Where would Tim Hudak take Ontario?

Posted on October 30, 2012 in Governance Debates

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TheStar.com – news/canada/politics
October 29, 2012.    By Martin Regg Cohn, Queen’s Park Columnist

On the eve of the Liberal leadership race, we take a moment to give you Tim Hudak’s latest thoughts on a future Tory government.

Say what you will about how the Liberals are weighed down by baggage. The Progressive Conservative policy suitcase feels light enough to hand-carry.

The Tory leader wants to reinvent himself as a wonk, with his weighty thoughts inscribed in dignified “White Papers.” To date he’s announced plans to slice and dice health care, hog-tie unions and privatize hydro utilities.

Hudak’s latest policy paper, on economic growth, continues his penchant for optics and politics over serious public policy.

(Even the colour scheme is all wrong: By parliamentary tradition, a White Paper is reserved for a formal statement of government policy. Hudak’s discussion papers are really Green Papers — but that colour seems ecologically incorrect for today’s true blue Tories.)

In last year’s campaign, Hudak relied on cheap populism and an anything-but-Dalton-McGuinty strategy. Now that the premier is retiring, the Tories can’t count on coasting to victory by default.

Yet in his new economic plan (unveiled just days before McGuinty’s announcement), Hudak still clings to panaceas: Unspecified tax cuts to goose economic growth, ramp up total revenues and magically balance the budget at warp speed.

Note that Hudak never says which taxes he’d cut — a form of Mitt Romney redux on reductions and deductions — just that he wants a “flatter personal income tax structure” that squeezes out the last remnants of progressivity from our system. Tax cuts would produce a “counter-intuitive” increase in revenues thanks to massive spending by consumers and corporations newly flush with tax money.

Who knew Hudak was a closet Keynesian?

The Tories would also trim billions from unsupportable government subsidies — notwithstanding their impassioned protests against Liberal plans to end subsidies to Ontario’s unsustainable horseracing tracks.

Forget for a moment that trickle-down economics has bankrupted the U.S. treasury. The bigger problem is that Hudak’s proposed stimulus is even less likely to work on a small-scale provincial economy whose exports are tied to the American colossus.

Ontario’s treasury simply lacks the fiscal leverage to single-handedly bolster economic growth in defiance of global and continental trends. Like it or not, Ontario’s sluggish revenues will always be at the mercy of gloomy U.S. forecasts — which are derived from a consensus of economists in the public and private sectors, and can’t be wished away by Hudak’s wand.

Another problem: Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney notes that Canadian corporations are already flush with $560 billion in “dead money” that they’re not investing productively. Why, when they’re already sitting on such a stash of cash, would Hudak expect them to suddenly start investing any extra money from his tax cuts?

Hudak, who has a masters in economics, knows better than to promise he can defy the laws of economics by transforming Ontario into a trickle-down uptick. The Tory leader has never actually worked as professional economist, but as a practicing politician he has some experience in telling people what they want to hear.

Here’s what he’s not telling you, or has forgotten from his first-year economics course: You can’t have it all. Economics is all about allocating scarce resources and making choices.

Hudak has to figure out for himself what taxes he’ll cut (bad idea); what revenues he’ll raise (to pay for high-priced subways and end transit gridlock as promised); and how he’ll balance the budget (it’s unclear whether he’ll do it sooner or later — or ever).

Whether your policy is colour-coded white, green or Tory blue, to lead is to choose. And disclose.

< http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1279432–cohn-where-would-tim-hudak-take-ontario >

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