The decline and fall of the McGuinty empire

Après moi, le deluge

January 1, 2013

TORONTO, ON, Jan. 1, 2013/ Troy Media/ – By the end of January, Ontario Premier of Dalton McGuinty will be gone. Will his passing be mourned?

By some no doubt. After all he is the Grand Old Man of Canadian politics. No other current Canadian politician has been in power so long.

Others, however, will be breaking out the champagne, and not because they favour one of the other opposition parties.

Who’s right?

Let’s look at some facts.

1)    If the primary responsibility of government is to its founding principles – peace, order, and good government – McGuinty has failed miserably.

Think Caledonia. When local First Nations blocked access to roads and denied citizens the use of their properties, McGuinty shied away from imposing the rule of law. The civil rights of Ontario citizens were set aside so as ‘not to create an incident’.

2)     ‘Premier Dad’, his much-mocked nickname, rarely saw a bandwagon he didn’t jump on, usually just to be seen to be doing something, whether it made sense or not.

The most recent example was his decision to spend $10 million (borrowed, of course) to increase security in Ontario schools so that ‘nothing like that (the recent shootings at Newtown, Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School) can happen here’.

Not, or course, that it was likely to. But care for public finances or reasonableness of actions was never the Premier’s strong point. McGuinty loves to be seen to be ‘doing something’, whether it makes sense or not.

Headline has always been far more important to McGuinty than the long term consequences of his actions. In this case, a generation of Ontario children will be traumatized by being treated as suspects in their own schools, forced to follow security protocols and treated to repeated lockdowns and searches throughout their schooling.

But McGuinty won’t care: he made the news! Another notch on ‘Premier Dad’’s belt.

The McGuinty Era has always been about optics, never about either value for money or making sure the programs actually operate well.

3)    Sure, we can give him credit for improving Ontario’s test scores when it comes to public education. Unfortunately, Ontario students still can’t enter college and university – especially if they apply to hard science or engineering programs – without taking remedial courses in math and science.

We are inundated with future lawyers, journalists, and social workers, but people who can build the economy of the future, not so much.

4)    Despite the imposition of the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) tax soon after he became Premier, health care is still struggling. Think of all the money sunk into eHealth over the years, with little to show for it. In fact, far too many health records still get faxed from office to office.

But heh, the health bureaucracy is booming. ‘Premier Dad’ can take credit for the creation of more executive and administrative positions. Actual health care results, not so much.

In the face of all of this, McGuinty remains defiant. He shrugs off persistent questions about cancelled power plants for electoral advantage, empire building at ORNGE, the provincial air ambulance service, the failures at eHealth Ontario. His attitude has always been ‘no one has the right to question me’.

L’État, c’est moi may have worked for Louis XIV in the 17th century, but it ill serves Ontarians in the 21st.

McGuinty leaves his successors – yes, it will take more than one Premier to dig Ontario out of his mess – a budget bleeding with structural deficits, a bureaucratic morass around issues such as power production, curriculum change, true innovation in health, and welfare, and the economic impact of decades of underinvestment in the infrastructure, especially in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area.

Of course, McGuinty is still in denial. He no doubt thinks he’s done a good job. Most of his fellow citizens, on the other hand, are more than ready to see the last of him.

Troy Media Syndicated Columnist Bruce Stewart is a management consultant located in Toronto.

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