The current Ontario election reminds me of an old bumper sticker that appeared in Ohio many years ago, “Don’t Vote … It just encourages them.” If many political pundits are correct, fewer than fifty percent of us will vote in the June 12th election.
To be certain, the choices between leaders, candidates and parties may not be exciting.
The ability to make a choice and vote without fear of reprisal was something our fathers and mothers fought for through several wars many years ago. Not voting almost seems to be a betrayal. That said, for many reasons the political process has been “dummied” down and the blame rests entirely with the political parties.
The Progressive Conservatives really haven’t been “progressive” since the Davis era. As such, many Tories will focus their attention on good candidates or perhaps stay home.
Kathleen Wynne has taken her party left simply to survive in a minority parliament where the balance of power rests with the New Democrats.
The New Democrats bear no resemblance to the social democrats of the seventies led by legends like Stephen Lewis. The alleged abandonment of socialist (progressive) principles by NDP leader Andrea Horwath prompted a bit of a public revolt led by former NDP strategist, Gerry Caplan, and endorsed by people such as Michelle Landsberg, wife of Stephen Lewis.
There is a paucity of “star” candidates. There are some good people in all parties but being an MPP is not what it is cracked up to be. The salary of $116,000 is meager when one contemplates the enormous responsibility. Contrary to what the public thinks, there is no pension. And the leaders of all three parties have vowed to freeze MPP salaries in some misguided attempt to curry public favour. This is part of the reason that successful people with serious careers eschew running for public office. Why would a doctor, lawyer, accountant, dentist or someone with a successful business run to be an MPP? Public duty motivates some, but many simply can’t afford it.
But there is a deeper and more troubling reason for the decline in quality candidates. It is the job itself. The legislature is increasingly irrelevant. Dysfunctional. Unduly partisan. Today, power is centralized within the Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa and the Premier’s Office at Queen’s Park. And what power they don’t exert, rests with the bureaucracy. As Pierre Trudeau once put it, “MP’s are nobodies twenty miles from Ottawa.” Perhaps more so today.
The thankful conclusion to the June 12th Provincial Election is an opportunity for a fresh new start. The election will be over. So too should be the mean-spirited vituperation that has poisoned Queen’s Park for far too many years.
Change begins with every MPP. Commit to elevating public debate and public standards. Perhaps teachers will once again feel safe in taking school tours to the Legislature.
The Premier should resurrect the concept of Select Committees to examine essential public issues on a non-partisan basis. Bill Davis did this regularly with serious results.
Ontario faces pending crisis situations through no fault of its own. Our aging population requires new and innovative policy directions if we are going to provide the services we need. We desperately require a catastrophic drug program. We have the resources to do this. We need, on an urgent basis, long-term care facilities, not only for the elderly, but also for a growing number of severely disabled young adults who simply cannot be maintained in dignity by aging parents.
These are not left-wing or right-wing issues. But they are public issues that could well be resolved by thoughtful MPP’s in all parties.
Finally, it might be purposeful to appoint senior MPP’s not in cabinet to the boards of important crown corporations. Ontario Hydro, during the Bob
Rae era, would never have purchased a rainforest in Costa Rica or fifty percent of a South American hydro company if MPP’s were on the board.
MPP’s in Ontario would be surprised how receptive the public might be to some fresh thinking and innovation.
Written by: Eric Cunningham
Former MPP and Public Affairs Consultant