Turning buzzwords into reality

TheStar.com – Canada – Turning buzzwords into reality
February 06, 2009.   Jim Coyle

Dalton McGuinty has been sounding lately as if his head hurts. Now we know why.

Thanks to a report on Ontario’s economic future turned in by a couple of the province’s most chi-chi academics, the premier has been wrestling with big ideas, grand visions and long-range outlooks.

Make no mistake. He loves that stuff. The more he hears about a high-velocity, “idea-driven creative economy,” the happier McGuinty usually is.

The difficult part, as the tentative nature of his recent musings suggest, is figuring out how to adapt all those achingly hip buzz-phrases to the daily grind of governing.

Not to mention, of course, how he’s supposed to explain it to folks who live far from ivory towers and are more than a little frightened at what’s to be lost in the great leap forward into the “creative age.”

What Roger Martin and Richard Florida seem to have drafted for the premier is the mother of all throne speeches – a set of good intentions and desirable goals that are as beyond reproach as they are difficult to achieve.

But like all good salesmen, they make the trip sound like something only a fool – or a performer of routine, repetitive jobs – would miss.

“We have an opportunity to revitalize, retune and leapfrog our economy to a position where we could be a global leader,” burbled Florida. “We think that Ontario could become a talent province.”

For McGuinty, it’s as if he’d been handed blueprints for the sleekest, coolest yacht, while he’s still wrestling the lifeboats into place on the leaky tub he’s been skippering.

Getting from the dreary present to that gleaming future of ideas is the premier’s department, the authors said yesterday.

“We want to pose goals,” said Florida. “We can’t write the policy directions for the province.”

So long as the premier understands, they said, that change is inexorable. “We cannot turn away from it; nor can we slow it.”

What there were by way of specifics will be hugely expensive: dramatic investment in post-secondary education, in early childhood education, in an improved social-safety net, in wage insurance.

As well, Florida called for an immediate summit on the service economy and Martin said reform of a “perverse tax structure” encumbering service industries is needed.

For a premier who recently ponied up buckets of cash to support the ailing auto industry, it couldn’t have been pleasing to be told that sort of “protective approach can only forestall the inevitable.”

For a chap who wanted to be called the Education Premier, it must have been humbling to hear that Ontario is “not an `education jurisdiction.'”

New Democrat MPP Peter Kormos was underwhelmed by the $2.2 million study – Florida’s best-selling books pretty much contain the gist of its message – and its long view toward 2030 when families are struggling now.

“The proposition that a laid-off forestry worker may want some help in opening a beauty salon or an art gallery is downright insulting,” he said. “What happens to those people in our communities who aren’t going to become PhDs and masters in information technology?”

To be sure, there was enough New Jerusalem in the report that Martin felt the need to assure reporters “we are not utopian.”

For McGuinty – who trades in the art of the possible, and has an appointment with voters long before 2030 – transforming its ideas into reality will take considerable creativity indeed.

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