Liberals embellish their record — clumsily

TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Tue Jul 19 2011.   By Carol Goar, Editorial Board

It is hard to tell whether Premier Dalton McGuinty’s latest “progress report” is a taxpayer-funded pre-election handout or a serious defence of his government’s social policy record.

Either way, Ontario Building Stronger Communities fails.

The 17-page document is far too long, too dense and too abstruse to hold the attention of voters, let alone convince them to re-elect a Liberal government when they go to the polls in October.

Those who actually read it will be more inclined to laugh than applaud some of the achievements it highlights. Take this for example: “Ontario Parks have an annual fall colour report to help plan an autumn getaway,” or this: “We created a new Ontario Water Innovation Award to recognize a company that is developing a commercially successful water technology.”

Let’s assume it is meant as a detailed rundown of what the McGuinty government has accomplished in its eight years in office.

Unfortunately, some critical details are missing.

• The report claims, for instance, that the Liberals increased Ontario’s minimum wage seven times, increasing the remuneration of the province’s lowest-paid workers by almost 50 per cent.

That is true, as far as it goes. What it neglects to mention is that the government has now frozen the minimum wage at $10.25 per hour this year. That means a full-time worker earning the minimum wage in this province makes $21,320 a year before taxes — which is 4 per cent below Statistics Canada’s low-income cut-off (commonly known as the poverty line).

• It calls attention to the government’s Children in Need of Treatment program, which provides emergency dental care to 43,500 low-income children, and its Healthy Smiles program, which provides check-ups and preventive service for children.

Both are commendable. But it says nothing about the Liberal pledge to provide assistance to impoverished adults with serious dental problems. The government reneged, using the money to pay for their children’s programs.

• The report boasts that the government has built and repaired more than 270,000 affordable housing spaces.

But it does not provide a breakdown. Here it is: repairs account for 93 per cent of the total. The government has built just 13,000 housing units and approved the construction of 6,000.

To put this in perspective, 152,000 Ontario families are on the waiting list for social housing. To provide political context, McGuinty promised in 2003 to “create 20,000 new housing units for needy Ontario families” in his first term in office.

• The government trumpets its commitment to make Ontario completely accessible by 2025 and points out that four of the five accessibility standards required to achieve that goal are in place.

On paper, that sounds impressive. In fact, individuals with disabilities have seen almost no change.

Starting next January, large employers will be required to provide workers with disabilities “with emergency-response information that is tailored to the employee’s needs, if the disability requires it.” That is hardly a breakthrough.

Organizations providing consumer service will have to “establish policies, practices and procedures on providing goods or services to people with disabilities” and train staff to implement them. There is no word about enforcement.

At some point, passenger vehicles — buses, trains, subways, streetcars, taxis, trains and ferries — will have to have accessibility features, such as low-floor access for wheelchairs and mobility devices.

But the pivotal piece of the master plan — the timetable for removing barriers from workplaces, commercial outlets, multi-unit residential buildings, parks and playgrounds — has yet to be developed.

It is unfortunate the Liberals tried to cram so much into their progress report. Their self-congratulatory verbiage eclipsed their genuine achievements. They transformed Ontario’s child welfare system with their $1,100 a year provincial child benefit. They made Ontario a leader in the development of clean energy and water conservation technology. They introduced full-day kindergarten in Ontario’s schools. And they carved out 4.3 million acres of green space.

Someone should tell the premier to stick to the facts. He won’t impress jaded voters with half-truths.

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