Ah, budgets don’t balance themselves, and it’s also true that budgets don’t deficit themselves either. Both require choices. And voters have to ask that, in a period of economic growth, why the heck are we ballooning our debts and deficits by so much? If we can’t make the tough choices when times are reasonably good, we sure as heck won’t be able to make them when times are tough. But that’s somebody else’s problem, right?
Here’s the truth: budgeting in Canada is an illusion to begin with. Case in point: Ontario’s deficit is expected to be $6.7 billion this year, but our debt is rising by about $12 billion. Why is that? It’s because governments long ago separated their capital spending from their operating spending, and really, showing debts and deficits in this way is a shell game. If you want a better looking deficit, place more expenses on the capital budget ledger. When Canadians hear about hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure spending over the next decade, they should know that this is hundreds of billions of dollars being added to the debt.
Then, there’s the BS of debt-to-GDP ratios as a measure of how strong a province’s fiscal management is. In Ontario, the debt-to-GDP ratio as reported by the government is hovering around 37%. That is the size of the debt relative to the size of our economy. By most measures, a debt-to-GDP ratio under 40% isn’t horrible. However, what’s so ridiculous about measuring fiscal management by this measure is that Ontario is a sub-national government. That means that the Ontario economy not only needs to prop up it’s sub-national debt obligations, but also its portion of national debt obligations. Combining the sub-national and Ontario’s portion of the national debt, the Ontario economy’s debt-t0-GDP ratio is getting closer to 70%. This gets you in the territory of shaky European countries that are struggling.
As I write this, I’m reminded of an e-mail chain that was going through Ontario’s Ministry of Finance. These bureaucrats were mocking the government’s fiscal prudence, but were ultimately tasked with providing advice on how to present the budget to Ontarians. The emails show that the projections were a fabrication. FAKE NEWS, if you will. There were about a dozen recommendations presented to the Finance Minister. The very last option was to not present medium to long term fiscal projections. The option came with the recommendation that this option “would not be acceptable in the post-Drummond era.” What did the government choose to do? It chose to not publish medium to long term fiscal projections. For years, we were not privy to the government’s economic projections. FAKE NEWS to hide the truth. By the way, the Minister of Finance had to plea with our committee not to release these sensitive e-mails exposing this debauchery. Right. Transparency at its best. Open government loses again.
So this is the major point. What budgeting has become is an illusion of truth. What governments are telling us is the best spin hoping we’ll be distracted by the goodies to not bother to look at the mess. David Copperfield would be proud. Governments are going to tell voters that not proceeding with all its new spending will be the end of life as we know it. However, the truth of the matter is that government budgeting is in massive need of a correction. It’s in a bubble, and it’s distorting what’s really happening in the economy. Governments have become self-absorbed. It is caring more about its own internal pet projects than the public it serves, and that leads to decisions that get us to a spot we are in right now. Unchecked spending with no sign of relenting.
The sooner we get out of this mess, the better off we will be in the long run.
I certainly suspect a fair number of pundits to write off Doug Ford’s prospects this June, but I won’t be one of them. As I have been saying for some time now, Doug Ford is capable of winning a general election against Kathleen Wynne, but his path to victory would look a heck of a lot different than Christine Elliott’s. The other thing I’ve been saying for some time now is that while Christine Elliott would be the sort of non-offensive leader that could sustain multiple Tory terms, Doug Ford would likely be the sort of high risk, high reward choice to win the largest majority government in Ontario’s history.
Why does this fair-minded professor say such a crazy thing? Here’s why: Doug Ford is the embodiment of the kind of anger Ontarians have been feeling for years. That anger is not partisan. It’s an anger that speaks to the fact that some have won more than ‘others’ in this province, and those others now have their candidate. Those ‘others’ are business owners who through red tape, regulation, higher hydro rates, and more, are being driven out of the province. Those ‘others’ include all the men and women who have lost their jobs in manufacturing and can’t find a better replacement job. Those ‘others’ include families living in substandard housing, in a province that has struggled to provide adequate affordable housing, let alone contain housing affordability. Those ‘others’ include every hydro rate payer who is paying for handsome returns to a select few green energy power producers. Those ‘others’ include those that have stuck with the PCs throughout their time in opposition, but also those who have also voted for other parties, or haven’t voted in years. Ford does not speak to right vs. left. He speaks to those that haven’t had a voice, and we’ve seen right around the world how these popular uprisings can be electorally successful.
Ford is not a right-wing ideologue. He will be branded as a radical, but he is far from one. Those that will affix such labels never intend to vote for the guy. They aren’t ‘others’. It won’t matter.
Doug Ford turns the Ontario electoral map completely upside down. Ford will win Toronto area seats. Ford will keep all the rural PC seats. Ford will win in the North. NDP seats will be in play as well as Liberal ones. I mean, I can’t name a Tory who can draw 400 people to a Welland rally on 48 hours notice. This thing is going to be interesting. The only thing limiting Doug Ford in achieving this is time.
Ford’s key strength is often seen as his Achilles heel: His brand. But that’s the thing about politics and leadership races. Having a brand comes off well. It makes you more authentic and believable. He comes off as a straight shooter, rebel rouser, folksy leader. He sticks to his commitment to righting the wrongs, being devoted to the taxpayer, and speaking on behalf of the have-nots. He covers most of the factions of the conservative movement – accept, perhaps for uber-educated, suburban living, Tory professionals who may cringe at the prospect of going to work on Monday. This ‘blue-collar PhD’ may be the exception. He delivers a clear message and looks you right in the eye. He may not be the most sophisticated policy guy you’ll ever find, but he communicates what he knows with precision. We haven’t had this since Mike Harris in 1995. This is the reversed mix to what we’re used to; I used to joke that we have more policy people than communications people in the party, and the Liberals had more communications people than policy people. Maybe the Tories are in for a correction.
Doug Ford carries the baggage of his brother, who most remember for his controversial behaviour and erratic governance. But Rob Ford’s path to victory should be the lesson for Doug Ford’s path to victory. If Rob Ford could win an election in the most progressive, and largest city in Ontario, imagine what Doug Ford can do in communities more in line with his brand!
Good luck, Doug! As Jason Kenny said… Let’s Get’er Done!
This is crazy! I can’t put my phone down and it starts buzzing again. ‘Did you hear the latest?’ one writes. Another says ‘What the hell is going on?’ Amidst this chaos, my e-mail lights up: dozens of people have signed up to volunteer for the party. Volunteer for what, one wonders, or for whom? There are so many things that make this episode so fascinating!
Another friend wonders what happens on Tuesday: Does Patrick Brown challenge Vic Fedeli for the Opposition Leader’s chair? Does he race to stand up first to ask the first question and who does the Speaker recognize? This thing could get even more unprecedented before it is over.
Then, there is Patrick Brown, who was kicked out of the PC Caucus yesterday morning, and then, by the afternoon, he throws down his money to run for the job he won in 2015 and lost last month by being pushed out by his colleagues. He is doing the Bernie Saunders – running for leader of a political party while sitting as an independent in the legislature. I’m going to doubt that Brown’s donations average ’27 dollas’ a person like Bernie’s.
This is so ridiculous. It reminds me of what happened after the fallout from the 2014 General Election. As I watched the TVO debate, what you had, in essence, was 4 would be successors running away from the positions of the previous leader. What you had was 4 leadership candidates giving lukewarm remarks about whether Patrick Brown would even be welcome to run for his seat. There was nobody who stood behind him, and now we wonder why he’s fighting back?
This was a caucus all angling to be in Patrick Brown’s cabinet before these allegations and all but one knifed him after. In 2014, Tim Hudak faced the same thing. And I remember from that time, Tim loyalists, and there still are a great many out there, felt abandoned by their party. So it doesn’t at all surprise me that Patrick Brown has loyalists, and that they want to have him finish what he started. .
I could go on and on. But here is the thing. Right now, 70-80% of the electorate want a new government. As unheard of as the PC chaos is, that kind of desire for change is rarely seen in democracies. The Liberals are woefully unpopular. February and March should have been about how we wondered if Kathleen Wynne could hold on to her party’s leadership, but you won’t see those stories anymore.
No, none of the Liberal government’s challenges are headline news. What is news is the fact that the party has an identity crisis. Within our own party, we ebb and flow from one extreme to the other. However, most people in the party don’t belong to either extreme. They exist in this middle mass of people who want good, honest government. They want a government that doesn’t spend more than it takes in revenue. They want a government that puts people ahead of special interests. They want a government that removes barriers for private sector job creation. They want the best health system in the world, and an even better education for their kids than they are currently receiving. They want safe streets and clean communities. It’s neither hard nor complicated. Say it simply, and win an election. There is still time, but not much!
Tories can be their own worst enemy. Just when victory is in its sight, turmoil seems to erupt. We go through this process where we elect our leaders through the most open and democratic method of any political party only to have that leadership instantly questioned post leadership in perpetuity. No, I’m not just speaking of Patrick Brown but I am speaking of all our leaders since Mike Harris.
Leaderships always bring out a schism in the party. Factions, real or pretend, form. The party has been at times made up of an unholy alliance between shades of red or blue. Victory in a general election is about the only thing that quiets that schism. Failure in that general election only accentuates it. This story has played out over and over again over the last 15 years.
In that time, everyone tries to pigeon hole the other. Some times people think I am too blue or too red, too establishment or too anti-establishment, for the leader or against the leader. This same song and dance is the day in the life of too many members of Ontario’s Tories. It’s a form of internal party heuristics that allows people to cast aspersions on the other, if they so find them ‘not like me.’ And if we so happen to think the leader is ‘not like me,’ we throw in the towel and refuse to go all in. We eat ourselves alive. The enemy is not the other parties, it’s found within!
So here’s my baseline in this Tory leadership fast track. Fellow members, take part in a lively debate. Set up shop with a camp, and have a thorough and vigorous debate. But please, please, please, when this is all said and done, set aside your petty differences. Understand that your calling to be involved in politics is not about the party’s success, but it’s to make life better for Ontarians.
Members need to take this pledge: I pledge to ensure that the next leader of the Ontario PC Party, whoever that leader is, becomes the next premier of Ontario. I will work for the leader and for the nominated candidates to ensure that a strong, stable, majority provincial Conservative government is in office in 2018 and beyond. Enough said.
A cri de coeur of parliamentarians that oppose government is to call everything, real or not, a scandal. To be sure, as I have written on these pages before, there were many within our own ranks that questioned whether this gas plants scandal really amounted to a scandal at all. However, what is undeniably true about the gas plants scandal is this: there has never – I mean never! – been a scandal in Canadian history that has been so independently verified. There were two Auditor-General reports, an Information and Privacy Commissioner Report, an OPP Investigation, a Crown attorney to take the case, and now a judge ruling that criminal things happened.
If you were to ask me in the spring of 2012 whether the cancellation costs of the gas plants that we were asking about in the Estimates Committee would still be part of our public discourse in January 2018, I’d have laughed. And while we had the Energy Minister sitting in our cross hairs, many in the PC Caucus wanted to talk about wind turbines instead. Funny how consequential priorities can be!
Then, as things got hot in the fall of 2012 with my successful contempt motion – the first successful contempt motion in more than a century – things got so out of control for the government, that it had to prorogue and McGuinty announced his resignation. Being in contempt of parliament is a serious charge, as serious as being in contempt of court. It occurred to me at the time how serious it was. We were charging that the Minister of Energy, the Ministry of Energy, and the Ontario Power Authority did not disclose e-mails it was obligated to disclose by order of the Estimates Committee. It was important to word it that way. Both opposition parties didn’t want it worded that specifically Chris Bentley, the Minister responsible at the time, was in contempt. Our deal with the NDP was predicated on maintaining the Minister responsible rather than the individual himself be named in our push. Of course, this is something that was subtle but important, and Liberals never saw this as anything less than a witch hunt against one of their most competent ministers. Nevertheless, the gloves were off and I pushed forth knowing that I just placed a huge target on my back. You may not have known this, but it turns out that a lot of politicians don’t like that kind of fight. However, I just felt like I was elected to do my job holding the government to account, and I wasn’t going to be afraid to do it.
During debate of my contempt motion, every Liberal speech made sure to mention that “the motion form the Member for Cambridge…” i.e. me… “is mean spirited and vindictive.” It didn’t matter that the majority of members of the legislature agreed with the motion. I got the sense that I was going to be a punching bag for awhile. After McGuinty announced his resignation, he met the press and told them that the historic contempt motion was “phoney” and that the whole contempt debate basically shut down parliament to deal with nonsense garbage for more than a week. I think it touched a nerve. Oh, and in some of the e-mails we retrieved that weren’t deleted, we found out that the Premier’s Office debated suing some of us in the opposition over the debacle. They opted against that strategy because they’d have to disclose e-mails during the trial’s discovery, which is what they wanted to avoid.
Then, in 2014, we lost an election. With a target on my back, I lost too. They say politics is a blood sport, and I had to lick my wounds. A lot has been said about that election. You know, the Tory campaign was death by 100,000 job cuts or that we snapped defeat from the jaws of victory. However, I saw then, and see now, that the election was not about any one policy. It was about which would triumph more: Truth or Deceit. The biggest problem of the Tory campaign in my mind wasn’t the 100,000 job cuts. It was that we couldn’t focus the electorate on the fact that this government will do anything and say anything to be in power. We had hundreds of thousands of e-mails – the ones that weren’t deleted – to prove it too. But there we were, being bluntly honest about what we would do without reminding the electorate enough about why we were doing it. Instead, our honesty was spun with the same dishonesty we have come to expect. Reducing 100,000 jobs in the public sector meant we were “firing” people or giving them “pink slips.” I wonder if the 8,000 people who work for Hyrdo One got “fired” once their public sector job turned into a private sector one when the government privatized it? Oh the stuff I’d say if I was still in office! Yet, in 2014, we failed. I failed. It was a tough pill to swallow given how relentless we had been in the legislature. The men and women I served with, both as a caucus and along with our staff, were an incredibly talented group deserving of a shot to govern. It was so disappointing not to have had that shot. I know I am echoing the sentiments of our caucus and staff when I say this.
Returned with a majority government, the Liberals washed the whole contempt and committee report under the rug. To this day, I have not returned to the legislative chambers, but I remember watching the proceedings all summer long, both in debate and in committee. It was killing me, and I had to stop watching. I mean, all that hard work, all those long hours, all that reading, all that strategy, all that media, all that tour, and barely anything to show for it. I got McGuinty’s memoir for Christmas. I read it all. It still sits on my bedside table. The title is called “Making a Difference” and the book reads as fluffy as the title. No contrition in the book. No regret. Only great things. I remember clearly feeling that history would not be written the way I saw it. So I stopped writing my version.
To my surprise, the OPP continued to investigate. When I met with the OPP investigators assigned to the case in my Queen’s Park office in 2013, they told me their investigation would take a very long time – months, if not years. Then, charges were laid. A Crown attorney pursued those charges, and, all of a sudden, what I felt was lost came back. I followed the trial closely. I knew the material as well as anyone. When Peter Wallace took the stand, I simply could not believe what I was hearing. To be clear, I had not expected Peter Wallace to be a great witness. We called him to testify in committee responsible for the contempt charges, and while we thought he was competent, we didn’t get much out of him. In hindsight, it’s probably because we didn’t ask him the right questions, and probably he feels more liberated to talk about it now that he’s out of the provincial government.
And then, a remarkable thing happened last week. Something entirely shocking, in fact. The judge in the trial found Livingston guilty of destroying evidence. The Crown attorney emerged from court saying he wants to lock him up. I really could not believe it. Now, if I was in politics, I probably would have said something stupid like ‘we’re pleased with the verdict, but it’s a sad day for Ontario.’ Screw that! The verdict was a victory for democracy, for good public administration, for the integrity of the Freedom of Information process, for people who want accountable and responsible government, and for those that seek the truth.
I have had an unusual spring in my step. Now there is something to show for all those long days and nights. They say in politics that your true worth and contribution isn’t likely known until some years have passed since you left. That is ringing true for me now.
It is somewhat odd to see that in the court of law you are successful where you couldn’t be in the court of public opinion. Last week’s ruling validated our pursuit of the truth in ways I am only starting to explain. So maybe I will get to write the final chapter of the biggest scandal in Ontario’s history after all, except my tail won’t at all be fluffy.
People have asked me what I think about the PC plan for ‘real change that works for people.’ Admittedly, given my hockey duties on Saturday morning, I only saw about 3/4 of Patrick Brown’s speech to a boisterous PC crowd. I only recently just finished reading the platform, so it’s time I write my review.
One way to evaluate a convention is whether those in attendance feel better about the party’s chances of forming a government after it is finished. My top level opinion to this end, is an emphatic yes! There was an energy in the room and in the halls. People were following caucus old and soon-to-be like they wanted to be part of the win. Patrick gave his best speech yet. He was confident. He was smiling. The whole branding of the people’s guarantee was also fresh, and the platform release in the form of a magazine spread was genius – perfect for a new age of voters. The message was clear and concise. Five ideas form part of guarantee – a contract – to voters. If, as premier, Patrick Brown doesn’t fulfill those 5 promises, he won’t seek another mandate. He must surely be able to do all 5 too, because none of them are bound to running a balanced budget. All are big ticket items – some might call them big government items – and all are designed to be people friendly, or more precisely, appealing to legions of women who hadn’t considered voting PC in years. I have advocated for this kind of approach in the past, so the pitch has some real resonance.
Yet, there I was, on the convention floor, in awe with the spectacle and really pumped about our chances, but I wasn’t wildly clapping at most of it. My first reaction was ‘how on earth are we going to pay for all of this?’ Bob Stanley should me where Kevin Page said the numbers add up, which is fine, but a 22.5% tax cut is huge. So I clap until I realize this massive tax cut to the middle class is being paid for by a carbon tax. And so goes every other goodie too.
The second thought I had was how all these people that I stood next to during the time I was in office fighting for smarter, more efficient government suddenly were going delirious over a platform that replaces some Liberal trinkets with PC ones. We aren’t better off from a fiscal perspective. In fact, government spending will grow by $12 billion under the PC plan. Interest payments on the debt is calculated to grow by about $2.5 billion over the 4 year period as well. Most aspects of the long term infrastructure plan, which is what’s adding billions to our provincial debt, are going to be kept in place. Yet, all these people in the trenches were applauding approvingly at the plan.
It reminded me of the time back in 2009 when I attended a Harper government announcement about the creation of FedDev Ontario. There, in Kitchener on that fateful August day, after years of railing against the Atlantic Canada Opportunity Agency as one of the more egregious pork barreling agencies of government – the sort that has government picking and choosing which companies ought to be successful rather than the market – I witnessed the creation of more of the same agencies. To make matters even more uncomfortable for me, my friend was named its responsible minister. I remember standing beside Arron Wudrick, now Executive Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, when we chatted about how bizarre it was to be in a room where people were cheering for something they complained about for years. Late that year, in a speech to Conservative Party faithful, PM Harper said, “We will have to be both tough and pragmatic, not unrealistic or ideological, in dealing with the complex economic challenges before us.” The rigid, hard-right Harper of the 80s and 90s was no more, and you can’t help but see the similarities between Brown’s posturing and Harper’s governing.
The platform continues with many of the Liberal governments plans. There is no hint at radical change in the PC approach to colleges and universities. No major shifts in education policies that would significantly enrage teachers – in fact, the PCs seem intent on partnering with them. You won’t read about smaller government, other than a shaving that might be found in a value for money audit (hint: we just had a release this week, so what are we going to cut from it?). There is no real plan to get the debt under control, given that the bulk of our debt growth is related to our infrastructure spending, and the PCs seem intent to carry on with the Liberal long term infrastructure plan, plus adding a few trinkets of their own. Even on minimum wage, where the PCs say they’re going to approach things differently, it’s a policy of $15/hour minimum wage… eventually.
I raise these points because it shows where conservatism is these days. It’s a fear of not looking progressive enough in the eyes of voters. It’s a betrayal to those who believe that smaller government might be smarter and better. It’s an admission that taxpayers can fund government growth in perpetuity. It’s a denial that free markets and capitalism are part of the solution to our economic and social issues. I could go on.
Part of the problem is that modern neo-conservatism is losing the debate, and we don’t have anybody willing to create the conditions for the mainstays of the movement to continue. People aren’t buying the ‘tax cuts create jobs’ or ‘we should live within out means’ as rational explanations for policy anymore. Retrenchment is met with massive resistance by the public sector partners who are larger and better funded than any political party. And so, what we need is a safe space for conservative ideas. We need to create the winning conditions for conservative ideas to make sense for people. We need to make sure that the people, not the special interests, are in control of our government. We must at once define succinctly what governments must do for people, and ensure that we are world-class in delivering these more limited services. As bureaucracies grow, there is a greater disconnect between those at the top and those on the front lines, which doesn’t help with service delivery – something reasonable solutions and discourse can fix. Again, I could go on.
Over the next few months, I will personally be devoting more of my time to providing a home for such ideas to flourish. If you are interested in helping, I’d love to hear from you!
Prime Minister John A. Macdonald was a founding father of this country. More than 100 years after he died, we today find ourselves trying to make sense of his legacy.
This latest episode arrives to us by a motion passed at a meeting of an Ontario teachers’ union to ask school boards to remove Macdonald’s name from schools, alleging he “played a key role in developing systems that perpetuated genocide against Indigenous people.”
I want to begin by focusing on the British North America Act of 1867, which Macdonald participated in forming and vigorously debated. There are some great words in it, but my favourite must be what appears in section 91: “Peace, order and good government.”
Let’s first look at the words “good government.” Has anyone ever stopped to think about what this really means? Why did the founding fathers stop at “good?” Why not “great” or “amazing” or, even better, “perfect” government. The Americans wanted “a more perfect Union” for their country, yet we get stuck with a seemingly unimpressive “good government.”
But it is the way our democracy works. You see, we expect our governments to make mistakes. We have these pesky opposition members that ask questions that expose these mistakes. If we had perfect government, there wouldn’t be any questions to ask. These same opposition members put forward proposals to rectify the mistakes and we ask voters to pick their destiny.
If we had perfect government, there would be no need for an alternative path — North Korea seems to be the “perfect” example.
In essence, the contestation of public policy, the debate about whether the government is “good” enough, the partisanship that coalesces around competing viewpoints, are essential components to our freedom.
That is why I support a debate about Sir John A’s legacy. There wasn’t unanimity of opinion about his legacy at the time and there shouldn’t be unanimity now. Governments make mistakes, and progress occurs when we highlight, debate, and learn from them. If nothing else, we should thank Sir John A for promoting a system of government that is the greatest guarantor of our liberty.
I am perfectly fine with some people thinking our first prime minister was racist, but the problem of taking his name off our schools is that it would be a statement that we should all think he’s a racist.
It’s is an example of alt-left political correctness that goes like this: label something racist and if others don’t agree that it is racist, they are bigots.
Call the founding of our country genocide, as some teachers have, and no one can take pride in our nation because it means implicit agreement with wiping out an entire people.
Throw away the debate, the contestation of ideas, or opposing anything.
I stand with John A because he wanted a country that rejected uniformity, conformity of thought, and, dare I say it, consensus. I am a freer person because I can openly oppose and disagree.
A great fear of freedom and democracy, the one that Macdonald so passionately proposed and defended, is that positions are so ridiculed and shamed that they become too politically incorrect to contest.
The lesson in an Ontario teachers’ union’s request for the removal of Sir John A Macdonald’s name from schools isn’t about his legacy of racism and genocide for me.
It’s about his legacy for freedom and democracy. It’s about giving me the right to challenge other points of view, and for others to challenge mine. It is a legacy that makes Canada one of the freest countries in the world, and a legacy I will vigorously defend. He deserves to be on our schools, and students deserve to hear his full story.
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!