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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Attack of the kitten-eaters

By MARGARET WENTE
Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Sep. 16, 2003

Have kitten-eaters from outer space invaded Ernie's brain? That's one way to explain his peculiar campaign strategy. It's actually being run by the enemy. Consider the evidence so far: Ernie's tanking in the polls. His negative campaigning is a bomb. Voters aren't buying those scary TV ads that portray Dalton McGuinty as a sinister, money-sucking vampire.

So here's the Tory plan. Get really nasty. Do lots more of what's not working!

The trouble is, Ernie Eves is running out of things to be against. He's already come out against gay people who want to get married, teachers' unions, criminals, immigrants, immigrant criminals, and the entire area code of 416, which as we know is full of all of the above. What's left? Perhaps he'll come out swinging against vegetarians. Maybe he'll discover that the theory of evolution is a degenerate progressive plot.

I'd be less cynical if I thought Ernie actually believed half the stuff he says. But I know people who knew him before he turned into Fred Flintstone. I have the sneaking feeling he couldn't give a hoot if two guys get married. (If he were really a paleo-con, the splendid Isabel would have ditched him long ago. She's so 416 she works in public television and shops at Holts.)

But saying what he really thinks is not a leader's job. Winning is his job. So Ernie's saying what he thinks people in 705 and 519 and 905 really think.

In political campaigns, saying what you really think is something to be avoided at all costs. Look at Helen Johns. She's the Tory cabinet minister who was put in charge of agriculture because it's hard to screw it up. Ever since the tainted-meat scandal broke out, Ms. Johns has been neither seen nor heard. When finally located the other day, she said what she really thinks, which is that she has better things to do than worry if your hamburger is made from dead stock. "I have very big concerns this riding is targeted, as you all know, and I'm going to be in the riding, doing what I need to do to be able to win this riding and to have another PC candidate back at Queen's Park," she said.

Which only goes to show that incumbents are seldom defeated by those with superior ideas. They're perfectly able to defeat themselves.

As for ideas, Mr. McGuinty is full of them. Mr. Eves doesn't have any, and Mr. McGuinty has way too many. I once heard him offer his solemn pledge that after he's elected, 75 per cent of all schoolchildren will pass the provincial literacy tests. This struck me as a promise so idiotic that not even people who live in 705-land could be taken in by it (although, come to think of it, all he'd need to do is change the meaning of "pass" until the bar is low enough). He will repeal those wicked tax breaks for privileged people who send their kids to private school. Instead, he'll give tax breaks to privileged people who send their kids to daycare. He's going to shut down all our nasty dirty coal plants. He doesn't mention how he'll keep the lights on after he does this. But, hey, what are details when you've got a vision?

As everybody knows, the reptilian kitten-eater has cast himself as the nice guy in this campaign. He's taking the high road all the way, unless it stops working, in which case he'll change his mind. No slinging mud for him. (He's delegated that job to his underlings.)

Mr. McGuinty is so nice he probably spends his spare time helping little old ladies across the street. But that doesn't mean he tells the truth. Au contraire. The truth is dangerous, and therefore it will never cross his lips.

In fact, there is no sign that the nice guys can govern better than the nasty guys. Neither party has a clue how to keep the lights on. As for leaving no child behind in school, good luck. Ontario's fad-driven education bureaucracy is almost unreformable. There aren't enough teachers or classrooms to reduce class sizes, and the schools need billions just to keep them from falling down. But the health-care system needs the money more, and will devour every extra buck in sight. These dollars will keep the hospitals open, but they will not buy shorter waiting lists, more nurses, or primary health-care reform.

No wonder the voters are in a cranky mood. What they really want to do is check "none of the above." But as I learned in civics class, that is not an option. You can lodge a protest vote (that's how we got Bob Rae). You can try to vote strategically. But what strategy do you have in mind? "What could possibly be worse than an arrogant and smug third-term Tory majority?" I asked a long-time veteran the other day. "How about a Liberal-NDP coalition?" he shot back.

Indeed. I thought the choice was between the kitten-eater and Fred Flintstone. But actually, the outcome could be much, much worse.



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