a company? Or is it much more definitive and intricate than simply being the figurehead of a corporation?

Francoise Morissette, facilitator at Queen’s University IRC and coauthor with Amal Henein of Made in Canada Leadership: Wisdom from the Nation’s Best and Brightest on the Art and Practice of Leadership (2012, John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.), believes that leadership is best captured under the LEADS framework, a leadership model created by the health-care sector. The competencies under LEADS are: lead self; engage others; achieve results; develop coalition; and systems transformation. “There is a different skill set needed, however, for a leader who governs during a crisis,” Morissette says. “In normal times, leaders just go up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: they seek self-actualization and how to be the best that they can be. But during a crisis or a war or a pandemic, people go right to the bottom, to the physiological level. They are worried about their safety, their finances and about dying. So the type of leadership that works best during a crisis is a leadership that will answer those needs,” she says. “People need a leader who will calm them, assure them that they will be taken care of, that they will feel safe again. A leader at this bottom level has to be compassionate and oriented toward helping people. The army general types don’t work at this level. The second part of this equation encompasses the ability of this leader to work with people, citizens and advocacy groups to create solutions that will work. It is not about doing things to people, but rather, working with them.”

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Morissette’s philosophy on crisis leadership is congruent with what history has shown us; namely, strong and effective leaders are most often defined by their response to crises. If we were to look at the collective and shared attributes of some of history’s greatest leaders, such as Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte and Winston Churchill, and compare them to the people who are leading us forward and through this COVID-19 pandemic, in particular Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, we would see some comparative similarities and traits to these aforementioned historical figures. (Gaius) Julius Caesar, a Roman general, statesman and dictator (46–44 BCE), is historically one of the world’s greatest leaders. A change agent for governmental and social reforms, including the creation of the Julian calendar, Caesar’s leadership skills were definitively effective and certainly displayed proficiencies worth emulating. Interestingly, Premier Ford’s leadership and savviness reflect some of Caesar’s leadership adroitness: a personal and overriding connection with his soldiers, and in Ford’s case, it’s with Ontarians; effective communication skills; a commitment to sharing information on the battlefield, specifically for Ford, the novel coronavirus battlefield; a willingness to take personal responsibility and perform in-the-trenches tasks, and in Ford’s case, it’s the pickup and delivery of masks and the much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE) to medical personnel. The family name Caesar was a title known to signify a ruler who was in some sense uniquely supreme or paramount.1 The Ford name is also known for its uniqueness on the political landscape, albeit tempestuous and hard-hitting. Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto from 2010–14, was the crown prince of Ford Nation, a populist movement that began in his home riding of Etobicoke, Ont. His problems of substance abuse made headlines around the world and sidelined his political career. Doug Ford, Rob’s older brother, was viewed as bombastic and overbearing in his first year in office, but his leadership during COVID-19 has inspired a great majority of Ontarians, who have thrown their support behind him.

Rod Walker, a resident of Etobicoke, says, “Doug seemed like the gunslinger type in his first year in office, but my perception of him changed when the virus hit. Now, Doug seems to be transparent with the information that he is providing and he seems authentic; I am impressed with that part of his leadership.” Says Walker: “What also impressed me was when medical personnel and institutions were short on PPE, Doug took his own truck and went out and picked up those supplies and delivered them to the places that needed them. He doesn’t just talk about things; he actions them. He has taken direct aim at the long-term care nursing home problem and is taking significant steps to clean the issue up. People applaud him for that; they want action and they want things fixed.”

One of my favourite quotes from Winston Churchill is, ‘When you are going through hell, keep going’ — Doug Ford

Like Caesar, Ford has been front and centre during this pandemic, with his passionate and straight-to-the-heart oratory. His daily communication epistles and his sharing of the latest stats, information and testing quotas leave no one guessing as to which side of the fence the premier is on. Ford’s empathy and, in the case of situations such as the nursing home scandal, his “this-will-not- go-on-any-longer” oratory has been laced with personal tears.

Napoleon Bonaparte, who crowned himself Emperor of the French (from 1804–15), was known as one of the world’s most brilliant military leaders. Some of his celebrated leadership attributes can be equated with Ford’s methodology. Bonaparte liked to aim high, which is certainly something Ford also likes to do. In January 2018, Ford gave up his bid to run for mayor of Toronto in favour of pursuing the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. Ford, like Bonaparte, knows how to avail himself of outside sources and experts. Nowhere is this more evident than at his daily press conferences, when he defers to the minister of health, the minister of education or whoever is best qualified to answer the posited question. Bonaparte was a master at defying expectations, and Ford has certainly used this skill to his advantage. With an overall approval rating of only 29 per cent in 2019, Ford’s approval rating soared to 76 per cent in a May 2020 poll.

A brilliant and masterful leader in more contemporary times was Winston Churchill, the prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1940–45 and again from 1951–55. His masterful oratory and his powerful aura held the British people together during some of the darkest hours of the Second World War. Highly eccentric — Churchill took meetings from his bed and received heads of states from his bathtub — Churchill demanded respect by his passion, confidence and overriding belief that Britain and its allies would conquer. Interestingly, Ford, who is a self-proclaimed history buff , holds great admiration for Churchill as a leader. “One of my favourite quotes from Winston Churchill is, ‘When you are going through hell, keep going,’” Ford says.

And while the war on the novel coronavirus is based not on ideology, but rather on an overriding, deadly and stunningly infectious virus, the death toll has been devastating. In the United States alone, the novel coronavirus has killed more people — 130,000, as of July 2, 2020 — than the Vietnam War (58,220).

“I am not comparing what we are going through now with WWII, but we are at war with this pandemic; it is an enemy that we can’t see,” Ford says. “Just as there was a ramp up in the Second World War, and production lines were switched over to start making equipment for the cause, the exact same thing has been happening here in Ontario and across the country with this pandemic. A great many people have been jumping in and helping out in this fight against COVID-19, making and delivering meals for the vulnerable and at-risk people.”

The new political landscape that has emerged as a result of COVID-19 is a seismic shift from that of pre-COVID-19 governance, when politicians were singularly partisan, question periods in both the House of Commons and Queen’s Park were raucous and divisive, and there was a lot of soapbox stumping. Politicians fought for causes important to their communities — and to their own political careers.

In Ontario, Toronto in particular, growth before COVID-19 was exponential, with office buildings going up in every available square metre of downtown space. Homes and condos were selling well over asking prices, and people were free to frolic around town mask-less and crunched together in retail shops and grocery stores. Travel to southern destinations was brisk, as was the Canada-United States border crossings: pre-pandemic, more than 400,000 people crossed the border on a daily basis.

But that all changed in what seems like a nanosecond, as news of the highly infectious novel coronavirus blanketed every imaginable media outlet, virtually locking down all of our lives as we knew it. Messages abounded from both provincial and federal officers of health, ministries of health, city mayors, our premier and our prime minister. What started out as assurances that everything was fine — that everything was contained — quickly evolved into a pandemic lockdown.

Words and phrases, such as “unprecedented, extraordinary, social distancing, financial assistance through programs such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and vigorous hand washing,” have become everyday vocabulary. Long-standing events, such as Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), were cancelled. The recent cancelling of the CNE has happened only twice in its 142-year history, with the last time being during the Second World War.

These have been not only concerning times, but also scary times, ones that on an individual basis, as well as on a national basis, demand credible, transparent, inspiring leaders who the public can look to as a source of leadership, reassurance and personal connection. For Ontarians, Ford and Trudeau have been our main go-to leaders.

Both of them have had to make some extremely difficult and unpopular decisions, especially as they relate to the self-isolating at-home restrictions over significant time periods. It takes stellar leadership to convince people and get their buy-in around adopting measures and changes that are uncomfortable, restrictive and not particularly enjoyable.

“The hardest decision that I have had to make since taking office was telling Ontarians that the province had to shut down for an indeterminate period of time,” says Ford. “But it was the best decision for the people of Ontario.”

Pre-COVID-19, the blustery and highly unpopular Ford was experiencing a heavy dose of social-distancing from Andrew Scheer, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, during his run to become Canada’s prime minister in the 2019 elections. At that time, Ford’s approval rating stood at 20 per cent, with a 69 per cent disapproval rating and 11 per cent having no opinion, resulting in an overall rating of -49.

But according to a May 2020 survey conducted by Campaign Research, which polled 2,007 people across Canada using Maru/Blue’s online panel, Ford’s approval rating soared to 76 per cent, with a 17 per cent disapproval rating and with seven per cent unsure. In less than a year, Ford’s overall rating has gone from -49 per cent to +59 per cent — a stunning accomplishment that reflects Ford’s connection with the “little people.”

“A leader has to listen to the people and surround themselves with smarter people than themselves, people who have expertise in specific fields. My expertise is the economy,” Ford says. “Before this pandemic, our province was on fire. We were leading North America in economic development and job creation,” he says. “Our biggest issue pre-pandemic was that we were short 250,000 people to fill the jobs that companies required, and we are going to get back to that point. We have always been the engine of Canada, and we will continue being the engine of Canada to drive that forward. We are going to get the economy booming again.”

Trudeau is also enjoying a surge in the popularity polls (as at May 2020), with a 65 per cent approval rating (more than double what his approval rating of 31 per cent was in October 2019), 30 per cent disapproving and five per cent unsure. His May 2020 net overall approval rating was +35, an increase of 58 over last October, when it was -23.

“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has performed outstandingly; his skills are an ideal fit for such a crisis,” says Morissette. “He has a high EQ — emotional intelligence — which is his best strength; he can relate to people. His approach is inclusive, and his government has shown strong stewardship. In a pandemic, what people want is a leader with a high EQ,” she says. “I think that Ford can get emotional when he is personally touched, but I don’t think he has the ability to relate emotionally to groups of people that he cannot relate to. Trudeau can relate to any group, even if he has nothing in common with them.”

Doug Ford will be persistently combative. Doug is a brawler who won the fight. The other side can try to swing back — and he’ll be delighted if they do, so he has a reason to flatten them again — John Filion

Interestingly, in a May 2020 poll conducted by Ipsos for Global News, it was found that “more Canadians still approve of the way their provincial premiers are responding to COVID-19 than the way Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been handling the crisis.”

So, what are the accountabilities that have effected such a huge growth in popularity for both the premier and the prime minister? Ford’s complete lack of partisanship has been a definite factor. He has been widely quoted for his rallying cry on the floor of the legislature: “There’s no blue party or red party or orange party or green party. There’s just Team Ontario and Team Canada.”

If one were to parse the premier’s behaviour into what he was like pre-pandemic and what his behaviour is like now, as we wind our way through the many challenges related to COVID-19, we would see a prodigious shift in both his overall approach and demeanour. Before the pandemic, Ford was seen as a take-no-prisoners, overbearing politician, one with questionable credibility and transparency — think “plate gate” and the Dean French patronage scandal. A guy who loved confrontations, especially with media types, Ford was basically a steamroller in a sandbox.

John Filion, Toronto city councillor for Ward 18 Willowdale and the author of The Only Average Guy: Inside the Uncommon World of Rob Ford (2015, Random House Canada), who knows both the Ford brothers, Rob and Doug, concurs. In fact, right after the 2018 provincial election, Filion sent out a series of 10 tweets, predicting what he thought Doug would do in his first year of office. Among those predictions, Filion tweeted: “Doug Ford will be persistently combative. Doug is a brawler who won the fight. The other side can try to swing back — and he’ll be delighted if they do, so he has a reason to flatten them again.” In another of the tweets, Filion stated: “Doug Ford will be deliberately divisive; he’ll want to keep his supporters cheering and the other side booing. That’s all part of the show.” And interestingly, in another of the post-election tweets, Filion talks about Doug’s relationship with the media and, in particular, The Toronto Star, with which the Ford brothers have had a long and cantankerous relationship. “Expect Doug Ford’s Trump-like attacks on mainstream media. He’ll use friendly media, his own media, and rallies ‘for the people.’ The Star, Globe and CBC will be characterized as elite establishment who will do anything to stop him from helping people.”

And while Filion says that Ford did every one of the things that he predicted in his first year as premier, Ford’s behaviour, actions and reactions have changed noticeably. “Doug is being very unpartisan, which is very unlike him not to be baited by the opposition and not slamming them back. He has been very measured in that way, which is not what I would have expected from him at all.”

Interestingly, Ford’s roller-coaster relationship with The Toronto Star has also changed dramatically. On March 19 of this year, Ford said: “I want to thank the media. You’re playing a massive role in helping us out.” And in a complete 360, Ford also said, “Th ere are a lot of great articles in The Toronto Star.”

I am proud of both the way the premier has conducted himself during this pandemic, as well as how Canadians have
responded towards each other during the crisis — Stephen Lecce

Factors that have made the public cotton to Ford include his folksy communication style, which both Doug and Rob have always had. “It is very effective, especially when everyone else is reading from script and being cautious in what they say,” Filion states. “People like that; Doug sounds like someone who is very approachable and speaks your language. People have always liked that in politicians.

Filion says that while the prime minister is an effective communicator, he reads from a script, which is not quite as effective as speaking sans script. “I would give Doug higher marks than the prime minister for communication, but I would give the prime minister higher marks for actual performance. He has assembled a real crackerjack team and he has led effectively. I can’t think of too many screw-ups at his level.”

Over the last many weeks and months, Ford has won over both non-Ford Nation supporters as well as political foes with his down-to-earth approach, his transparency around the seriousness of the novel coronavirus, his evident empathy — especially as it relates to the horrific conditions in Ontario’s nursing homes — and his ability to connect with the populace. Who else could charm millions of people in involuntary lockdown with his self-deprecating video of himself making his “famous” cherry cheesecake? Wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with, all in lowercased text, we are all in this together is irresistible. As was his taking a bite of said cheesecake and poking fun at himself with the comments: “If I wasn’t premier, I’d open a cheesecake factory,” and, “You can tell I’ve eaten one too many cheesecakes.” It takes a certain kind of personality to pull off that kind of kibitzing, especially during an overriding pandemic. But Ford’s ability to both calm and nurture the greater majority of Ontarians has been a real game-changer for him — and also for Ontarians.

Trudeau’s demeanour, on the other hand, feels somewhat scripted and formal. And while Canadians respect his forthrightness and no-holds-barred approach, Trudeau doesn’t seem to exude the same personal connectedness as Ford.

“It couldn’t have been easy for a business-minded guy like Ford to shut down the economy,” says Anthony Greco, owner of Concord Food Centre in Thornhill, Ont. “But Doug was very strict about getting ahead of this thing. He is a person of the people. He put protocols and programs in place and kept people informed.”

Trudeau does not fare as well, according to Greco, who thinks that the programs that the federal government is putting in place are not going to accomplish what they were meant to do. “I am indifferent to him [Trudeau],” Greco says. “While putting a lot of money behind average people is good, there are certain programs that I don’t agree with. For instance, the 10 days of paid sick leave, which is virtually paying people to stay home. What are businesses who have been closed during this pandemic and are now trying to ramp up going to do, as people are going to take those sick days. The intention is there, but I don’t think the program is going to do what it is supposed to do.”

The construction industry in Ontario was also in line to take a major financial hit, one that would most likely have tallied in the hundreds of millions of dollars initially. However, on May 20, 2020, several competencies within the construction sector were deemed essential, including construction activities or projects and related services that support construction activities or projects, such as demolition services.

“Just like everyone else who has gone through COVID-19, this pandemic has put a hold on production. We were fortunate that we had some projects that were deemed essential (about 60 per cent of our business), so that carried us through,” says Domenic Arcuri, co-owner with David Petrozza and John Caira of PAC Building Group, whose client base includes industrial, commercial, residential, multi-residential and condominium boards, as well as municipal townships and school boards.

“The six project managers who were working on projects that had to be put on hold were laid off temporarily, but the situation was short lived, with the group being called back to work on ongoing projects,” says Petrozza. “Our administration staff remained onboard throughout, dealing with the projects that were still running.”

“We are fortunate that we have a good group of clients that have actually increased their tendering and have brought more projects to the forefront in order to help out all of their vendors. It is definitely going to affect our business, but we do not feel that we will experience the same impact as others,” says Arcuri. “Overall, we feel that the Ford government has done a great job in terms of relaying information and keeping everyone updated on shutdowns and restrictions. It was obviously disappointing that many of our projects had to be cancelled during to the lockdown, but we definitely agree that public safety and everyone’s well-being are key,” he says. “Of course, looking back, everyone can make comments on missteps, things that could have been done better — the initial testing numbers, for instance, but overall, I think that Ford did a great job.”

“I think that the prime minister has done a pretty good job navigating through the situation. I think he was more proactive than other country’s leaders,” Petrozza concurs. “Although I may not be a Liberal supporter myself, I think Trudeau has done a good job.” And while Ford and Trudeau’s leadership styles are noticeably different, both in demeanour as well as approach, there are some things that they share in common. In March, Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19. In April, Ford’s mother-in-law also tested positive for COVID-19, an announcement that Ford made while struggling to hold back his tears.

And while Trudeau was obviously deeply saddened by the horrendous condition in Ontario’s nursing homes, Ford again faced the spotlight with tears shining in his eyes.

Both leaders have also had their fill of people breaking the social-distancing restrictions, with Trudeau declaring that “Enough is enough,” and Ford lambasting the offenders with a stern, “Get your act together; if you won’t do it, we will do it.”

But there is another theme that has been running through all of our leaders’ messages, and that is a one-for-all accord on the far-reaching financial assistance programs, the pandemic restrictions and the overall collaborative messaging. At a time when it could have been political mayhem (think of the situation south of the border), the message is clear: “We are all in this together — partisanship be damned.” The usual sniping that defines political differences is nonexistent. In fact, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland — who targeted Ford on a daily basis during the 2019 federal election campaign — now calls Ford her “therapist.” As Freeland stated in an April Toronto Star interview: “He and I have actually come to describe one another as each other’s therapists.” And, she says, “some of the daily struggles that we go through are quite similar, and so sometimes when we talk, we’ll just say, ‘This is our therapy session.’” Amazingly, the once pretentious Ford agrees.

Like him or not, Ford’s leadership, his empathy and his ability to connect and inspire trust have, by all accounts, earned not just Ontarians’ respect, but also that of party members and political adversaries.

“I am proud of both the way the premier has conducted himself during this pandemic, as well as how Canadians have responded towards each other during the crisis,” says Stephen Lecce, minister of education and MPP for King-Vaughan, Ont. “The everyday acts of citizens, their willingness to do extraordinary and courageous acts, is a currency that you can’t quantify, but it exists in every Canadian. Around Canada Day, I think we need to reflect on our citizenship and what it means to be Canadian,” he says. “To look around the world and see the challenges and darkness — we are the light in so many respects. It is the people, it is their courage, it is their strength, it is their service and their hearts that make this country so incredibly unique, special and worth sacrificing for.”

While the Conservatives and Liberals do not share the same political and philosophical ideologies, Lecce concedes that during times like the COVID-19 crisis, it is important to work together. “In these very difficult moments, people shouldn’t have to deal with politics, health and economic challenges, along with their personal circumstances. We need politicians and civil servants to work together for the common good,” he says. “Collaboration is critical.”

Maurizio Bevilacqua, mayor of Vaughan, is also proud of how Ontarians and the citizens of Vaughan have dealt with the many challenges and restrictions around COVID-19. “I find that the citizens of Vaughan are very compassionate people who understand that we are in this together,” Bevilacqua says. “That if we pull our resources together and focus on the end goal that is to come out of COVID-19, we will be even stronger. There is a spirit of generosity, not just in financial terms, but in volunteering, giving of oneself to the greater cause, participating in various activities and also showing an incredible gratitude to front-line workers, medical staff, truck drivers, employees at grocery stores — all of those people who are giving of themselves when everyone else is being told to stay home. There is a high-frequency energy, which is defined by love, compassion, understanding and a willingness to be there for each other.”

Political leaders who stand out for Bevilacqua during this pandemic include both the premier and the prime minster. “I think Premier Ford has done well. He has grown as an individual during this pandemic. I think both the prime minister, as well as Chrystia Freeland, have done a good job. Generally speaking, governments and their leaders have responded quite well to the crisis; although, I am sure afterward there will be reports on how everyone could have done things better. But when you compare Canada to the rest of the world in its response, I think that we stand out as a country,” he says. “The central role of government has actually highlighted the important role it plays in society. No one else but government could have responded in this manner. It would have been hard for the private sector by itself to have responded; it would have been difficult for NGOs [non-governmental organizations] to respond.”

A critical sector that needs strong definitive leadership is centred on the education, well-being and future of our children. The impact around their ability to learn and the effect of not being able to socialize with friends and with teachers — critical at so many stages of a child’s development — has fostered a great deal of concern around mental health issues, loneliness, isolation and what the future of graduates will be. The whole processes around students going back to school in September, the concerns around the spread of the novel coronavirus and what the classroom experience will look like come the fall are all significant issues that need to be addressed and effected by a strong leadership team.

“We were one of the first provinces in the country, one of the first jurisdictions in the industrialized world, to close schools,” Lecce says. “Doug’s whole mantra through this challenge has been to keep people safe, to do whatever it takes using extraordinary power to keep our seniors and our families and our kids safe.”

I find that the citizens of Vaughan are very compassionate people who understand that we are in this together — Maurizio Bevilacqua

A front-and-centre issue that is requiring strong leadership and firm oratory from both the premier and the prime minister relative to keeping people safe is the plight and vulnerability of the migrant workers who come to Ontario on a yearly basis to help harvest farmers’ fields. Approximately 20,000 workers come to Ontario on a seasonal basis from as far away as the Caribbean, Guatemala and Mexico. The requisite 14 days of self-isolation was mandated for these migrant workers when they came to the province this year.

Bunkhouse accommodations are the norm for migrant workers, and it is believed that this living in close quarters has been a key reason why the virus has been spreading so quickly among these workers. On June 1, it was reported that 164 migrant workers at a farm in Norfolk County, Ont., had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. In mid-June, the premier pleaded with farmers to get their migrant workers tested, but by June 23, his plea had taken on a new harder tone — one that demanded, rather than asked for, farmers to comply with the strict protocols that had been put in place by both the provincial and federal governments.

Ford has stated that some farmers are not co-operating with the implementation of the safety measures put in place to protect the migrant workers, which include testing for the virus, and as a result, he will go to the extreme to protect these workers. He also indicated that those farmers who do not comply with the recommended government protocols will be hit with huge fines. “We’ll give it another shot,’ Ford has said. “I’ll go to the extreme, whatever tool I have, to protect the people of Windsor and the food supply chain and the farmers and the workers.”

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit said on June 22 that 31 of the region’s 32 new cases came from the agricultural sector.2

Trudeau has also lent his voice to the vulnerability of migrant workers, acknowledging the three workers who have died from COVID-19. “Anyone doing work, let alone essential work as part of our food chain, needs to feel protected,” Trudeau has said. “Obviously, in the case of these three tragic deaths, that wasn’t the case. We are ensuring that changes are made and that there will be consequences.”2

A sector that has been particularly hard hit during this pandemic is the hospitality industry. Peter Eliopoulos, CEO of By Peter and Paul’s Event Catering, says that it has been quite difficult, especially on the financial front, these past few months. “The worst part of it is, we had just come out of our slowest season, which is January to March,” Eliopoulos says. “But we were preparing for a big season — a humongous year. But once the pandemic hit, we had to deal with so many challenges. We had to deal with brides and grooms, and I feel for them. It is their special day, and they can’t have their wedding. It is devastating,” he says. “We had to deal with our staff. I will never forget the day this thing hit, and we were shutting down. I had a Zoom call with all of the staff. First of all, they were scared about what was going to happen and if they were going to have a job. We are a big company of over 1,100 people, and I had to lay most of them off,” says Eliopoulos. “I worry about them — people have mortgages and bills to pay. We now have approximately 50 people on payroll, who are on the management team. They have to talk to people, both corporately as well as on a personal basis, for weddings and parties. It is devastating.”

One of the COVID-19 government assistance programs that Eliopoulos’s company is able to take advantage of for approximately one-third of his businesses (only) is the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program. Under the CECRA program, the government will pay 50 per cent of the $50,000 monthly rent, the landlord forgives 25 per cent of the rent and the company pays the other 25 per cent. “But if we are not open for business, how are we supposed to get the money to pay for that 25 per cent?” Eliopoulos asks.

Another service sector that people have missed tremendously, especially on a personal basis, is the hairdressing salons and spas. In fact, the premier even lamented the lack of the haircutting segment by publicly comparing his look to that of a sheepdog.

“The shutdown has affected our business drastically. We weren’t functioning for about three months,” says Manny Molina, manager of Fiorio Hair Salon’s Vaughan location. “We are a service business, so not being able to service customers was a huge hit in our industry.”

And while Molina identifies some critical missteps on the part of the Ford government, including how it handled travellers arriving at the Toronto Pearson International Airport, as well as its handling of the novel coronavirus in long-term care homes, overall, he thinks that the premier has done a good job. “As a city and as a country, we are doing a lot better than the rest of the world,” Molina says. “The measures that the premier implemented to control the virus and to make sure that everyone was safe were good. I was disappointed, however, in how he handled the longterm care issue. Once his government realized the severe impact of the virus on the elderly, he should have addressed the issue more quickly, to make sure that all of those people didn’t die. It should have been dealt with immediately.”

As far as the prime minister’s role during this pandemic, Molina feels that he could have done more. “Prime Minister Trudeau could have done more to address the issues. He seemed to be saying the same thing over and over, but not really putting actions around it. I am more impressed with Premier Ford and [Toronto] mayor John Tory.”

For young people who aspire to the pinnacle of political leadership, there will be a need going forward for courage, boldness and the ability to include people in the process and the solutions. “Young people have learned from this pandemic that there are many skills that need to be reacquired, which have to do with compassion, stewardship and taking risks,” Morissette says. “People have to go out of their comfort zones with minimum fear and maximum courage. They need to learn to connect the dots and learn the kind of agility that we have now, the speed and the thinking outside of the box,” she says. “There is a saying floating around right now that the pandemic is a dress rehearsal for fixing the environment. Young people will need to work together to fix the systematic issue, for instance, the environment.”

And while Morissette gives Ford a 5.6 to a six as his overall rating (she gives Trudeau a nine), Walker gives Ford an eight-plus, and Greco gives Ford a nine.

“Trudeau has shown calm and compassion and caring under pressure; he is willing to work on programs such as CERB until it works. Ford has worked hard on changing, but ‘Is it sustainable,’ is the question,” Morissette wonders.

And while Eliopoulos did not want to get into the wins and missteps of Ford and Trudeau’s leadership during this pandemic — “I don’t want to get political with this” — Eliopoulos says he is surprised that no one has asked him his opinion relative to the hospitality industry. “But on the other hand, the government is trying,” he says. “They have done a good job of keeping this controlled. But we are not getting any indication of what is going on, a target date of when we might be able to open. Nobody expected this situation would last this long. They don’t have a crystal ball. We don’t know what the future will be.”

Julius Caesar is often portrayed wearing a crown of laurel leaves, a symbol of his popularity. For Ontarians, if laurel crowns still existed, the popular vote might well have Premier Ford depicted as the crowned leader of the “little people” during this COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t look at political stripes; I am here to help the people,” Ford says.

1 Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Julius Caesar.” Nov. 1, 2019. Accessed via

2 CTV News. “Protect migrant workers or face consequences, Ford and Trudeau warn farmers.” June 22, 2020. Accessed via

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Cece M. Scott

Cece M. Scott