Ontario election: Given the alternatives, the Liberals are the most reasonable option

Ontario election: Given the alternatives, the Liberals are the most reasonable option

One dilemma facing Ontario voters on June 12 is the dearth of choice. In a healthy multi-party democracy, it is clearly time for a change in the governing party at Queen’s Park after 11 years of Liberals Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne. Unfortunately, the Tim Hudak Conservatives, the other entry in what appears likely to become a two-horse race, have shown little indication that they deserve to form a new government.

The list of blunders by the Liberals – mostly by McGuinty during his nine years as premier – is long, including the billion-dollar gas plant scandal, shutting down the legislature to avoid a non-confidence vote and continuous fiscal profligacy. This year’s budget, with so many promises, would create a deficit of $12.5 billion to be added to the provincial debt, already approaching $300 billion. By comparison, the state debt of California, is facing only about US $132 billion in debt, aside from pension liabilities.

As the campaign began, the Conservatives were clearly the main alternative to the Grits. An Ipsos Reid poll at the end of the first week (May 6-9) broke the decided vote down as 37 per cent Conservative, 31 Liberal and 28 NDP.

Yet as increasing numbers of Ontarians now know, Hudak launched his Tory campaign by announcing his intention to lay off 100,000 public servants over two years as part of a plan, ironically, to create one million jobs over eight years. The cuts would apply to teachers, health workers and firefighters among others, although Hudak insisted that he would not lay off other public safety custodians such as nurses, doctors or police. It would be a steep cut and affect many lives and careers of hard-working public sector workers.

Kathleen Wynne was quite correct in responding to Hudak, “That’s 100,000 people no longer able to earn a living, no longer paying taxes and buying goods. It’s 100,000 families who could lose a breadwinner … you don’t create jobs by cutting jobs.” The idea is self-evidently reckless. In offering it as his first campaign promise, Hudak has probably turned the election into a referendum on it and himself.

How many others – parents, children, spouses, friends and those losing the services – stand to be affected in major ways by this cut in the province's public services? How drastic will the cuts be to a range of provincial services? Wynne cautions that “cuts have consequences” and Ontario needs to learn from the mistakes of the past.

The economist Don Drummond concluded in his study only a couple of years ago that Ontario's public service is the most efficient and smallest per capita in Canada. Drummond’s 500-plus page document, which was the result of Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services, advocated a wholesale reform of government. The Hudak Conservatives have selectively chosen to view it as what Joanne Chianello of the Ottawa Citizen calls “a buffet of cost-cutting options” from which to cherry-pick items to suit their agenda.

In vowing to slash 100,000 public-sector jobs, however, Hudak has not followed Drummond’s advice to “avoid setting targets for the size of the civil service.” Cuts aren’t the starting point – they’re the natural result of a leaner, re-thought government.

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Hudak also plans to cut corporate taxes by 30 per cent without any pre-conditions, intending to create the lowest taxes for business anywhere on the continent. Why does he think that doing so without any strings attached will create jobs?

The Liberal strategy must be to convince centre-left voters that their party is the only alternative to a Hudak government. There appear to be still quite a number of Ontarians who are ready to vote Liberal even if they have to hold their noses while doing so. Not everyone has concluded that, because of the debacles which have arisen during the past few years, they are so angry that they will never vote Grit again.

In short, all things considered, the most reasonable option appears to be to vote Liberal. If it’s a really close race in your constituency, vote for the best candidate regardless of party. If enough moderate voters divide their votes between the two centre-left parties, the Conservatives could win despite themselves.

David Kilgour is co-chair of the Canadian Friends of a Democratic Iran and a director of the Washington-based Council for a Community of Democracies (CCD). He is a former MP for both the Conservative and Liberal Parties in the south-east region of Edmonton and has also served as the Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa, Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific and Deputy Speaker of the House.