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Online with John Tory

Ontario's PC Leader joined us Thursday to discuss his bid for a seat in the legislature and what the province should be doing differently to battle the recession

Globe and Mail Update

"As Ontario's Liberal government tries to navigate its way through the economic crisis, it needs a strong opposition to hold it accountable," The Globe wrote in this editorial. "Since the last provincial election, in 2007, it has not had one. With [this month's] announcement that Progressive Conservative MPP Laurie Scott will step aside so that PC Leader John Tory can run in a by-election, that may finally change.

"Ms. Scott, one of the more popular and promising members of her caucus, will be missed in the Legislature. (She will probably attempt to return there in the next general election.) But the sacrifice she is making is a valuable one.

"Mr. Tory's absence from Queen's Park since losing in the riding of Don Valley West in 2007 has left the Conservatives dispirited and rudderless, going through the motions with veteran MPP Bob Runciman half-heartedly standing in for him in the Legislature. Since receiving a lukewarm endorsement in last year's leadership review, Mr. Tory has been unable to reassert control over his party. Caucuses are rarely easy to manage when in opposition, particularly after an unsuccessful election campaign. Mr. Tory's difficulty in finding an MPP willing to step aside for him has emboldened his critics. In recent months, the Tories seem to have spent as much time fighting with each other as attacking Dalton McGuinty's Liberals."

The editorial concluded: "Mr. Tory needs to make up for lost time in rebuilding his party both organizationally and in defining its policy agenda. His experience in the upper echelons of the business world should be very useful as Ontario seeks to pull itself out of recession — not just in criticizing the Liberals' ideas, but in putting forward alternatives. Ms. Scott's gracious decision has granted him the opportunity to fulfill his promise as a political leader."

Since then, Rick Johnson, a school-board chairman who lost Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock to Ms. Scott but still pulled in 30 per cent of the vote, has put himself forward as Mr. Tory's Liberal challenger a by-election that Mr. McGuinty has promised to call in the near future.

A keen observer of the recent turmoil within Ontario's Progressive Conservative Party, blogger Andrew Steele intially compared the swap of Ms. Scott for Mr. Tory to the Boston Red Sox selling Babe Ruth for a Broadway musical and suggested that, with taxpayers footing the bill for yet another PC bid to parachute a leader into the legislature, the Liberals should be smiling. But he also compiled a comprehensive list of 10 reasons Mr. Tory will win the by-election in HKLB.

With all that in mind, we are happy that Mr. Tory has agreed to join us and take your questions on his bid to at last win a seat in the legislature, why he stuck around after his self-imposed deadline for doing so had passed and what Ontario should be doing differently to battle the recession.

Mr. Tory was online Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (ET). Your questions and his answers appear in sequence at the bottom of this page.

Editor's Note: globeandmail.com editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. HTML is not allowed. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.

Darren Yourk, globeandmail.com editor: Good morning Mr. Tory. Thanks so much for joining us to take questions from our readers. before we get started, I was wondering if you could share your thoughts on the York University strike and Premier Dalton McGuinty's decision to send Reg Pearson in to try to find a resolution.

John Tory writes: I can't object to a mediator trying to resolve the matter but the past weeks suggest that chances of success aren't high. As a result, I strongly believe Mr. McGuinty should be moving now to recall the Legislature so that if there is not a resolution by weeks end, he can move to end the strike. Enough is enough. Students have had their year placed in jeopardy, jobs are being lost, summer jobs may be precluded for some. If he places the students first as I do, he will act now (b etter late than never) and end this strike. That's a view shared by taxpayers who are in awe of a group which turns down 10 per cent + when they the taxpayers are losing jobs and getting zero if they keep their jobs.

Nick Be from Toronto Canada writes: Mr. Tory we have not heard much from the opposition during this economic crisis. Can you tell us what your party has been doing to help Ontario survive this economic downturn and what your thoughts are for the future direction of the province.

John Tory writes: We have offered repeatedly to work with Mr. McGuinty on the economy as that is what I think people expect in times of crisis. We suggested all party committees which could tackle areas like manufacturing, small business, innovation etc but Mr. McGuinty rejected that offer. We have focused on the fact that in the long term, Ontario must once again become the most attractive place to invest in Canada. We are not there today because our taxes are too high and the government is in fact making it difficult for people to do business. I can't tell you how many people are throwing up their hands and telling me how the Ontario government and its massive squads of auditors and inspectors for every occasion are making their lives more difficult than the recession itself. In the shorter term we support the need for sensible infrastructure investment which will get going now and which will improve our productivity. We need dates, times, places and real accountability on this. We have also suggested revamping training programs so people can actually apply and get money which isn't the case now. In the end though, our economy will be strong again because people have confidence investing in Ontario. That must be the environment we are committed to creating here.

Jack Frost from Toronto writes: Hello Mr. Tory and thanks for responding to my question. During the election, Mr. McGuinty refused to discuss Ontario's de-industrialization crisis. And as we know this crisis has cost the province some 300 000 good paying jobs and has landed us the status of a have not province. Do you think that Mr. McGuinty could have saved some of our manufacturing capacity had he off-set the crippling cost of energy and a high dollar, with some form of tax cut?

John Tory writes: This follows a bit on the last question. Had we taken steps during the good times to make our taxes more competitive, to reform our regulatory system to make sure it protected the public interest but didn't act as a bar to investment and jobs, had we made some of the infrastructure investments when the government was literally awash in money, we would be better prepared today to weather the tough times and to keep jobs and investment here. Instead Mr. McGuinty just spent that money without regard to the return we would or would not get, without regard to getting any results. It was as if all that mattered was HOW MUCH you were spending, not what you were getting for it. Now we are at very high levels of committed spending, without any restraint measures, without having INVESTED in lower taxes to attract investment, without having built the infrastructure and it has made our troubles much worse than they had to be. I am hopeful that Mr. McGuinty has learned some lessons and even in the so-called "stimulus" package will not just spend for the sake pf spending, will insist on rigorous monitoring of budgets and timetables and will insist on transparency in terms of what is funded and why. This is true of the auto assistance too. We MUST know how the money is being spent and know that everyone including the CAW is at the table contributing to a positive outcome. Any less accountability than that will lead to a repetition of the programs which spent billions only to see the jobs disappear.

John Gehan from queensville Canada writes: If Mr. Tory wins the by-election will he still try to win a seat in Toronto in the 2011 election?

John Tory writes: I am trying to take these elections one at a time. I am very busy now earning the confidence of the people of Haliburton Kawartha Lakes Brock. I am ensuring that they understand how much I will model myself after Laurie Scott, how she will be at my side getting things done for people, and that will mean two people fighting for their needs and aspirations, not just one. Laurie Scott and I have agreed to discuss what we can do together to ensure that the best interests of the residents of that constituency are placed first in all respects and we will continue to discuss every aspect of that as we go forward after the by-election. In the meantime I am going to fight for the four laning of highway 35, for more broadband in the rural areas, for a proper risk management program for all farmers including beef and pork producers, for some real action on the doctors shortage, for a real plan for tourism and so on. My focus is on getting things done for the people.

Mark-Alan Whittle from Hamilton, Ontario Canada writes: If elementary teachers decide to go on strike should the government legislate them back to work?

John Tory writes: I hope there is no such strike by elementary teachers. If there is one it will be on account of the complete mishandling of this issue by Mr. McGuinty's government. Its very revealing that we are even discussing this possibility in the case of an organization with which he has had such a close relationship. It shows how like in so many other areas (the economy, health care) we have fallen very far, very fast. In any event, we have in law a provision which says the Education Relations Commission decides when the interests of students are being jeopardized by a work stoppage. I think that is a good mechanism and should probably be brought into the post secondary world so you won't be left with the pathetic inaction of Mr. McGuinty on York as the way any future post secondary disputes are handled. I hope there isn't a strike but to reiterate what I said in answer to an earlier question, all public sector employees and their collective bargaining units must demonstrate a greater understanding in their demands and in their actions of the fact that the taxpayers are struggling right now--to pay their bills including their taxes, to keep their farms and businesses going, and to keep their jobs. Many are getting zero increases and many more have lost jobs. They are the ones who pay for the costs of all public sector settlements and there simply must be a sensitivity to their reality.

Joyce Whitney from Oakville, Ontario Canada writes: Hi John. As a mother of three children who attend Christian school in Halton, I commend you for raising faith-based education in the last election. I completely understand that the public was not ready to tackle this issue at the time. But do you ever see a day when public funding can be extended to include not just Catholic students, but also students of other faiths as well?

John Tory writes: That is an issue on which we put forward a proposal in good faith and the voters having considered it rejected it decisively. As a result, I have indicated that it will not be an issue I will be pursuing in any future election or as Premier. My energies will be devoted to ensuring that we offer our children the best possible education as it is key to our economic and social success going forward. Our policies will direct themselves to that end as the voters have indicated their strong preference that be their focus of attention.

David Hutcheon from Canada writes: Has the election of President Obama likely changed the way we will do politics in Ontario in the future?

John Tory writes: I hope so but I am not too optimistic based on response by Mr. McGuinty to a number of my attempts to bring about change here. From day one I offered to work with him on the problem of youth violence as I believe together we could achieve more effective results and send a signal that these things transcend party politics. He rejected that offer. I did so again on the issue of equalization and our need for reform there. I did not hear from him. As mentioned in an earlier answer I proposed that right now we work together on the economy. My thinking is that we need EVERYONE'S ideas to see how we can get Ontario back on top. He wrote me a polite letter telling me we had good Legislative Debates and essentially telling me to get lost. The Obama approach rests on a belief I think that all parties, all individuals, including those outside of public office, have something to offer and SHOULD in fact be engaged in finding answers to our current crises, both economic and social. Mr. McGuinty seems to be clinging to the old ways which say his job is to diminish the rest of us, keep us as far away from decision making as possible, dismiss our ideas as quickly as possible because they came from us and so on. I just don't think that's what is going to get us back on top nor do I believe it is in sync with the times. In fact, it is that approach, adopted in the past by many others, which has politicians held in such low regard. They figure we are all there to serve them, no ideology or answer is the "right" one and we should try harder to work together in their best interests not score points on each other. I think they're right.

Robert Doogan from Markham Canada writes: Mr. Tory I have a cottage in HKLB and I am curious about your plan to four lane highway 35. One of the most wonderful things about the drive up there on weekends is the amazing rock cuts through Moore Falls and Miner's Bay. If the highway were to be widened these rock cuts would have to be blasted away. What plans would you have to better protect the natural landscape that makes this area an oasis from the city?

John Tory writes: The top priority for widening is in fact at the bottom end. Parts to the north are already four lanes in some cases. Getting four lanes to Lindsay would be a good start and the stretch beyond that offers us time to decide if and when we would do more where it isn't four laned and just as importantly, if you did, how you would do anything in a way which protected the natural environment as a whole including rock cuts. There may be ways in the early stages you could start with some passing lanes in less sensitive areas if you needed greater capacity on the portion north of Lindsay where it isn't four laned now.

Bananas Bananas from Niagara Canada writes: Mr. Tory: What is your take on an economic impact study on the Ontario Greenbelt using data obtained through MPAC to assist the people of Ontario in future benchmarking the economy? Without this benchmark how can Ontario claim any sort of stabilization in today's market? Can even MPAC determine correct property values with so many regulations effecting properties?

John Tory writes: MPAC is a terrible mess, has been for years and hasn't been fixed. It starts with a law which is flawed. They are carrying out their mandate under that law. That law provides for assessments every four years with any increase, however huge, then phased in over four years. That means many people have just received huge increases in their assessment (done by the way at the time the market was at its absolute peak) which they will now have to live with for four years when we already know the values have dropped significantly. We had proposed a maximum cap on such increases, a fundamental reform of MPAC to get a real fix. Mr. McGuinty's policy simply spreads the pain out over four years and tells people they have that time to pack up and leave their homes. There is no question that increasing numbers of policies and regulations have an impact on the REAL value of a property and this should be taken into account. Simply looking at neighbouring resales will not do that. As you have more water, wildlife and other regulations which impact (often unfairly and without any hearing or compensation for owners) on the use of property, this must be taken into account as it does affect value leave alone the ability of farmers and others to continue to earn a living.

Lauren Balmoral from Toronto Canada writes: Mr. Tory, you are now running in your third constituency in Ontario. First time it was Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey, then Don Valley West, and now Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, and you promise to run in another undetermined riding come 2011. Do you think voters will look kindly upon this?

John Tory writes: I think voters are very fair minded about these things. They know that I became Leader of my Party (somewhat unusually) without first having been in the Legislature. So i had to seek election at the first opportunity which was DPWG. I represented that riding with energy and dedication and i think the voters agreed. I had however promised when I ran for Leader to show some leadership and try for a Toronto seat where we had none. I kept my word and so tried, and lost to an incumbent Cabinet Minister. Since I have to be back in the Legislature as soon as possible to do the entire job as Opposition Leader, I now have to seek election elsewhere and I think people understand that as well. I don't think you would have designed a series of events as have taken place but we are where we are. In every case, my focus will be the same: serving the people who elected me and getting things done for them. I think if you do that, you are available and accessible to them, you make a big effort to understand their issues and you get things done for them, they will find that kind of representation satisfying.

Ernie Schreiber from Ottawa Canada writes: Jean Charest, Prime Minister of Québec, recently announced that his government will step in and provide money for pension fund trusts where the pension plan company owners have gone bankrupt or can no longer provide the necessary funding to meet their pension plan obligations, thus endangering pension payments to former employees. Would Ontario consider a similar action as engaged in by Québec?

John Tory writes: We have a pension guarantee program in Ontario which applies to some plans. There are huge questions today about the impact GM pensioners and their pension rights might have on that plan given current shortfalls. Mr. McGuinty owes us some answers on that for starters. I think measures which appear likely to be taken in the short term providing plans with the flexibility to take slightly longer to make up existing shortfalls are sensible. I think beyond that there is the need for a very thoughtful and fact based assessment of where plans stand and what threats there are to those plans and their ability to meet their obligations. I would be astounded if this information was not available so that we could then make an informed assessment of what needs to be done and what should be done. It is another example of an issue which all parliamentarians could work together if Mr. McGuinty was so inclined, which he is not.

John Stewart from Eden, Ontario Canada writes: Why is Premier McGuinty dragging his feet on his promised transition funds for tobacco farmers? He has been successful in forcing farmers out of business, now he is failing to provide the promised aid for stranded tobacco assets. The tobacco belt is getting a 1-2 combination from the elimination of tobacco and the decline in the auto sector. Why is the government forcing tobacco farmers to pay income tax to transition to another sector?

John Tory writes: The federal government put up some money to help tobacco farmers with the needed transition many months ago. Mr. McGuinty has left those same farmers twisting in the wind for a long time notwithstanding he has millions from tobacco tax increases and more millions from tobacco company settlements with which he could help the farmers. Those families are struggling, towns like Delhi and others are hurting badly and he does next to nothing. I can't understand it or explain it as getting on with the transition will be good for the tobacco region, good for those farmers, good for those towns and ultimately good for the agricultural economy. I will keep pressing him to act as I'm sure will Toby Barrett and Ernie Hardeman.

Tim Hall from Belleville Canada writes: Mr. Tory, what would you say is the single greatest lesson you learned from your 2007 campaign?

John Tory writes: You asked for one but I will offer two. First, religion, education and politics, in various combinations, are a volatile mix and best avoided. Second, extensive platforms can contain many good ideas but voters want you to focus on a smaller number of things which give them a clear choice between parties and policies.

Darren Yourk, globeandmail.com editor writes: Last question for this afternoon. Could you weigh in on the news that the Ontario Securities Commission is seeking a record penalty from the two top executives of Research In Motion Ltd. over their role in a stock option accounting controversy? How would you handle this if you were sitting in the Premier's chair?

John Tory writes: These things are handled and properly so by quasi-judicial tribunals which make their own assessment of liability or guilt and penalty. It is not the place of any Premier to substitute his or her judgment for that of the tribunal or apply any pressure. It is the job of the Government to make sure that laws are in place which ensure fair and transparent activity in the financial markets. I don't think we are there, even though we might be leaders in our own country. I think we need to look at separating enforcement and adjudication, we need to look at a separate court which can handle so called "white collar crime" and we need to look at the speed with which we do or do not deal with these cases compared to other jurisdictions. It seems to me we take much longer and prosecute less successfully which has the effect of decreasing confidence in our financial markets. I believe the OSC keeps the proceeds of any fines levied to operate their agency and if I am right and they levy large fines at any time in the future I hope they will use these funds to address these concerns. We should be leaders not just in Canada but in North America in transparent, effective rules and enforcement without impairing the ability of capital markets to function well as this is key to investment. I see no reason why we cant be that leader.

John Tory writes: May I take this opportunity to thank the readers/on line participants for their questions which covered a broad range of topics. Thanks to the Globe for making this opportunity possible. It is something i would happily do again. I apologize for any typos. My thumbs get more of a workout on the blackberry than my fingers on the keyboard these days. Thanks again to all who took part.

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