Nice to be back at work
As this posting is written, the trappings of the June 12 election are coming down, and I have a long list of waiting commitments in events within the community. Elections are actually invigorating times. It is a chance to have literally thousands of face-to-face encounters within a short span of time when people are thinking about their government, and what they’d like their elected representative to do or not do. Many of the stories, suggestions and anecdotes I hear find their way into debates in the Legislature during the upcoming term. Perhaps you may hear a story you told me come out in the Legislature.
My first thought to the residents of Lisgar, Meadowvale and Streetsville is to say thanks for the renewed mandate. It was a warm and positive canvas at the door, more so than I thought it would be. It was also enjoyable. Who does not like to be warmly greeted and hear back some of the things I have been working on in the community from our neighbours?
More than local recognition
People also said that while they liked the things I had been doing locally, they expected to see change from both the party and the government. That’s fair enough. And I’d agree with the sentiment. Though a minority government can always expect a majority opposition to slow things down, insist there is a scandal in every issue, and spend much of the Legislature’s time and resources investigating the government (and it did all of those), it’s also a challenge to the government to look in the mirror and ask itself whether we are headed in the right (or best) direction, doing things the best way possible, hearing the important things said to the government through its MPPs and committees, and steering the Province by the eternal stars, and not by the lights of a passing ship.
Renewal with a new mandate in government means more than new faces. It means going back to basics, sharpening our vision, focus and way of getting there. In every government, in every age, and on every party’s watch, unplanned things happen. They certainly happened to our government while in minority and in previous majorities. The issue is not whether stuff does happen, but how a Minister, a ministry or the whole government copes with whatever has happened. While the government was in a minority, it asked itself whether we could have coped with a range of issues better. In many cases, the answer was that we could have done better. Even if the range of solutions remained the same in hindsight, one could reasonably draw lessons in what to do a better job of explaining and of implementing those.
The once and future 2014-15 Ontario Budget
The Budget that triggered this election will be back before the House in a summer sitting shortly. As one who is nearly always a debt-averse, balanced-budget hawk (much like the vast majority of those on the government benches), the slow recovery in the USA caused the government, and the Ministry of Finance, to reflect on its strategy in the longer-than-normal lead-up to the May 2 Budget. Ontarians were vocally restless about the unrelenting austerity they had endured since the recession.
Ontarians were also worried about the trend abroad of transferring debts from failed banks (private debt) to the taxpayer to pay off (public debt). Although that did not happen directly in Ontario, the Province did make the conscious choice to not abrogate recently-signed collective agreements in 2008, and not to toss perhaps hundreds of thousands of people out of work with across-the-board spending cuts during the recession. This allowed Ontarians to stay employed, and be able to quickly transition when a recovery took hold. It worked in Ontario, where from the bottom of the recession, the Province has had a net gain of some 455,700 jobs (190 percent of those lost during the recession), and has led North America out of the hard economic times, even as Ontario was the leanest public service per capita in Canada.
But it required using a lot of borrowed money. Perhaps the only choice less palatable than borrowing all that money would have been not borrowing it, and tossing so many Ontario families and communities into chaos not of their making. Even so, Ontario’s benchmark Net Debt to GDP Ratio remains moderate by world standards, and very low compared to most in the European Union, for example. For hundreds of thousands of Ontario families who could be in the same position as their U.S. counterparts, still out-of-work or under-employed, the choice of some more public debt versus the loss of a career and possibly the house won’t take long to resolve.
And so the 2014-15 Ontario Budget acknowledged that Ontario is not an economic island independent of every jurisdiction around it. We are part of a global and interlinked series of economies. The Budget spoke to how if interest rates are paying nearly nothing; corporations and wealthy individuals are hoarding tens of trillions of dollars in offshore tax havens (so why offer them tax breaks to hoard more?); and your biggest customer, the USA, has not been buying at historical levels for more than six years, then how could government show leadership by also withdrawing sharply from the economy. If none of the major sources of money are putting it into the economy, then how should families and small businesses find money with which to earn, save or build businesses? That’s why the Budget’s focus was to keep Ontarians working, instead of bankers collecting.
And now it’s time for summer
A young former staff member of mine once observed to me that while we in government live our political options on a daily basis, our residents think about them in detail for about two weeks every four years. They hope we, as elected representatives, will perform as adults, and keep their interests paramount. There seems to be a lot of substance in that observation.
Everything happens for a reason, even the last election held under a full moon with the new government’s first day in office being Friday the 13th. Now it is June, and time for your MPP to stay in touch at barbecues, graduations, annual meetings, shows, festivals, celebrations and the many other ways we in Ontario celebrate our precious and short few weeks of summer. You can leave a comment on this web site if you wish. Have a pleasant summer, and thank you to all our residents for your confidence to have the privilege and responsibility to work for you for another four years.