Skip navigation

What a Liberal Ontario could look like

Globe and Mail Update

If the world unfolds according to his plan, premier-designate Dalton McGuinty will go back to the polls in the spring of 2007 boasting of a long list of accomplishments, including the fact that the election date of June 7 has been fixed by law.

Mr. McGuinty, the oldest son of a literature professor, said many times during the election campaign that if a Liberal government had to stand for just one thing, it would be a better education system.

Better education costs money, and experts suggest the Liberals won't have much to play with in their first year or two in office. But, by their own standards, if Ontario's publicly financed schools are not substantially improved over the course of their mandate, they can truly be deemed to have failed as a government.

That means Mr. McGuinty must proceed, however slowly, with two primary planks of his education-spending platform - promises he made at every turn during the campaign:
•He must cap class sizes at 20 students in the junior grades.
•He must raise the legal dropout age to 18 from 16.

"I am very confident in our plan and I am determined to get that job done. I will bring the best people together to make that happen," Mr. McGuinty said during his last day of campaigning.

"I am not pretending to be a miracle worker. What I am saying is we've got a solid plan. It is affordable. It is responsible. And, I would argue, it is absolutely essential today."

Therefore, in the next four years, Ontarians can expect not only a reduction in the number of students per class but also growth in split-grade classes and a proliferation of portable classrooms to hold them.

The number of teenagers working full-time in doughnut shops and gas bars should decline and skilled-trades apprenticeships increase.

Yet to be explained is how the government will keep older teens in school, or even training programs, if they truly do not want to be there.

Mr. McGuinty, who has three children in university and a fourth in his last year of high school, says he will freeze postsecondary tuition fees for two years immediately after taking office.

But he has left the door open to increases in subsequent years.

He also says he will create 50,000 more spaces at colleges and universities. But that's an expensive promise and did not receive repeated attention during the campaign. It may be among the first to fall off the list.

Turning to health care, the Liberals are promising to hire 8,000 nurses, but they have left themselves five years to do so. Even that will be a challenge. Not only is it an expensive proposition, but there simply are not enough nurses or spaces in nursing schools to fill the demand. And increasing numbers of nurses are nearing retirement.

The severe acute respiratory syndrome crisis taught health-care bureaucrats the importance of providing nurses who want full-time employment with full-time jobs.

It's a lesson Mr. McGuinty says he has learned. He may have trouble convincing the hospitals that it is worth the additional expense. But expect to see fewer part-timers among nursing ranks in four years.

There is also a doctor shortage. The Liberals say they will make it easier for foreign-trained physicians to practise in the province, an election plank that would seem achievable.

They are also promising to build 150 family health teams across Ontario. But the Progressive Conservatives shared that dream and had difficulty getting medical professionals to buy in to it.

Further, the government is facing acrimonious talks with the Ontario Medical Association, which wants major pay raises - and a pension plan - for doctors.

Mr. McGuinty often talks about his government taking a conciliatory approach to labour negotiations, calling on unions and management to sit down to sort out their differences. That philosophy will be put to the test in the imminent talks with doctors.

The premier-designate says he will be tough but fair. But political veterans warn that fairness can be seen as weakness when unions and groups such as the OMA are on the other side of the table.

On the environment, the Liberals have said they will change laws to make Ontario regulations governing the importation of hazardous waste some of the toughest in North America. At the moment, they are among the most lax.

Mr. McGuinty has also set a target of diverting 60 per cent of garbage from landfill sites through increased composting and recycling. So households can expect to be putting green boxes out alongside their blue boxes on recycling day.

The Liberals say they will close coal-burning power plants by 2007 and replace them with cleaner sources of energy. But that could cost billions of dollars. Past power-construction projects left Ontario with a $38-billion debt.

Public transit will be emphasized, and municipalities will get money from the provincial gas tax to help with that. Mr. McGuinty is counting on his friends in Ottawa to follow suit.
That is just one area in which he expects more provincial-federal co-operation.

The Ontario Liberals are planning to tap into federal funds to help them build more daycare spaces and assisted housing and to train more workers.

And they hope to sign a made-in-Ontario immigration agreement that would bring more settlement services and language courses to new Canadians. Mr. McGuinty can easily become emotional as he comments on the diversity of his supporters and of all Canadians.

Like Paul Martin, the man who expects to be Prime Minister, Mr. McGuinty is a strong believer in the value of immigration. So the Ontario of four years hence will be more multiethnic and multicultural than it is today.

Observers are looking for two possible outcomes. A skeptical scenario would be that Mr. McGuinty came to office with a lot of promises and did little because the success of a government requires leadership, not rhetoric, and he may be long on rhetoric and short on capacity, said Daniel Drache, a political science professor at York University.

"The optimistic [scenario] would be that the crisis in health care will be addressed because the future prosperity of the province and the electoral fortunes of the Liberal Party will depend on repairing the damage of the [Mike] Harris-[Ernie] Eves years," he said.

In sum, Mr. McGuinty has many dreams. Most require a lot of cash. So the shape of Ontario of four years hence will be largely dependent on the economy that takes it there.

Recommend this article? 1 votes

Back to top