“The people of Ontario have never been spoiled by too much perfection in government”

Oct 24th, 2009 | By Randall White | Category: Canadian Provinces
Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan delivers the bad news about a ballooning  Ontario deficit of $24.7 billion in the current fiscal year, while Premier Dalton McGuinty watches soberly from behind. Chris Young/Canadian Press.

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan delivers the bad news about a ballooning Ontario deficit of $24.7 billion in the current fiscal year, while Premier Dalton McGuinty watches soberly from behind. Chris Young/Canadian Press.

The news that the Ontario provincial government will now be running a deficit of some $24.7 billion for the current 2009-2010 fiscal year has induced much hyperbolic, knee-jerk hand-wringing among certain observers, who rely more on ideology than on the tedious task of reading the actual public documents, with all their mind-numbing numbers and hard-to-digest prose.

Even before the full story had been officially delivered on Thursday, October 22, in the “Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review 2009,” Terence Corcoran at the National Post had bravely confessed: “In Saturday’s column, I awarded Ontario the ‘Worst Government in Canada’ award. To which Mel in Calgary, in a posted comment …replied: ‘You’re too focused on Ontario. Look at Alberta where the Conservatives … on a per capita basis, have bigger deficits than Ontario. Or what about BC, with the rail scandal and lying about HST?’”

Accidentally or otherwise, Ontario finance minister Dwight Duncan’s official financial review echoed this theme: “Like governments everywhere — Canada, the United States, Great Britain, British Columbia and Alberta — Ontario is facing economic and fiscal challenges.”

Pamela Anderson was at the Ontario legislature on Friday, October 23, the day after the official provincial deficit update, for some reason or another. Several commentators reported that she has longer hair than Dwight Duncan — or even Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath. AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn.

Pamela Anderson was at the Ontario legislature on Friday, October 23, the day after the official provincial deficit update, for some reason or another. Several commentators reported that she has longer hair than Dwight Duncan — or even Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath. AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn.

The Windsor Star picked up on this side of the story too: “As bad as the news of a nearly $25 billion deficit finance minister Dwight Duncan had to deliver at Queen’s Park on Thursday was, he can take solace in the fact his cohorts across North America are bearers of similar bad news, a political scientist says … ‘One thing they’ve got going for them is they’re in good company,’ said University of Windsor political science professor Cheryl Collier.”

None of this stopped Christina Blizzard, on the hard right side of the Queen’s Park press gallery from moaning: “ The province is drowning in red ink … Even former NDP premier Bob Rae would have blushed to announce the record $24.7-billion deficit we’re now facing.”

In fact, as a percentage of total spending the $24.7 billion in 2009 is not much different from the first few deficits posted by the Rae government. And as Dwight Duncan’s official document also stresses: “the deficit in 2009–10 relative to the size of the economy … is still low compared with other industrialized jurisdictions impacted by the global economic crisis.”

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak used the huge deficit as a reason to pitch the message that his party should replace the “tired McGuinty government” — but has he actually read the deficit update document?

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak used the huge deficit as a reason to pitch the message that his party should replace the “tired McGuinty government” — but has he actually read the deficit update document?

Moreover, as urged in a Toronto Star editorial: “Ontario’s deficit, while high by historic standards, is roughly proportional to Conservative Ottawa’s $55 billion and Conservative Alberta’s $4.7 billion … Ontario’s net debt, expressed as a percentage of the province’s GDP …  is actually lower than it was during the first term of the Mike Harris [Progressive Conservative] government.”

It would no doubt be nonetheless rash to predict that the McGuinty Liberal government will get away with paying no political price at all. Even the progressive Toronto Star columnist Jim Coyle has felt obliged to observe that: “New PC Leader Tim Hudak turned in an impressive performance denouncing” the “Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review 2009.”

Yet not everyone has been all that impressed by Mr, Hudak’s latest legislature hyperbole, which has also drawn on Terence Corcoran’s self-confessed misguided award of ‘Worst Government in Canada.’ Premier McGuinty still has virtues that neither of his opposition opponents can seriously claim as yet: He is actually interested in and cares about Ontario, as opposed to just the power-tripping interests of his particular political party and its ideological pretensions.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said her first step would be to stop the McGuinty government’s planned sales tax harmonization (also supported by the Harper Conservative government in Ottawa, and similarly planned by provincial Liberals in BC) in a speech in Toronto on Thursday, October 22. But how would that help the deficit?

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said her first step would be to stop the McGuinty government’s planned sales tax harmonization (also supported by the Harper Conservative government in Ottawa, and similarly planned by provincial Liberals in BC) in a speech in Toronto on Thursday, October 22. But how would that help the deficit?

(Or, as was once admiringly claimed about the old Tory dynastic Duke of Kent, W. Darcy McKeough: “he has an opinion about every square foot of ground in the province.” See, e.g,., “A Spectator interview with Premier Dalton McGuinty.”)

As no less objective an authority than Chris Selley has urged on the National Post website: “The Ontario Liberals’ real problem isn’t so much its ‘astronomical’ deficit figure, Adam Radwanski argues in the Globe — because Canadians have no idea how 11-digit figures affect their everyday lives — but rather the hundreds of small funding decisions they’re going to make down the line, each of which will exact a toll. [As the government lives up to the headline: “Ontario deficit to hit $25B; Duncan warns of restraint — later.”] We suppose that’s true, but it seems rather counterintuitive to us that Ontarians outraged over spending cuts would turn to Mike Harris Jr.”

At least based on Ms. Horwath’s earnest but still somewhat out-of-her-depth performance so far, they are not likely to turn to the heirs of Bob’s NDP provincial Rae days either — even if the Toronto Blue Jays did at least win two World Series during his perhaps too much-maligned Ontario regime!

Dalton McGuinty helps dedicate the Bill Davis Studio at TV Ontario, November 12, 2008: “I’ve met the Premier before ... but this was my first time shooting with him — and let me tell you ...  He’s super-friendly and gracious ... I heard him say goodbye to every person on-set by name, pretty impressive since he’d met all ten of us a scant half-hour before.”

Dalton McGuinty helps dedicate the Bill Davis Studio at TV Ontario, November 12, 2008: “I’ve met the Premier before ... but this was my first time shooting with him — and let me tell you ... He’s super-friendly and gracious ... I heard him say goodbye to every person on-set by name, pretty impressive since he’d met all ten of us a scant half-hour before.”

So, say whatever else you like: Mr. McGuinty has almost managed to inherit  the ancient mantle of Mr. Ontario over the past half-dozen years.

Does anyone still remember “the Christian Statesman,” Oliver Mowat — Liberal founding father of the modern Province of Ontario in the late 19th century, and premier for some 24 successive years, 1872–1896? And smile when you say Christian statesman, about the man who also invented all subsequent versions of big red and blue machines — and who memorably said: “Other things equal, no government is in the habit of preferring its enemies to its friends.”

If this 19th century man “who wore the white flower of a blameless life” has any potential early 21st century successor, it can only be Dalton McGuinty. As matters stand so far, at any rate, neither of Premier McGuinty’s two main opponents are at all close to him on this front — and his scandals, deficits, etc, etc, have not yet been bad enough to do him in regardless.

These are hard times everywhere after all. And as Premier Bill Davis (1971-1984) once memorably reminded us: “The people of Ontario have never been spoiled by too much perfection in government.”

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