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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Ontario Grits are just so Liberal

By JOHN IBBITSON
Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Sep. 16, 2003

A great many commentators have savaged elements of the Ontario Conservatives' election platform, and with good reason. Extending tax benefits to parents with children in private schools damages the principle and practice of public education. Giving homeowners a tax break punishes renters. Exempting seniors from education property taxes undermines our collective obligation to each other.

But by concentrating our attention solely on the weaknesses in the Tory platform, we risk ignoring the gaping flaws in the Liberal one. Consider, if you will, what a perusal of the seven volumes of Ontario Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty's election promises reveals.

On education, the Liberals plan to scrap the private-school tax credit, redirecting the money into subsidized daycare and funding for early-childhood education. All well and good. But does a household with an income of $75,000 need to have its child-care costs partially subsidized, as it will under the Liberal plan? The Liberals also want to improve training and tighten licensing for child-care providers. Won't that raise child-care costs, undermining the very effectiveness of the subsidies?

A Liberal Ontario will increase school board autonomy, give teachers control over the Ontario College of Teachers (which establishes and enforces teaching standards) and end the debilitating confrontations between the teachers' unions and the government. Won't that simply lead to another round of salary increases for teachers? What will Mr. McGuinty do when his beloved pedagogues stop acting like compassionate professionals and start acting like Yorkshire coal miners, as is their wont?

On the environmental/energy front, Mr. McGuinty intends to shut down the province's five coal-fired generating stations within four years. And how will we replace all the lost electricity? By expanding generation at Niagara Falls, he says. By switching to natural gas, he says. By promoting new technologies, such as wind and landfill methane, he says. Sure, right after we talk those pigs into coming down from the trees.

The Liberals would increase subsidies for public transit, build almost 20,000 new units of subsidized housing and provide housing allowances for those most in need.

And if that isn't enough state intervention for you, the Liberals also plan to reimpose rent controls, despite overwhelming evidence that they contribute to forcing landlords out of the rental market. Mr. McGuinty's solution: subsidize rental construction. The Ontario Liberals are so Liberal.

To read the Grit economic-development platform is to be transported, magically, back to Ontario circa 1974. Economic development means freezing college tuitions. Economic development means expanding workfare. Economic development means improving the health system. Economic development means everything except economic development.

Economic development also means, according to the Liberals, increasing subsidies to automakers, increasing subsidies to farmers, increasing subsidies to the energy industry, and raising the minimum wage.

It also means creating "a provincial research commercialization project that will support university and private sector efforts to bring new ideas to market." Oh good Lord.

Finally, there is health care. The Liberals accuse the Tories of fostering creeping privatization by letting private companies deliver publicly funded services. This will be done away with. Instead, the Liberals will encourage group practices that include doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and pharmacists. Great idea. The Tories have been trying to do it for years, but the doctors want none of it. Whatcha gonna do about that, Mr. McG.?

The Liberals will reopen hospital beds, increase the number of spaces in medical schools for family doctors, offer supports for seniors so they can stay in their homes, and create yet another agency to monitor and report on the province's health-care system.

Every party everywhere promises all those things. And the waiting lists continue to grow.

Dalton McGuinty has had four years to put together his election platform. Being in opposition, he is cursed with the need to rally all those who oppose the existing government to his side. Every disaffected victim, every febrile idealist, everyone and anyone with a megaphone and a gripe is, by definition, welcome at his door.

The best thing that can be said for the Liberal plan is that some of the very worst ideas, such as renationalizing energy or introducing public auto insurance, didn't make it in. The second best thing that can be said is that much of what the Liberals are promising is too expensive or impractical to be implemented.

So the real question is not: which leader is up to the job? The real question is: whose election platform is worse for the province?



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