''Choose change,'' Ontario's Liberal party urged voters, and they did, sweeping out Ernie Eves's bumbling, cynical Conservatives and sweeping in Dalton McGuinty's Liberals.Mr. McGuinty now has a powerful mandate to deliver the change he promised during the election campaign. But what kind of change? What sort of government, what vision for the province, did Ontarians choose when they elected him? Despite yesterday's decisive vote, that is far from clear.
Mr. McGuinty ran a solid, honourable campaign, taking on the Tories while still getting out the positive Liberal message. But that message was all over the map. During a televised election debate last month, Mr. McGuinty accused Mr. Eves of wanting to be all things to all people -- something that could as easily be said about him.
At one time or another he promised stable electricity rates, a balanced budget and a freeze on tax increases for individuals; lower car insurance rates and better environmental protection; more money for schools, hospitals and public transit -- in short, more and better everything.
Many of his promises are probably unaffordable. It is hard to see how he can close down all of Ontario's unclean coal-fired power plants without raising power rates or taxes, just as it is hard to know where he will get the money to lower the class size in the early school grades to 20 or fewer.
Other promises are wrong in principle. Reintroducing rent control is bound to hurt renters in the long term by discouraging builders from constructing rental housing. Freezing post-secondary tuition fees will hurt universities at a time when they are badly short of funds. Rejecting private solutions in health care will force an even tighter straitjacket on the medicare system.
In his favour, Mr. McGuinty has also promised to cancel a tax credit for parents who send their children to private schools and a credit for seniors who pay property tax -- both gimmicks dreamed up by the Tories to win over interest groups. Another bad Tory idea, mortgage-interest deductibility for homeowners, will go in the trash as well. He would leave teachers with their right to strike, where Mr. Eves would take it away.
And his promise to live within Ontario's means -- no tax increases, no budget deficit -- is welcome.
But the man who urged Ontario to choose change must now make choices of his own. He must look at his grocery list of promises and decide which the province can afford and which it cannot; which truly make sense, and which were inserted for political advantage.
Ontario has chosen change, and that is good, but the really tough choices lie ahead.