Three questions for the leaders
TheStar.com – opinion/editorial
Published On Thu Sep 08 2011
The parties have released their platforms. All too predictably, a heated controversy has erupted over one small issue – employment assistance for new Canadians – rather than any one of the main Liberal, New Democrat or Progressive Conservative proposals. And the over-caffeinated strategists in the Liberal and PC campaign “war rooms” have jumpstarted the silly season with YouTube videos that do more to discredit themselves than their opponents. Clearly, the campaign to elect Ontario’s next government is well underway.
Amid all the rhetoric, voters should be looking to the leaders for answers to three key questions facing the province:
How can we create the economy of the future? With so many Ontarians still unemployed or underemployed because of the global recession, what government can and should do to create jobs is a major point of contention. But the debate can’t stop with the jobs that are needed today. What of Ontario’s future economy? What will we be good at?
We need to hear from Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and PC Leader Tim Hudak about their plans to get us away from a longstanding overreliance on a weak Canadian dollar and traditional manufacturing.
The global recession that dumped the U.S., our major trading partner, into the economic gutter has clearly demonstrated why we need a new, more diverse plan for the future. Though hard to do, our political leaders need to think beyond the four-year election cycle and put in place policies that will allow us to take advantage of the next opportunities and make sure Ontario isn’t left behind.
How can we reshape health care? Ontarians, like all Canadians, routinely rank health care as a top priority. So it goes without saying that all the parties will be working overtime to convince voters they will do the most to protect and improve health services. But we don’t just want to hear that a party supports more funding for health care. That’s easy to say and easy enough to do, if only by choking off other public spending.
Health care already consumes more than 40 per cent of provincial program spending. On its current trajectory, it could jump to 70 per cent in just over a decade. That would bankrupt the government or crowd out everything else Ontarians value – from good schools to a decent transportation network.
We need a restructuring of our health system with an emphasis on early intervention and less costly community-based care. Hearing details from the leaders on their plans to find true health sector efficiencies (not just cutting spending in one area only to see it rebound even higher later) would be good, too.
How can we fix the province’s balance sheet? The three main parties all promise to eliminate the $15-billion provincial deficit by 2018. No problem, they say. Hogwash. Certainly, whoever gets elected may manage it – assuming voters return them to power four years from now. But it won’t be easy for them, or for taxpayers.
“Whoever forms the government on Oct. 7 is going to find themselves in a deep fiscal hole.” That warning comes from Don Drummond, a respected economist and former senior federal official who is leading a commission to make Ontario’s public service more “efficient and effective.” He adds: “Somebody is going to have to do something, and it’s going to have to be fairly forceful.”
Who has the best plan to cut spending where possible and protect services where necessary? Who can be trusted to get the balance right?
Over the next four weeks, the leaders will have to earn voters’ trust on these issues and others if they hope to win. Being clearer and more straightforward about the challenges ahead would be a good way to start.
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