There are literally hundreds of agencies, boards and commissions in the province of Ontario. They are the ABCs of government, but few know exactly what each of them do. They are set up for a multitude of reasons, but the most common one of these reasons is to remove politics from governance. That is, there are certain functions that governments preform that should be devoid of political meddling.
This sounds pretty good in theory, but in practice, it has actually created a governance problem. What it has tended to produce is a system where the government takes all the credit for the decisions these bodies make to the liking of the government, but accept no blame when the tables have turned.
The latest example of the ‘take all credit, but accept no blame’ Liberals comes to us via Metrolinx. As John Michael McGrath writes, Metrolinx was set up a decade ago to deal with the urban transit challenges in the GTA and Hamilton, which was being done piecemeal and haphazardly. The idea behind Metrolinx was to move political decision-making out of the transit planning and become much more purposeful and make decisions based on coordination and evidence.
Well, as we found out recently, not only is Transportation Minister, Steven Del Duca, taking credit for a new GO stop in his riding, the unelected Liberal candidate for a new Vaughan riding, Councillor Marilyn Iafrate, is taking credit for her lobbying efforts of the new Kirby GO stop. This goes against the advice that Metorlinx provided for GO station placement. That’s political maneouvering at its best. However, when I tried to get a GO train station for my riding in Cambridge, it was Metrolinx that said they didn’t have the billion dollars to do it, but let us get some buses there instead. You see how this works, right? The Liberals take all the credit for transit expansion but let Metrolinx wear all the blame when they can’t fulfill a community’s dreams.
There is an established pattern to this. Local Health Integration Networks were set up by the McGuinty Liberals to better manage health care. When hospital boards, which are usually made up with distinguished community leaders, got upset at the mandated balance budget requirements, it was the LHINs who held those accountability agreements. But when it came to new budget lines or hospital expansions, it was always a government making an announcement, or a series of announcements about the same thing. In fact, I always appreciated being copied on letters that the health minister would send to organizations in my riding that received money from the LHIN, but I only heard about the organizations that didn’t get the money when those organizations would pick up the phone to call me. The Liberals were quick to take all the credit and none of the blame here too.
Then, let’s not forget the debacle of the gas plants. The Ontario Power Authority had the responsibility for siting new gas plants to deal with the power shortfalls we were experiencing. Former Premier Dalton McGuinty said that of the 19 gas plants, they only got two wrong in explaining the fiasco away. He forgot to mention that most of the 17 he supposedly got right were in non-Liberal-held ridings. In those ridings, residents were told they couldn’t change the plants. However, in Oakville and Mississauga, right in the Liberal’s suburban fortress in the GTA, in those cases, the government decided to intervene. And they took the credit for it to the pleasure of thousands of cheering voters, while the rest of us remain stuck paying the billion dollar bill. Nothing to see here, people. Move on!
Some of you might be saying, meh, what’s the big deal? Yes, this is politics, but the whole point of putting up these ABCs is to ultimately make better use of limited resources, to build things that need building based on evidence and not politics, and make the decisions based on a fair process that is easily understood by everyone in the province.
Of course, fairness is not what happens, and the winners praise the government while the losers in the system have nobody to blame except the nameless, faceless people that work in these far away ABCs. Those that have lost feel hopeless that nothing can change for them and either continue to lobby in futility or become apathetic. Both of these outcomes challenge our democracy in unique ways, but we seem stuck in this rut without a way of getting out.
This article appeared in Queen’s Park Briefing. Visit QPBriefing.com to subscribe to this publication and stay on top of all things related to Ontario government and politics!