Three questions for the leaders

Posted on September 9, 2011 in Governance Debates

Source: — Authors: – 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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One Response to “Three questions for the leaders”

  1. Maaike Zeeman says:

    The timing and content of this article is highly relevant to Ontarians. In this period preceding our provincial election, it’s important to examine and readjust our priorities as a province, and choose a leader who has a plan that is applicable and realistic. The three questions discussed are certainly high on the priority list, as they are in generally every provincial election. Politicians are continuously offering broad solutions and hopeful words on how to solve all of our problems easily. However, in order for anything to be changed, we need to look beyond these words of comfort and the premature feeling of relief, and understand that the road of change is neither easy nor comfortable, and all of our problems cannot be solved so uncomplicatedly. As the author says about our politicians and potential leaders, “Being clearer and more straightforward about the challenges ahead would be a good way to start.” Both the leaders and the citizens need to accept that there is no easy way out.
    However, that does not mean there is no way out. Ontarians need to make themselves aware of exactly what the problems are, what has been done, and what “solutions” are not working. For example, more funding for health care, while it sounds like a good idea, is obviously not going to improve the situation a whole lot. Perhaps we should be looking for a leader who has plans for using the existing funding more efficiently. We also need to look for leaders who are able to implement plans that are not wholly reliant on that same party being in power for extended periods. I agree entirely with what the author says under the first question; parties need diverse plans that can continue to be carried out even if new leaders are introduced. Through this, stability and progression can be achieved.
    So, Ontarians need to be making careful considerations and listening beyond what parties are saying. Are there realistic suggestions and sensible solutions being offered that address the priorities of the people of Ontario? It is on these bases that we should be preparing to choose somebody to lead the province.

    Maaike Zeeman


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