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Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak speaks at a party convention in Toronto May 27, 2011. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak speaks at a party convention in Toronto May 27, 2011. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Margaret Wente

Gossamer, fairy dust and chain gangs Add to ...

Here in the have-not province of Ontario - also known as the land that spring forgot - the citizens are feeling crabby. Last week we froze, and this week we're having heatstroke. Either way, our Hydro bills are going up and up. And now, on top of that, they've loaded on the hated HST.

Crabby voters aren't good for incumbents. And the general feeling is that Dalton McGuinty, our Liberal Premier, has outstayed his welcome. Recent polls have put him way behind the opposition, even though hardly anybody knows who the opposition is. With the next election only four months away, the odds are that Dalton - or Premier Dad, as we like to call him here - is toast.

He certainly deserves to be. Ontario has been cruelly exposed to the flailing U.S. economy, and has lost much of its industrial advantage. But instead of trying to make us competitive again, Premier Dad jacked electricity rates sky-high and dabbled in dreamy social engineering schemes. He fell in love with all-day kindergarten, which is really an extremely expensive form of unionized daycare. He shut down a bunch of perfectly good coal-fired power plants and squandered billions on solar-panel contracts and wind power. His legacy will be a solar panel on every kindergarten roof.

Meantime, the size of government exploded. During the McGuinty years, the economy grew by barely 10 per cent. But government spending grew by 77 per cent. This year, the province is running a deficit of $16.7-billion.

Small-c conservatives shouldn't have to think twice about throwing out the Liberals this October. There's just one problem. To do that, they'd have to vote for the Conservatives.

Tim Hudak is the leader of the Conservatives. The Liberals are darkly warning that he's the new Mike Harris. We should be so lucky. In fact, Mr. Hudak makes Mike Harris look like a philosopher-king. He doesn't have a platform. Instead, he has a bunch of sound bites, chief of which is the phrase "hard-working families," repeated ad nauseam. He seems to think that one of the worst problems in society today is idle prison inmates. He wants to put them in a chain gang, and make them pick up litter in the parks.

Personally, I don't care about the work ethic of our prisoners. The work ethic of our prison guards is a much bigger problem. Absenteeism is so high that our government has resorted to paying bribes just to get them to show up. Thanks to these new bribes (sorry, bonuses), absenteeism among prison guards has plummeted to a mere 20.6 days a year.

The prison guard problem is just a taste of what's gone wrong in Ontario. Today, the leading job creator in the province is the public sector - not a formula for long-term economic success. The Liberals, who are beholden to the public-sector unions, haven't been able to rein in jobs or wages. And when the wage bill for nurses, cops and teachers is growing much faster than the economy, eventually something's got to give.

That's not all. Health-care costs are eating us alive. During the McGuinty years they grew at 7.7 per cent a year. They're still growing twice as fast as the economy. Mr. McGuinty has vowed to drive down health-care costs, although he can't say how. That's because he doesn't have a clue.

Mr. Hudak doesn't either. He promises that when he's in charge, we will feel no pain. He will balance the budget by cutting waste, and on top of that he'll cut our taxes too. He'll throw more billions into health care, and even all-day kindergarten, and nobody will suffer, except for prisoners, of course.

Are the hard-working families of Ontario really that gullible? I have no idea. But surely they deserve better than that.

When people voted for Stephen Harper and Rob Ford, at least they knew approximately what they were getting. Mr. Harper billed himself as an economic moderate with a plausible plan to bring the nation's finances back into line. Mr. Ford vowed to crack down at City Hall. But Mr. Hudak is offering gossamer and fairy dust. If the situation weren't so awful, you'd have to laugh.

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