Ontario 2007 : forgotten but not gone

Apr 6th, 2007 | By | Category: Canadian Provinces

Patches of snow on the ground in early April almost hint at a certain reluctance to get on with the new season of change in “Canada’s most populous province” (and don’t you forget it). Yet by the end of the first quarter of 2007 probably all but the most obtuse central Canadians have at last come to see that their old days in the sun are gone forever, now that the West is in at Ottawa. On the other hand, who has time to worry? Ontario still has 38.8% of the cross-Canada population. Much of it remains, as usual, quite prosperous – and hard-working. In various parts of the province intriguing new currents of the global village are in the air. And, as a sign that the local institutions are ready for at least some fresh breezes, this coming October 10 will mark the first-ever fixed-date provincial election. Who knows? The real people of Ontario may be just starting to stand up. (And the improbable Dalton McGuinty could even be their natural leader?)

Getting the politics out of the way first …

The people of Ontario may still be light years away from focusing on the first fixed-date provincial election in their now 140-year history to date, this coming October 10. But, as illustrated by the latest “Lotterygate” in the Legislative Assembly at Queen’s Park, their current elected representatives have caught the fever already.

As the Canadian Press has reported: “After enduring nearly two weeks of opposition attacks over the lottery scandal, Premier Dalton McGuinty lashed out Wednesday [April 4] as he accused his political foes of using innuendo in an attempt to smear the Liberal government … Conservative Leader John Tory and NDP Leader Howard Hampton have repeatedly tried to link McGuinty’s office to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. in the wake of a scathing ombudsman’s report that found retailers ripped off legitimate winners for tens of millions of dollars.”

The Premier’s approach to the issue is clear: “‘We’ll stay focused on our priorities’ … The government will also implement all of the ombudsman’s recommendations to improve security and accountability in the lottery system, McGuinty added.”

As great as the din inside the Queen’s Park legislature has been, not too many people of Ontario more than several hundred yards beyond the Provincial Parliament Buildings, in the old south end of midtown Toronto, seem to have heard the noise yet. What has apparently been going on at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) for some time now (well back into the last Conservative regime of Mike Harris and Ernie Eves, e.g.?) is certainly appalling. (And why almost 140 employees of OLG need to be paid more than $100,000 per year seems particularly puzzling.) But many Ontarians are still especially into being Canadians first. “What about ‘Canada’s new government’ in Ottawa?” – and/or “Will there be yet another federal election soon?” – remain more popular local political questions for the moment.

The recent announcement by former Liberal Premier David Peterson’s brother Tim that he will be contesting his current Mississauga South seat in the October 10 provincial election as a John Tory Conservative, and not a Dalton McGuinty Liberal, does underline the point that the current McGuinty Liberal government is not exactly a shoe-in for re-election this fall.

The improbably named Mr. Tory himself is said to really be the kind of centrist and even old “progressive conservative” (or perhaps Red Tory) that Mr. Harper in Ottawa may only be pretending to be right now. And Howard Hampton’s NDP continues to win some respect among its peers as a sometimes creative-gadfly presence in the Legislative Assembly, that can still win by-elections in seats that have long been friendly to its nowadays somewhat murky old social gospel.

At the same time, despite predictable complaints from predictable quarters, finance minister Greg Sorbara’s latest McGuinty Liberal budget a few weeks ago did seem rather successful. (Though it was also in some ways much like the parallel Harper federal budget – with various good things slated for full fruition several years hence, e.g., and only very gently cumulative and affordable progress towards these worthy goals in the shorter term.) Mr. Sorbara himself cut an attractive and impressive enough figure in his TV Ontario budget appearance, wearing a rose in his lapel after the style of his self-confessed all-Canadian political hero, Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Along with Finance Minister Sorbara (whose luster almost seems brighter after his absence from cabinet for a time, during an investigation into his private business dealings that did not apparently turn up any real smoking guns), Premier McGuinty‘s current Ontario leadership team has some considerable depth, nicely covering assorted bases of the province’s increasingly diverse and evolving democratic electoral demography.

As just a partial alphabetical sample of 10 other valuable talents and backgrounds, consider: Michael Bryant, Attorney General (St. Paul’s in Toronto) ; Mary Anne Chambers, Children and Youth Services (Scarborough East in Toronto) ; Dwight Duncan, Energy, Chair of Cabinet (Windsor-St. Clair) ; John Gerretsen, Municipal Affairs and Housing (Kingston and The Islands) ; Madeleine Meilleur, Community and Social Services (Ottawa-Vanier) ; Sandra Pupatello, Economic Development and Trade, Women’s Issues (Windsor West) ; David Ramsay, Natural Resources, Aboriginal Affairs (Timiskaming-Cochrane) ; George Smitherman, Deputy Premier, Health and Long-Term Care (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) ; Harinder Takhar, Small Business and Entrepreneurship (Mississauga Centre) ; and Kathleen Wynne, Education (Don Valley West in Toronto).

There may or may not still be some kind of fundamentalist right-left ideological clash in Ontario in any federal election that may or may not happen soon. But this does not seem too likely at all for the provincial election on October 10. Barring the sudden emergence of some very serious scandal against the McGuinty government (which the current Lotterygate flap is probably not likely to develop into?), the big question this fall is most likely just going to be who do the voters like better as their next premier – Premier McGuinty, or his chief (and only serious) rival, John Tory?

Margaret Evans is the modern biographer of the crafty 19th century Canadian Liberal (or Grit or “Great Reform”) guru Oliver Mowat, the first commanding Ontario premier who remained in office without interruption from 1872 until 1896 (and then served as Lieutenant Governor of “our mixed community” in Canada’s most populous province, from 1897 to 1903). And she has argued that almost all Mowat’s most memorable successors have also “maintained a powerful political machine and carried on the Mowat traditions of strict public morality, competent, businesslike administration, and cautiously progressive social and economic policies in substantial harmony with the ideals of the people.”

It is not yet quite clear that Dalton McGuinty has almost become the most likely heir to this mantle in the early 21st century. But at least as things look six months away from the province’s first fixed-date general election (just one of Premier McGuinty’s various cautiously progressive reforms of today), there seems some sort of chance that he just might be the Oliver Mowat of 20032??? – even if he still does look a bit like Norman Bates in the Alfred Hitchcock movie classic, Psycho.

Key current issues in Ontario civil society, Spring 07 – a Top 10 catalogue …

CW Editor’s Note: Dr. White has promised that he will be providing a little more under most of the following headings below soon. (Ontario family commitments over the Easter holiday weekend are given as the official excuse for the delay) :

 10. AVE ATQUE VALE ERIC REGULY (AND THE TORONTO SUN?) – OR GOODBYE TO ALL THAT … (OR LAST GASPS OF THE OLD CENTRAL CANADIAN IMPERIALIST BUSINESS CLASS?). Eric Reguly at the Globe and Mail has been the last near-great Toronto journalist to poignantly (and quite interestingly) lament the demise of the old local business class, that once used Canadian nationalist rhetoric, and assorted public-private partnerships, to bolster the now largely vanished cause of Empire Ontario capitalism. And it seems a sign of the times that on April 5, 2007 he published “my last regular column from Toronto. A new column will launch later this month, when I become the Globe and Mail‘s European business correspondent, based in Rome (for my sins).”

Some vaguely related signs ooze from Antonia Zerbisias’s March 30, 2007 Toronto Star report, which begins: “You may not notice it as you go by, but the smell of death is on many street corners in the GTA … It comes out of all those red boxes offering the Toronto Sun … It’s not just here. The same stench emanates from Sun Media boxes in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa and London, where the Free Press is also being bled to death by Quebecor … the Sun chain is being eviscerated by the Montreal-based company controlled by Pierre Karl Pladeau, a guy who was born with a media empire up his butt and who seems to believe he can do anything, damn the rules and regulators.”

(Back in the early 1970s the Toronto Sun arose from the ashes of the old Toronto Telegram – voice of the old Tory Toronto, back in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. In the early 21st century, of course, neither federal nor provincial Conservatives have any seats in the City of Toronto at all. And whatever the ultimate future of Stephen Harper, it does not seem too likely that even he will be bringing the old Tory Toronto back. In provincial politics John Tory may actually be trying to do just that, in some limited degree. Some of his ancestors certainly were figures of note in the old Tory Toronto of days now long gone by. But none of this seems likely to help him win Ontario’s first fixed-date provincial election, this coming October 10.)

9. DON’T FORGET THE ONTARIO ELECTORAL REFORM DEBATE (I.E. HOW TO COPY BEAUTIFUL BC). Whatever else, Dalton McGuinty’s Ontario is not too proud to look to Canada’s Pacific Coast for inspiration on the worthy subject of democratic reform. The fixed provincial election date itself just copies a somewhat earlier reform in British Columbia. And at the moment Ontario also has a citizen’s assembly hard at work copying another BC reforming adventure.

As explained by the Orillia Packet and Times on April 5: “Ontario voters may get some significant power in October that could radically change the way politicians are elected… Premier Dalton McGuinty … said he looks forward to a report by the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform … The group of 103 randomly selected citizens is studying a system called mixed member proportional, which would see voters mark two ballot boxes – one for a local representative and one for a political party … They’ll vote next weekend on whether the new system should be presented to the public in a referendum question on Oct. 10, election day … Supporters of the proportional system say it would usher in a more fair, inclusive process that would make the popular vote better reflect the distribution of seats in the legislature.”

All this democratic reforming may become some kind of sleeper issue in the Ontario provincial election campaign, whenever it finally wakes up the voting public (probably sometime towards the end of August, when what used to be known in the provincial capital as the “Exhibition weather” sets in?) Murray Campbell at the Globe and Mail, e.g., has just posed the prospect that standing up for the good old status quo “first past the post” electoral system Ontario has now – like everywhere else in Canada – could finally prove a good conservative issue for John Tory.

Yet opponents of switching to “proportional representation” may not need to worry all that much. As the Canadian Press report in the Orillia Packet and Times has also explained, “critics say the public shouldn’t get its hopes up because the government has set up the electoral-reform process to fail.” And in this as other respects Ontario would just be following the already established BC model. (On the other hand, just think how interesting it might be if the people of Ontario finally decided to best their brothers and sisters in the Pacific lotus land, and truly vote en masse for the proposed reform? And remember how much better Mario Dumont’s “Action Democratique” has just done in the Quebec provincial election than anyone really thought? Also note that the Ontario Citizens Assembly seems about to propose a less eccentric specific method of implementing “PR” than its pioneering big brother in BC.)








5. BUT SOMETIMES STRANGE CRIMES DO HAPPEN IN THE NICEST PLACES: UPDATE ON THE CROCKER-MENENDEZ MURDER MYSTERY IN MARKHAM. For those who may be following the counterweights reports on Southern Ontario’s current most exotic murder case, here is the latest update from the 680 News staff. The headline reads “A brief court appearance Wednesday [April 4] for the suspect in a double murder in Markham.” The brief report goes on: “Thirty-five-year-old Chris Little is charged with two counts of first degree murder. His estranged wife, 33-year-old Julie Crocker and 34-year-old Paula Menendez were found dead in Crocker’s Markham home on February 12th. Little appeared in court in person for five minutes [on Wednesday, April 4] and is to appear next on April 20th.Ten days have also been set aside in May, June, July and August for a preliminary hearing.”









Randall White is the author of a number of books, including Ontario 16101985: A Political and Economic History, and Ontario Since 1985.

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