It’s time politicians became more accountable

This is a guest column; ‘Mihael Willman’ is the pseudonym for a concerned Canadian – JG.

by Mihael Willman

“It is time politicians themselves, or their parties, were made financially responsible for wasteful spending…”

Maybe it’s time we, the people, changed the way that the political game is played. The recent, excessive, spending scandals of the Ontario Liberal government are a case in point.

The cancellation of the two power plants in Mississauga and Oakville, in order to save two Liberal seats during the 2011 election campaign, supposedly would “only cost” $40 million, according to former Premier Dalton McGuinty. It may have been “only” $40 million for McGuinty and his Liberals, but to many taxpayers it’s more than they will see in more than twenty lifetimes!

Now we learn that the actual cost of cancelling the power plants is $1.1 billion, of which a large portion could have been saved, but for the “questionable decisions” of the Liberal government. Though it had no legal obligation to do so, the McGuinty government generously promised to compensate TransCanada for its lost profits, a sum of $675 million, and possibly another $140 million for the cost of gas. In other words, thanks to McGuinty Ontario taxpayers will unnecessarily pay over $800 million. Wonder just who will actually pocket this money? To McGuinty, the interests of a corporation clearly outweighed those of the Ontario taxpayer. Whether he truly believed that the costs would “only be $40 million” remains debatable. Or did h think that the true cost would never become public?

There are many questions that need to be answered. Why were the two plants pushed through when the opposition was clearly so strong? The Ontario Power Authority approved the Oakville power plant even though the city council passed a bylaw to block construction, while Oakville’s mayor vowed to go to the Canadian Supreme Court to fight the project.

McGuinty who was salivating to win again, threw all logic and taxpayers’ money out the window to save the two seats and his government. Then, when the costs started to become known, he bailed, unwilling to listen to the criticism and answer for his decision. McGuinty first prorogued the legislature, then resigned as Premier saying he would remain as MP until the next election. But within months, he walked away, resigning his seat and stuck the taxpayers with the cost of a by-election to replace him.

The billion dollar boondoggle surrounding the cancelled power plants is just the third such spending scandal of the McGuinty Liberal government. First there was the eHealth spending scandal, costing $1 billion, then ORNGE, whose CEOs managed to waste nearly as much money on lavish salaries, over-spending and other inappropriate spending. For just three projects, Ontario’s Liberal government managed to misspend $3 billion in taxpayers’ money for little or no return.

But the McGuinty provincial government is not the only one misspending taxpayers’ money cancelling contracts. The sale of the SkyDome (today’s Rogers Centre) and the Hwy. 407 99-year-lease to a private company for $3.1 billion, for less than their cost to taxpayers are two other cases. While Hwy. 407 cost less than $3.1 billion to build, not included in that figure was the cost to the province of purchasing the land on and along which the highway runs.

Various federal governments have been equally guilty of cancelling contracts signed by previous governments which cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. One of the most egregious was when Prime Minister Jean Chrétien cancelled the purchase of navy helicopters in 1993, because of their cost, resulting in $1 billion in cancellation penalties.

With various spending decisions made arbitrarily, with no thought to the financial repercussions to taxpayers and the public treasury, it is time politicians themselves, or their parties, were made financially responsible for wasteful spending. Decisions have consequences and it should not be the taxpayer who is left holding the financial bag for government decisions made in bad judgement or for partisan purposes. It should no longer be acceptable for them to simply say, “Oops, we’re sorry, won’t happen again” and walk away from the mess they have left behind, usually to some lucrative, cushy appointment in the private sector. If they knew that they would be financially liable for bad decisions, they might take greater care in the first place. If nothing else, it might prevent another fiasco on the scale of the cancelled power plants.

One of the favorite moves of politicians is to walk away in mid-term, for no other reason than the fact that criticism of their actions has become more than they can bear. Such was the case of federal MP and International Development Minister Bev Oda, when her lavish spending in 2011 finally became public. Having cost the taxpayer with her questionable spending claims, a by-election to replace her only added to the taxpayers’ financial burden. And the financial cost to the taxpayer doesn’t end there. Bev Oda’s parliamentary pension is to be $52,183 a year, totalling nearly $700,000 over the next thirteen years, towards which she contributed only $130,000, the rest coming once again from the long-suffering taxpayer.

McGuinty followed her example, as did several of his cabinet ministers, prompting by-elections to be called to replace them. This habit of quitting in mid-stream for whatever reason should no longer be acceptable. Unless a politician is suffering from some serious health issue, they should be required to serve out their entire term. No longer should they be allowed to resign because they can’t face criticism of their actions, or because a more attractive option beckons to them.

The time to demand greater accountability from our elected officials is long-overdue. Unfortunately, most Canadians are more interested in which team will win the Grey Cup or the Stanley Cup, than they are in how politicians are spending taxpayers’ money.