No clear choice in this Ontario election

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

by Mihael Willman

Ontario voters are facing another election and unlike many of them, this voter couldn’t care less. Forgive my cynicism, but none of the leaders and none of the parties offer anything of value for the residents of Ontario.

The Liberal party has given us one financial spending scandal after another. First it was the boondoggle surrounding e-Health. Remember those well-paid bureaucrats who, despite their overly generous salaries (up to $3,000 a day), were unable to pay $1.65 for tea or cookies out of their own pockets? Or Sarah Kramer, the e-Health CEO who got over $300,000 in severance pay after working at the job for less than one year! Not to forget her $114,000 bonus, after only four months on the job. This one CEO cost taxpayers a total of nearly $800,000 for less than stellar work lasting only seven months! Two other consultants for e-Health cost taxpayers nearly $1.5 million a year, combined.

Clearly it pays to work for the government, especially one that doesn’t monitor whether consultants are paid according to its own guidelines regarding maximum salaries.

Ontario’s e-Health computerization program took more than ten years, and wasted $1 billion, while not receiving “value for money,” according to Ontario’s Auditor General Jim McCarter. Meanwhile, poor little Malawi, a country with a comparable population was able, with the help of a Canadian aid worker, to transfer the records of 1.1 million patients to computers, for only $1 million, or $1 per patient. Maybe we should have hired this aid worker instead of all those over-priced consultants.

The dust had barely cleared, when taxpayers learned about the ORNGE funding scandal. Remember how ORNGE CEO Chris Mazza ended up with $4.6 million during his last two years, of which $1.9 million was a bonus! This was up from his original salary of $298,000, just four years earlier. Despite statements by the Liberal government that attempts would be made to recover some of the excessive pay, and other improperly paid funds, nothing has been heard about the matter since. Not to mention millions more that were either questionably spent or simply went missing.

If any ordinary citizen managed to defraud the government of a mere 1 per cent of this amount, the law would be down on him or her so fast, and with dire consequences. But then they wouldn’t have the gall to threaten to sue the province for what they felt it still owed them.

Then there is the $1 billion plus cost of shutting down the Oakville and Mississauga gas plants, in order to save two Liberal seats. After creating this mess, former Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to stick around to answer the embarrassing questions and quickly resigned, while all other cabinet members claimed ignorance of anything to do with the cancellations. Of course, McGuinty’s excuse was that the cancellation would only cost about $100 to $200 million. No big deal, if the money isn’t coming out of your own personal pocket. But for hard-working taxpayers, even $1 million is anything but “only.”

Clearly the Liberal government has shown that it is a terrible steward of our public purse. $3 billion wasted on three separate projects is money that could have been used for so many more worthy and necessary programs, or to pay down our growing debt. And these are just the wasteful expenditures we know about.

On the other side, we have Tim Hudak and the Conservatives. While their disgust at the wasteful spending of the Liberal party is genuine and justified, one wonders just how differently things would have been under their watch, or that of the NDP. None of the three major Ontario political parties is immune from these kinds of questionable spending practices, it’s just a matter of degree.

Since the start of the campaign, Hudak has tried to paint himself as the fiscally responsible choice, the man who will help bring Ontario out of the recession of the last six years and, at the same time, create a million jobs. Hudak has the mistaken belief that by a simple stroke of the pen, a politician is capable of creating a million jobs. Anyone prepared to believe that would be interested in the bridge I can sell them.

With his emphasis on the million jobs his government will create, Hudak is promising all kinds of policies which have clearly not been carefully thought out. And while on the one hand he is promising to create a million jobs, on the other he promises to fire 100,000 civil servants. Though the number of Ontario civil servants is probably excessive and should be reduced in certain departments, we have seen just how successful other such promises have been.

Remember Harper’s promise and the actual increase in civil servants which followed his election? Between 2006, when they came into power and 2012, the number of government employees rose by 14 per cent, or over 34,000, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office. Not only that, the number of civil servants earning more than $100,000 a year had more than doubled by 2010. While Ottawa announced that it will be eliminating 19,000 positions by 2017 (7,200 of them through attrition), some of these are in vital areas such as food safety. However, this still leaves 15,000 more civil servants than when Harper came to office. Quite honestly, if the federal Conservatives are unable, or incapable of keeping such a vital promise, how can anyone expect Hudak to do it.

Or maybe Hudak plans on creating an Ontario version of Harper’s “Economic Action Plan” as a way to create jobs and spend taxpayers’ money promoting his government. Who knows how many people this program could hire to create the slogans, paint and make the billboards, and then install them throughout the province. A make-work project that clearly appeals to politicians more interested in creating appealing visuals, than good, lasting jobs.

Another proposal of Hudak’s is to create 200,000 jobs by increasing the number of apprentices in skilled trades. This would include carpenters, electricians, plumbers, welders, etc. While it would be an admirable goal, there is only one problem. What happens once the apprentices are qualified workers in their field? Who will guarantee that they will be hired at the going rate? It’s more likely that other apprentices, or temporary foreign workers, will be hired at considerably lower wages in place of these skilled workers. If anyone expects anything else to happen, they are more than naive, they are deluded. (The problems surrounding temporary foreign workers will be dealt with in a future column.)

One possible move by a Hudak government would be to privatize various government agencies such as the LCBO, Ontario Lottery, etc., in order to achieve a one-time infusion of money to reduce the deficit. After all, it was Hudak’s predecessor and mentor, Mike Harris, who was responsible for privatizing the 407 Highway and literally giving away a cash-cow for others to take advantage of. Giving away an entity which provides a regular income for provincial coffers, in return for a one-time infusion of cash, is an incredibly short-sighted approach. Short-term gain for long-term pain or loss is not a fiscally sound policy, especially coming from a conservative.

Last, but not least, the NDP is another party that has been responsible for its share of bad decisions while in government. And, unfortunately, beyond promising to spend more money on various programs, the NDP doesn’t appear to have a sound policy or platform.

Not one of the three major parties has a platform that will ensure the future prosperity of Ontario and its citizens. All are promising unattainable goals, or simply ignoring their past transgressions, in the hope that voters will suffer from political amnesia and believe that this time around they have the solution to all our problems. It would serve them right if the electorate banded together and decided not to vote for any of them, or simply voted for “None of the above.” That would be something truly revolutionary and would finally capture the attention of these politicians.

If only!