Classic Bob – The 2011 Ontario Election

Someone asked me to start posting some of my original – Classic Bob – email rants which inspired this blog.  Here’s one first prepared on October 6, 2011, in preparation for the Ontario provincial election (some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent): 

Joe asked me to rant about today’s provincial election.  Why, I don’t know, but I’m a sucker for a rant.

This may come as a surprise to you, but my own inclinations are pretty hard-core conservative (No! Surely not).  So I’ve cast my vote for the Tories (not that it really matters, where I live, the Tories could run Satan and still win with a hefty margin).  I would generally encourage you to do the same.  But I can’t say that I’ve been particularly impressed with the Tory campaign.  Don’t get me wrong,  I like Tim Hudak and I even think he would be a pretty good premier, but this has been a Joe Clark/Stockwell Day of a campaign.

It would have been nice had the Tories run on a platform that was, in some meaningful way, different from the Liberals.  Better yet, it would have been nice had it been a Conservative platform.  Sure, they tinkered around the edges (though not necessarily in ways that are better than what the Grits have on offer – the income-splitting and HST proposals are moronic, take it from a tax lawyer), but at the end of the day, the Tories are counting on the same mix of fairy dust and magic thinking to resolve Ontario’s problems as the Liberals.  How compelling is that?  You can’t, on the one hand, tell voters that Dalton McGuinty has fucked us all (and he has), while also assuring them that, if you’re elected, nothing will change.

Now, if the Tories were serious about winning, they’d have a platform that states the obvious:  We’re fucked!  The provincial government spends more than it takes in, and the key drivers of that spending, health care costs and public sector wages, are growing faster than the economy as a whole (and have done so for the past 8+ years).  This is state of affairs that can’t go over forever – at some point Ontario will turn into California or Greece (without the sunny climate and warm beaches).  The Tories should have given Ontarians a choice:   Do we fix this now, while our debts are still manageable, or do we wait 5-10 years and fix it when our debts aren’t manageable and the bond market tells us that we don’t have a choice?  I don’t know, maybe the Tories don’t have much faith in the Ontario voter, but properly managed that’s a message that can be sold (especially against a backdrop of the fiscal anarchy going on in the US and Europe).

Ok, you say, how on earth do they do that?    Easy, they promise to cut spending without gutting services.  How’s that, you say?  There’s two ways to cut spending: (1) keep costs the same, and cut inputs (i.e., public sector workers) and therefore outputs (services), or (2) keep inputs (and outputs) the same, and cut costs (i.e., public sector wages and benefits).  For some reason, people have it in their head that only the first choice is an option.  Sure, there are binding contracts, but the great thing about being the government is that you can write your own laws.  If the Tories were serious about winning, they’d have proposed a “Public Sector Solidarity Act”, whereby the wages and benefits of public sectors workers are frozen (or cut) to bring them into line with private sector equivalents and market forces.   And it would apply not just to Ontario government employees, but employees of the broader public sector (hospitals, teachers, municipalities, judges, cops, etc.).

Sure, the unions would go apeshit and there’d be threats of labour unrest.  That’s what back-to-work legislation and the notwithstanding clause is for.  And you know what?  The threat of labour unrest would all but ensure that the Tories get elected.  Think about it, sure, Joe and Jill Q. Public don’t like government cuts when it means that their kids are crowded 40 to a room in kindergarten or that they wait for 10 hours to see a Doctor when Johnny breaks his leg.    But how upset are they going to be when government cuts mean that people who often make considerably more than they do, work considerably less, and have the world’s cushiest pensions, are going to get a 2% pay cut and no increases for the next four year.  Yeah, the silence would be deafening.

Better yet, if the Tories really wanted to be sneaky, they’d earmark a portion of any wage cuts (say 25%) for job retraining and development to help get people back into the work force, with a message along the lines of “the role of government is to help Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens, not to provide cushy jobs for public sector workers”.  Hard to argue with that.

That wouldn’t get them all the way there financially, but it would give them a credible starting point for getting Ontario out of hock.  Follow-that up by adopting a realistic set of policies on electricity (i.e., stop worrying about green power that only works at night and in the summer, start worrying about the fact that a significant chunk of our nuclear capacity, which provides base load power without which we can’t live, goes off-line in 2018 and we have nothing in the pipeline to replace it except hot air and pixie dust.  As an aside, we’re already hooped on that point – I’m going long candle-futures for 2018), and you’d have a party that presents a mature and realistic alternative to the NPD and the Grits.

Unfortunately, that isn’t what the Tories did.  Instead we got a Dalton McGuinty platform with a blue label and some not entirely good-for-you frills.  I vote for the Tories out of mindless loyalty, but truth be told, if I weren’t a partisan, the only reason I’d vote for Hudak is because I like him, I think that he has conservative instincts (unlike McGuinty who never saw a government program he didn’t like) and, if elected, I suspect he’ll break out the “hidden agenda”.  And that’s a damn lousy reason to vote for him.

I note, in passing, that after getting pounded by the Dalton McGuinty in last fall’s election, Tim Hudak has started to actually break out some conservative policies, policies not unlike the ones I proposed here.  Too bad he waited until AFTER he lost the election, but  I’m betting he’ll be more successful next time out.

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