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Ontario Premier and Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty (L) shakes hands with provincial Conservative Leader Tim Hudak as provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horvath walks past after the Ontario leaders debate in Toronto, Sept. 27, 2011. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
Ontario Premier and Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty (L) shakes hands with provincial Conservative Leader Tim Hudak as provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horvath walks past after the Ontario leaders debate in Toronto, Sept. 27, 2011. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

MARGARET WENTE

In Ontario, we're bugs headed for an economic windshield Add to ...

Here in the increasingly have-not province of Ontario, most people are indifferent to this week’s provincial election. And who can blame us? The race features two uninspiring leaders who’ve confined themselves to fatuous banalities. If I hear about “hard-working families” one more time, I’ll stick a fork through my heart.

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Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government has used up all its best ideas (and, let’s hope, its worst ones). Mr. McGuinty doesn’t really deserve to win again. But neither does Tim Hudak, the Conservative, whose campaign has failed to impress. Mr. McGuinty is boring and relatively innocuous. Mr. Hudak is boring and relatively unknown. The result probably will be a saw-off, which means that both of them will have to cozy up to NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. She doesn’t really have a platform, but she’s basking in the glow of Jack Layton’s halo.

The big taboo subject is the worsening economic storm. It’s hurtling us toward the windshield, and we’re the bug. We can’t afford the government we’ve got, and our fiscal situation is only going to get worse. No matter who’s elected, services will certainly go down and taxes will probably go up. None of the candidates will discuss this. Instead, they promise that everything will be fabulous once they lay off a couple of unnecessary civil servants. They’re like people with a hundred thousand dollars worth of debt who vow to cut back on mochaccinos.

As David Dodge said the other day, “Whoever wins will be seen to have lied to the public.” Now that he’s no longer running the Bank of Canada, he can talk like that.

But I don’t blame the politicians for their lack of candour. As somebody once said, elections are no time to discuss important issues. The public always says it wants the politicians to level with them, but the public doesn’t mean it. What the public wants is reassurance that we can continue to live beyond our means with no inconvenience to ourselves. Nobody ever got elected by preaching the need for sacrifice. That’s why Europe’s in such a mess, and why the U.S. federal debt is on the way to $20-trillion.

On paper, Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Hudak have the same plan – which is to keep everything pretty much the way it is now. There are some minor differences, of course. Mr. Hudak wants to make prisoners work in chain gangs to earn their keep. Mr. McGuinty wants to make children lose weight. His wife, Terri, is a kindergarten teacher who gives her students little stickies whenever they bring a healthy snack. Maybe we can get all the teachers to do that.

But Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Hudak have sharply different views about the role of government. Mr. McGuinty is an earnest do-gooder who believes he has a duty to improve society every day in every way, from strengthening the synapses of four-year-olds to kick-starting a new Green Economy job machine. Thanks to his habit of buying off the unions, Ontario has enjoyed an admirable run of labour peace.

Mr. Hudak thinks the government should avoid activism and “stick to its knitting,” as he puts it. The public-sector unions detest him, and vice-versa. If he wins, Ontario can expect a distressing run of labour strife. Neither leader has a clue about how to stem the inexorably rising cost of health care, which is crowding out all other government expenditures.

But never mind. Nothing bad is going to happen. This storm will blow over in no time. Won’t it?

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