National Post editorial board: A Conservative government for Ontario
National Post Editorial Board | June 7, 2014 12:01 AM ET
It is difficult to overstate just how richly the Ontario Liberals deserve to be removed from office. It is difficult even to know where to begin.
As managers of public services they are, in the most charitable interpretation, famously inept. Witness the scandal at ORNGE, the non-profit set up to run the province’s air ambulance service, which soon devolved into a byzantine scheme to redirect public money into various private wallets. Witness the scandal at eHealth, which the auditor general found to have spent $1-billion comprehensively bungling efforts to create an electronic health records system. Witness former premier Dalton McGuinty’s signature green-energy initiative, which has seen electricity rates skyrocket even as the province exports electricity at a huge loss.
Indeed, Ontario’s Liberals are incredibly cavalier with public money. Witness the disbursement of some $30-million in grants to multicultural organizations, many with Liberal ties, in many cases based simply on ministers’ requests. (Who can forget the Ontario Cricket Association asking for $150,000 and getting $1-million?) Witness, most egregiously, the epic squandering of $1-billion to cancel two locally unpopular gas-fired power plants — plants Mr. McGuinty had unctuously defended against NIMBYism until he decided a few Liberal seats might be at risk, at which point he eliminated them with the stroke of a pen and his office busied itself covering up the matter. (Police are investigating. On Thursday they served a court order for documents at Queen’s Park, and confirmed they had questioned Mr. McGuinty.)
When violent aboriginal protesters occupied the town of Caledonia in 2006, Mr. McGuinty’s government instructed the provincial police force to stand down, and eventually caved to the thugs outright — buying the land, and embattled homeowners’ silence, on the public dime. (During the 2011 election campaign, he told the National Post’s editorial board he was proud of how he handled the issue.)
And if a decade of amoral, path-of-least-resistance ineptitude isn’t enough, just consider the bottom line. In 2004-05, the first full year of Liberal governance, Ontario’s net debt per capita was $11,373. Today it stands at $19,881, an increase of 75%. As a share of GDP, Ontario’s debt has risen from 27% to 39%. Among large provinces, only Quebec can play in that league — and on Wednesday Premier Philippe Couillard unveiled a budget that sets the stage for the tough choices that province will need to make to keep the bond raters at bay.
When Conservative leader Tim Hudak pressed Ms. Wynne for specific examples of how she would cut spending, she could only stammer something about more government investment
We can hardly say the same of the budget Ms. Wynne tabled on May 1, and which she promises to reintroduce within 20 days of reelection. It maintains the Liberal promise of a balanced budget by 2017-18. But it does so while significantly inflating projected deficits in the meantime, completely abandoning Mr. McGuinty’s late-days commitment to belt-tightening — notably a wage freeze for public sector workers — and offering precious little explanation as to how it would manage to get spending under control. In a damaging segment of Tuesday night’s leaders debate, when Conservative leader Tim Hudak pressed Ms. Wynne for specific examples of how she would cut spending, she could only stammer something about more government investment.
It’s not even clear we can expect any improvement from Ms. Wynne on the ethics file: She is currently defending the emergency $300-million bailout of a failed government-backed office building project in downtown Toronto as just another real estate deal. And having promised never again to direct public money toward partisan purposes, she abruptly committed billions to a subway project into east-end Toronto, replacing a light rail project the Liberals had supported — conveniently enough, right in the middle of a local byelection campaign.
The sensible alternative to re-electing the Liberals yet again is clearly Mr. Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives. Mr. Hudak has mounted an unusually and admirably blunt campaign premised on Ontario’s desperate need for austerity. He promises to balance the budget in two years. His platform, wisely, is focused entirely on job-creation. But instead of throwing money at businesses to create jobs they might or might not have created anyway, as the Liberals do proudly, Mr. Hudak proposes a more egalitarian sort of incentive — lowering Ontario’s corporate tax rate from 11.5% to 8%, wrestling down electricity costs (in part through winding down the Liberals’ green energy policies) and cutting regulation.
Mr. Hudak also promises, though not in so many words, war with Ontario’s public sector unions. He proposes paring the public sector workforce significantly through attrition, contracting out and eliminating needless middle management — though he notes that this would serve merely to take us back to 2009 staffing levels. He promises a two-year wage freeze, across the board, no exceptions — not even for the Ontario Provincial Police Association, which has responded with a shameful hissy-fit attack ad campaign. He would shutter the College of Trades, a needless level of union-friendly bureaucracy, and return regulation to the government’s direct purview where it belongs. And he would scrap the outrageous arbitration framework that awards public sector contracts with no consideration of the government’s ability to pay.
Notwithstanding some of the glitches in Mr. Hudak’s campaign materials, he brings a common sense perspective to governance that Ontario desperately needs — and not just on the baseline fiscal issues that are critical for Ontario’s future. To take just three examples: In opposition, the Tories have supported imposing limits on third-party election advertising, the lack of which allows the labour movement to vastly outspend the parties themselves in a thinly veiled campaign for the Liberals; placing skill, commitment and other professional qualities above seniority as criteria for hiring teachers; and adding a dram of competition to Ontario’s bizarre and sclerotic liquor retail system.
In short, we believe Mr. Hudak is the principled, competent, strong-willed and compassionate fiscal conservative Ontario needs.