Worst time of all to insult Ontario

TheStar.com – Editorials – Worst time of all to insult Ontario
March 04, 2008

Canada’s economy is hurting badly. And Ontario’s is hurting worse. Fourth-quarter figures released by Statistics Canada yesterday show the Canadian economy moving in tandem with the slowing U.S. economy, which is widely expected to slide into recession this year. Where the U.S. grew only 0.15 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2007, Canada’s advance was only a shade higher at 0.2 per cent.

Although provincial figures are unavailable, the Ontario economy may already be contracting because the greatest source of weakness in Canada is the manufacturing sector, which is centred in this province. As Statistics Canada noted, “Manufacturing activity tumbled 3.2 per cent in December, reaching its lowest level since December 2001. Motor vehicle production dropped 27 per cent, the largest monthly decline since production cutbacks in January 1990 caused a 37 per cent reduction in activity.”

Ontario is the province most heavily dependent on the sagging U.S. economy for its exports, which makes it most vulnerable to the high Canadian dollar, not to mention rising energy prices.

And so it is inconceivable that a Canadian minister of finance would go out of his way to trash Ontario, as Jim Flaherty has done for weeks.

His latest tirade – in which he called Ontario “the last place” anyone would want to invest – prompted a rejoinder from Premier Dalton McGuinty, who complained in a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “The very last thing Ontario families and businesses need is for your minister of finance to actively seek to undermine confidence in the Ontario economy.”

But Flaherty was unapologetic yesterday as he defended his words both in the Commons and in a letter to McGuinty complaining about Ontario’s corporate tax structure. “My comments are nothing less than a wake-up call,” wrote Flaherty.

Flaherty seems to be auditioning for another role – as leader of the opposition in the Ontario Legislature. But Harper, perhaps seeing McGuinty as the last Liberal standing, has clearly not attempted to rein in his minister.

That the partisan interests of the Harper government should come before the well-being of Canadians in Ontario who have been hit hard by forces beyond their control is unpardonable.

It is one thing for Ontarians to have to contend with a sagging export market, a too-high dollar and soaring energy prices. But for Flaherty to top all that off by telling investors that Ontario is the last place to put their money adds insult to the injury felt by all those manufacturing workers who are losing their jobs.

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