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Governing from a 1980s playbook

February 7, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Laura Campbell

Look….I know it’s hard dealing with a sluggish economy, high commodity prices, and big government deficits. 

I know, because I’ve spent the past seven years researching President Jimmy Carter’s economic policies, for my PhD thesis. In the process, I’ve become very interested in the ways in which (historically speaking) governments have toyed with fiscal (and federally, monetary policies) to maximize the public + private good. Which is why waking up to the news every single day since June 2018 has left me scratching my head in dismay. 

Theoretically, after 14 years of Liberal rule, I guess you could say the public good in Ontario has been ‘well looked after.’ The Liberals spent on the public good: OHIP +, full-day kindergarten, tuition subsidy, etc. They did so even after a deep recession in 2008. So did Stephen Harper. That’s because they know that governments must stimulate economies when they aren’t doing so hot. That was what world leaders and economists learned from the Great Depression. It’s what you learn in grade 11 history, too. 

The trouble is that provincial Conser-vatives brand themselves as excellent economic managers (the way Stephen Harper did), when their policy ideas have NO proven positive outcome on the public good. 

I’m not even really sure HOW to describe what the Ford government is doing. But truthfully it is nothing short of bizarre. We aren’t Greece; the Liberals may have overspent, but why is our government acting like anxious bankers from the European Central Bank in 2010? In my mind, dealing with the deficit is a priority, but not more of a priority than protecting farmland, educating our children, creating long-term care spaces, and delivering the world’s best cancer care. As a matter of fact, the two are not mutually exclusive. You can deal with the deficit and protect important public services at the same time. 

When Doug Ford said he ‘might even consider’ getting rid of full-day kindergarten, my head nearly exploded – not only because this is so deeply unjust to working families, but because from an economic perspective it is a bad idea. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I guarantee that keeping full-day kindergarten (and even expanding subsidies for pre-school daycare) is more stimulative to the economy overall, and thereby generates more tax revenue for the government- than squeezing low- and middle-income families into spending more than half of their income on childcare. The fact that this is so obviously true explains why the government quickly backtracked on this idea. 

As for the new health-care privatization scandal: where is the “smart” policy we were promised? Creating a “Super Agency” for health care hardly sounds like ‘saving money’ to me – it sounds like a sloppy way of streamlining a complex health-care system and by design, reducing patient access to bureaucracy. I think the NDP’s claim that this is a fast track to privatization is also over-stated. We already have many private providers. If we want to increase more private providers in health care, the key is to attach a strict legal framework to prevent discrimination, extra-billing, and other problematic outcomes. OHIP will remain intact, as it must, according to the Canada Health Act. But nowhere in the leaked document does it spell out how ANY of this will improve outcomes. Because, I fear, they simply don’t know. It’s trial and error. And it’s a disaster. 

The reality is, being in government is hard and the problems of our province are vast and complex. Trying to reduce those problems to a simple formula of “cut services for the majority, cut taxes for the few” will destroy the province and lead to more spending down the road. 

When will the select few Ontarians who complain about the “Sunshine List” (aka high-ish salaried people who have devoted their life to public service) start complaining instead about the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks afforded to the 1%? 

Fairness means everyone needs to pay. That is what it means to be ‘Ontario Proud.’ I’m proud to pay taxes into our world-class education, health care, research facilities, etc etc. By all means… spend. But spend wisely. That is what good government is about.



         

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