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Jeffrey Simpson (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Jeffrey Simpson

(Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

JEFFREY SIMPSON

Ontario PCs offer a bit of doable, a lot of dreamland Add to ...

The Conservatives’ central plan for Ontario is the kind that excites the party base but generally gives politics a bad name.

Elect us, leader Tim Hudak claims, and Ontario will again become a “jobs powerhouse,” with a million of them created in the next eight years. It’s a classic bit of hucksterism of over-promising followed by under-delivering.

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Some slickster advertising type must have dreamed up this round number of a million, because no economist would, except perhaps the two right-wing American ones the Conservatives leaned on for intellectual support for this promise-cum-fairy tale.

A million jobs over eight years would require an average of 125,000 new, net jobs a year. Ontario hasn’t produced that many since 2003, and it hasn’t done so very often in the past 40 years.

So history is stacked against the realization of this plan – as are demographics. Ontario’s labour force is shrinking, the population is aging, manufacturing is in decline throughout the Western world, the female participation rate has already inched closer to the male rate and, at the same time as Mr. Hudak proposes to create a million new jobs, he’s going to eliminate 100,000 ones right away in the public sector and take $12.5-billion out of the economy by balancing the books within two years.

In other words, the million-jobs promise is a slogan in search of a policy – or, if you will, the triumph of ideology over stubborn reality.

The Conservatives are fixated on lower corporate taxes and the elimination of regulations and subsidies. Yes, these are factors that businesses consider, but there are a host of others too.

What Conservatives pejoratively call “corporate welfare programs” are sometimes wasteful; they are also sometimes the spur to an investment in industries where government involvement is common, such as automobiles, aeronautics and agriculture. Maybe governments across North Americans and around the world shouldn’t be in this game, but they are, as Mr. Hudak would discover upon withdrawing Ontario from the field.

Equally simplistic is the claim that Ontario’s high energy costs flow from subsidies for wind and solar. These forms of energy do lock in higher costs than, say, fossil fuels, but Ontario’s energy challenges go much, much deeper than clean energy subsidies.

It has aging energy infrastructure, little hydro left to exploit, shuttered coal-fired plants (which Mr. Hudak proposes to keep shut) and debts from nuclear cost overruns – a form of energy Mr. Hudak wants to increase, a classic example of the triumph of hope over bitter experience.

More dreamland thinking attends the Conservatives plan to invest massively in transportation in and around Toronto (all parties make the same promise) without additional sources of revenue from taxes or tolls.

Magically, money will flow into transportation from surpluses a Hudak government will discover after it balances the budget, assuming these surpluses materialize and then get top billing over a) more spending for health, b) more for universities to provide additional spaces for science, technology, business and math, c) more to expand community colleges, d) more to invest in students and schools that need extra help, and, oh yes, e) reduced personal income taxes. Here is the wish list of promises (there are more, too) that will crash against reality.

There are really bad ideas, such as eliminating Local Health Integration Networks, which are designed to co-ordinate delivery on a regional basis, an eminently sensible idea practised everywhere in Canada. The trouble with Ontario’s LHINs, compared to elsewhere in Canada, is that they are not powerful enough.

Conversely, there are two very doable and sensible ideas in the Conservative arsenal. Private clinics of the kind that operate in other public health systems, authorized, regulated and reimbursed by the state, should be allowed to do routine, repetitive surgeries. And arbitrators, when settling public-sector disputes, must take into account the “ability to pay,” instead of just ratcheting up settlements based on comparisons with other groups of workers.

Other Conservative suggestions are shared by almost everyone in the health-care field: more home care, attention to chronic care and mental health, more exercise for children.

These defensible Conservative policies, however, do not compensate for the rest of the make-believe superstructure of their approach to government.

 

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