In picking a new leader, the smart move for Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives would have been the uncontroversial choice – say, Christine Elliott – with credibility and the virtue of not being Kathleen Wynne.
The under-the-radar Patrick Brown had that going for him before his campaign and career were derailed under questionable circumstances that speak ill of politics and society. Elliott would have continued in that vein, with the added benefit of avoiding any #MeToo hysteria.
Enter Doug Ford. So much for staying under the radar.
Off the hop, the Tories are gambling on the fact that we really hate Wynne … a lot.
Ford is certainly the anti-Wynne. In many ways, that’s a good thing. If the PCs come out ahead in June’s election, he’ll be well positioned to make moves that are necessary, but tough for others to carry out. With his reputation and populist approach, Ford could get away with some sweeping changes, take the heat and then go away, a la Mike Harris.
It’s a gamble. The past two elections were the Tories’ to lose – and they did just that. Maybe they’re sure the third time’s the charm, even with Doug “I’m not my brother” Ford at the helm.
Opponents have plenty of fodder with which to smear Ford, and you can bet the negative advertising will come early and often, aided and abetted on a lack of spending restraints on third parties in which the public sector unions will be spending what were tax dollars with reckless abandon. Wynne is already in election spending mode with what are directly your tax dollars.
The key with Ford will be to avoid stepping on any landmines, unlike Tim Hudak and John Tory before him.
For his part, Ford had to focus on the many crimes and failures of Wynne’s government. NDP leader Andrea Horwath will be doing the same, along with taking aim at the easy target that is Ford.
Both Ford and Horwarth will play the corruption and mismanagement cards, to which Wynne has no defence.
The Conservatives have long taken aim at the Liberals’ profligacy when it comes to the bloated public sector and lack of control over spending. Horwath, not surprisingly, is fine with the status quo that is bleeding away tax dollars and increasing deficits without providing value to Ontarians.
Ontarians are unlikely to be thrilled with any of the choices on offer. What we could use is someone who will act on behalf of Ontarians, which is not an option with the three main parties. Instead, we have parties of special interests, be they public sector unions or corporate lobbyists.
As it stands now, none of the three would act in the public interest.
What we need now is a premier willing to the hard work necessary to get the budget under control. Whoever takes the helm in June is best advised to keep things simple, which is a fairly good bet given the province’s mounting debt load – Ontarians have no stomach for deficits and increased taxes. With that in mind, the next premier will have to focus on job creation and growth in the real economy, while curbing government spending, shrinking the civil service and rolling back public sector wages.
Clearly, the economy is the top priority, intertwined with our education and health care systems. The latter are important to us, but both will require a deft hand to get runaway expenses under control. You can bet the next premier will be looking for more money from Ottawa, but, again, wages will be a big part of the equation while trying to reel in costs that have far outstripped inflation and economic growth. As the two biggest draws on the public purse, those sectors will need the most attention: we can no longer throw money away as we have in the past.
As everyone is now aware, there’s a major infrastructure deficit as aging roads, sewers, bridges and public buildings need hundreds of billions of dollars worth of repairs, upgrades and replacements. These are basic and essential government services; if we’re going to do what’s necessary – and we have no choice – the government will have to cut a host of other programs, many of which provide little use to the bulk of Ontarians, in order to cover the costs while freezing taxes.
Those are issues on which both Wynne and Horwath will not tackle, preferring to go after public sector votes rather than do what’s right. And Ford is already being pressed by those with a vested interest in staying at the trough.
Nowhere along the line has Wynne given any indication she will get a handle on the core components of government. Instead, we’ll be subjected to mission creep, none of it done well, most of it done poorly.
Thus far, Ford has remained vague, talking about finding efficiencies and cutting fat rather than repeating Hudak’s plan to eliminate 100,000 superfluous government positions. While Hudak was talking about attrition, the unions quickly spun that into tales of mass firings and service cuts, neither being the case. But elections are wars, and in war the first casualty is truth.
The politicians will tell us lies and attempt to bribe us with our own money, believing we’re stupid enough to fall for it. And they’re probably right.
As it stands, honesty and long-term thinking are too much to expect from Horwath, Ford or Wynne. June’s election is a prime example of why we need electoral reform, if only a “none of the above” alternative – a favourite of mine – or some form of write-in option for voters to express their unhappiness and unease in what the a broken system has seen fit to offer us.