Antidote for overheated election rhetoric

Posted on June 9, 2014 in Governance Debates – Opinion/Editorials – Ontarians won’t get what they want in this election, but they won’t do grievous harm to the province.
Jun 09 2014.   By: Carol Goar, Star Columnist

Here is the good news as Ontarians prepare to go to the polls: the sky is not going to fall, no matter which party wins.

Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals may be shopworn, but they’re not corrupt. They made one egregious mistake and failed to rein in three rogue agencies under former premier Dalton McGuinty. Nothing untoward has happened on Wynne’s watch.

Tim Hudak’s “million jobs plan” may be numerically flawed, but it is not as radical as it looks. A Progressive Conservative government would reduce the public payroll to its 2009 level and boost Ontario’s job creation rate to its pre-recession average.

Andrea Horwath may be a lapsed social democrat, but she is not a risky choice. The NDP platform is blandly pragmatic.

Here is the bad news: there is no feel-good choice in this election.

Re-electing the Liberals, under Wynne — who has proven she can govern the province competently — would forestall the shakeup Queen’s Park badly needs.

All of the 560 boards, commissions, arm’s-length agencies and bureaucratic spinoffs that ballooned under McGuinty would stay. These aberrant satellites — ORNGE (air ambulance service); eHealth Ontario (electronic health records) and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation — got the Liberals into trouble time and again. The province’s five electricity companies — Ontario Power GenerationHydroOne, the Independent Electricity System Operator, the Ontario Energy Board and the Ontario Electricity Financial Corporation — are a massive, impenetrable tangle.

Do these agencies deliver good value for taxpayers’ money? Do they need so many highly-paid gatekeepers, executives, managers, researchers, planners and record-takers? Are they accountable to Ontarians? Wynne isn’t asking.

Electing the Progressive Conservatives under Hudak — who has run a disciplined campaign — would mean swallowing his harsh prescription for jobs and prosperity.

He hopes to trigger a hiring spree by slashing 100,000 jobs in the public sector, reducing Ontario’s corporate tax rate and pulling the plug on green energy. If his formula works, one million new jobs will come on-stream. If it doesn’t, his legacy will be a damaged health-care system, destabilized schools, underfunded universities, overburdened courts, a weakened child welfare system and a spike in poverty.

It’s a blind gamble for voters. They have to wait eight years to find out whether the Tory leader is right. In the meantime, all they have is Hudak’s assurance that: “In my heart and mind, I know that lower taxes will create jobs.”

Electing the New Democrats under Horwath — who put on a feisty performance in last week’s televised debate — would mean endorsing her decision to turn the NDP into a centrist party with no social mission.

Gone is its determination to fight for a more humane, equitable society. Gone is its solidarity with people living on the margins. Gone is its identity as the party of the working class. Gone is its willingness to do what’s right even if it is not politically expedient.

Instead Horwath is offering a smorgasbord of liberal-light policies (more 24-hour health clinics, a caregiver tax credit, improved nutrition programs for children, a tuition freeze) with a few right-wing crowd pleasers (a $600 million a year cut in government spending and a salary cap for senior public officials) thrown into the mix.

If voters could combine Wynne’s progressive policies, Hudak’s fiscal conservatism and Horwath’s energy, they’d have a fine government. But elections are about choosing, not wishing.

What’s reassuring is Ontario’s resilience. It has lurched from one side of the political spectrum to the other in the past 25 years and survived. It has withstood two recessions and the loss of much of its manufacturing base. It has eliminated its deficit, fallen back into red ink and mopped up more than half of it. It has replaced much of its expensive bureaucracy with lean, community-based non-profit organizations. It has adjusted to life without coal-fired generators and new nuclear power plants.

One election won’t knock it off-stride. But Thursday’s vote will decide — for the next two years at least — which of the province’s 13.5 million people will be heard, who will be heeded and who will be sidelined. That is worth a trip to the ballot box.

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