Democratic governments are supposed to be elected by the people, based on their platforms and general policy approach to governing, but the truth of the matter, in modern times at least, is that governments tend to be unelected by a disgruntled public. While politicians of every stripe lay claim to having the mandate to move their agenda forward upon being elected, the link between platform policies and vote count is somewhat more tenuous than would be hoped.
The recent Ontario provincial election might well be a case study of that phenomenon. The government of the Ontario Liberal Party were so weighed down by the lack of personal popularity of former premier Kathleen Wynne that current Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford famously sailed into power without a clearly defined platform—leaving a claim of a mandate that included massive cuts and a complete remolding of the body politic with very little in the way of sound underpinnings, as evidenced by the unprecedented collapse in the polls of the Ford government “for the people.” The people, it seems, are mostly unimpressed particularly in the urban ridings of Canada’s most populous city.
So the news that the Ford government has backtracked on some of the most egregious cuts, particularly in the city of Toronto, but also for rural and Northern Ontario, was politically sensible and welcome news for many small rural communities.
Considering the huge impact that the cuts being implemented by the Ford government were projected to have on municipal governments, the sighs of relief being expressed by municipal politicians can well be understood. Aside from direct cuts to health, education, legal aid and a host of other vulnerable sectors are the less obvious impacts of cuts to essential services that municipalities will have to backfill.
A clear case in point is the decision by the Ford government to slash $31 million from the Ontario Provincial Police budget in essentially the same moment the police force that serves most, if not all, small rural municipalities is facing an arbitrated wage increase for uniformed and civilian staff. The idea that there are sufficient “efficiencies” within the OPP to shield rural property owners from the impact of this perfect storm defies any non-ideological assessment of reality. Will the result be less policing in rural communities or larger bills for service downloaded onto the rural ratepayer?
While government spending is a favoured target of populist politicians of both the right and the left (for the left-leaning argument see “corporate welfare bum” subsidies, coined by David Lewis), the quantifiable fact is that Ontario’s program spending is the lowest of any of the provinces. True, the provincial deficit is the largest of any subnational government in the world, but those levels of government around the globe do not heft the cost of a universal Medicare program.
The rationale of the “government for the people” that Ontario must be open for business blithely ignores the fact that over the past 15 years this province has seen huge growth in foreign investment and is currently enjoying the lowest unemployment rate in living memory. Ontario has always been open for business, the memes of Ontario Proud notwithstanding. Ontario remains the economic powerhouse of the nation—exceeded only by the American economic powerhouse of California.
Our current (and future) challenges are a dearth of bodies to fill many of the skilled, relatively high paid trades positions that will be required to maintain that position as we head into the 21st Century.
The polls illustrated the will of the people to Premier Ford and his compatriots that the Progressive Conservative caucus claim to represent. All cynicism of political self interest aside, is to the credit of the Progressive Conservative government that they have pulled back the high profile cuts to essential services that the people of this province require and today we give credit where credit is due, a government who “listened” but more importantly the people who made their voices heard.
There are still far too many less visible programs and essential services whose downloading onto local taxpayers are going to cause immense, and ultimately unnecessary, pain for many who are already struggling to make ends meet in that other Ontario that lies north of Steeles Avenue.
We must ensure that Northern and rural Ontario do not become the victims or sacrificial lambs of a reactionary and outdated economic and social outlook by making sure our voices are heard, loud and clear, at Queen’s Park. That “we” not only includes our political, business, social and legal leaders, but also those individual Ontarians upon whose property taxes the impact of the people’s government’s “efficiencies” will inevitably fall.