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Can Ontario's PC's Blame the Federal Government for Their Faults?
09/09/2003

Recently, I received the following email from a reader. When "SB" first wrote to me, I was sure she was a PC operative. She referred to "Dalt the Dolt" in her letter and it took me a good 30 seconds to figure out who she was talking about. I figured this must be some sort of insider nickname.

Anyway, the email below seemed honest enough to convince me that she was being genuine. I also thought it was interesting enough to both post online and offer a reply to. (Although, I do think that if anyone is going to invest this much energy in writing long letters, she might as well start her own blog.)

Here's the letter from SB, dated September 3:

The Ontario Tories have certainly made their share of mistakes, I would concede. But what really surprises me is that some, perhaps yourself included, seem to fail to recognize the connection between the billions of dollars in cuts in transfer payments from the federal government to the province and the province's reduced funding to the city.

Clearly there is only one taxpayer. When Ontario received a reduction of billions of dollars from Ottawa, it impacted the ability to provide the same level of social services, education, and health care to all Ontarians, including those living in Toronto.

To be objective you must admit that if you believe the PC party has been so brutal on the city of Toronto, then you must also believe that the federal Liberal party has also been brutal on the province of Ontario. As well as all of the other provinces.

For example, for the three years, 1995 - 1998, Ottawa reduced transfer payments for health care, under the Canadian Health and Social Transfer (CHST) to the Provinces by over $7.5 billion, of which $3 billion should have be destined to Ontario. In fact today Ottawa only pays less than 10% of provincial health care costs, compared to a roughly 50/50 split in the 1960s. Massive reductions in education and social transfer payments also occurred.

While I agree with you that the City of Toronto has been adversely and unfairly affected, the absence of any mention of the federal Liberal party's responsibility is surprising.

As an Torontonian, I want the best for the city and the province. If that means letting Dalton McGuinty have a try, where the PCs have perhaps failed in places, then let's begin. But certainly the basis of our discussion and debate should be reasonable. To solely blame the provincial PC party without attributing blame to the federal Liberals is simply nonsensical.

I am considering supporting the provincial Liberals. But it is not so much because I have confidence in the party, the leader, the candidates or the policies. Quite the contrary in fact. I am very concerned with the potential negative impact that the Liberal party may well have on this province. I do not feel with any great sense of confidence that Dalton McGuinty will provide good governance. I am not sure what it is that he stands for, except, as he said yesterday, "the best government for all Ontarians". I do not know how he is going to increase spending "without raising taxes". He is going to lower by insurance by 20% - great - but how? the details and rationale are absent.

How will Dalton stand up for Ontarians rights? Surely not by taking on the federal government. He has shown a strong aversion to criticizing any policies of the Federal Liberals.

Will Dalton follow in the footsteps of previous Liberal governments by slashing funding to other levels of government? Will he mimic the outrageous financial mismanagement (HRDC, Gun Registry, Transfer Payments, CIDA, etc.)

I may still vote for Dalton and his party because they may be the lessor of two evils. But if I do, I am going to close my eyes, cross my fingers, and hope for the best.

There's a lot here, so let's focus on the provincial side of things first. That's a bit more timely right now, anyway.

My main criticism of the Harris-Eves government on this website has not merely been that they have slashed funding for particular programs. It is actually that they have specifically tailored their policies to favour some parts of the province at the expense of others. This has been done not with fairness or efficacy in mind, but rather politics. And, while I do acknowledge that politics may be an unavoidable aspect of governing, I cannot condone it at this scale. Furthermore, as a resident of a place that has received the wrong end of this stick, I am certainly angry.

So, I see a big difference between a government that has made cuts that someone may think are undesirable or, even, unwise, and a government that has made changes in a blatantly unbalanced and unfair manner. That is, a government that has seen an unfriendly but rich asset and decided to exploit it ruthlessly.

To suggest that Mike Harris and Ernie Eves had no choice -- that they had to cut Toronto spending because the federal government cut their transfer payments -- is not to understand the idea of choice at all. They certainly had choices. For one, they could have chosen not to cut taxes so much. And, if they didn't like that, they could have spread the pain around more evenly.

Instead we have the logic of amalgamation and downloading. Even these Tories recognize that there is a floor to social spending. Some of it is absolutely required and can't be slashed to zero. "How to get around this problem?" they wondered. "Well, it sure would be great if we could transfer these budget items to municipalities. Luckily, not all municipalities have equal social spending needs. It just so happens that those municipalities that voted us into office have relatively low needs. How convenient!"

So, we now have the situation where Toronto's strong economy generates lots of income tax to support programs in other parts of the province, but some of the high costs that we in Toronto face must be paid on our own, through property tax. (A most inappropriate form of taxation for such needs.)

On the surface, this may seem analogous to Ontario's relationship with the rest of the country. However, as far as I can tell, it is not. Yes, Ontario supports a lot of programs in the rest of the country through our larger contribution to Revenue Canada's tax take. There is a analogy here. However, I see no analogy on the downloading side. Ottawa has not seen fit to leave Ontario holding the bag for particular categories of expenses that are disproportionately found in Ontario. There is not the double impact of paying our taxes but being left on our own with our unique expenses.

So, if I have not criticized the Federal Liberals enough, it is because they have not made me so angry. Whatever I think of their policies, I have not been left feeling that they have rigged the system to our disadvantage. When the provincial election is over and a new federal election approaches, I will take a closer look at Ottawa. I certainly don't feel we have had outstanding, innovative leadership from this federal government. On the other hand, I think they have been reasonable.

There is much more that could be said about these Ontario PCs. Their incompetent, costly, undemocratic and unrepented "megacity" amalgamation should be enough by itself to wipe these guys off the 416 map. Now, in this election campaign, they are continuing their strategy of manipulating the tax code to favour PC-leaners in close ridings: private school deductions, seniors exemptions and mortgage deductability. They make it impossible for me to even consider them. They feel like frauds to me, because they are not at all about business-like efficiency, nor are they creating an environment conducive to economic growth in the long run. We won't get far with shabby cities and crumbling schools.

As for questions about the Ontario Liberals -- I'll save them for later. I'm not a member of their party, so I don't feel obliged to defend them. I certainly feel that they are a much better option than this current government, and I expect they would do a passably decent job. Sometime later, I hope to review the election platforms of all the major parties, so I may get into more detail about them then.


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