Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Would anyone who still supports the Ontario Liberals please stand up?

Published for the Prince Arthur Herald

It must not be easy being a Liberal in Ontario these days. The governing party is failing at every turn, the province is drowning in debt, and the leader has made increasingly concerning categorizations of her opponents as “racists” or “homophobes.” The notoriously anti-conservative, pro-Liberal Working Families Coalition seems to have completely disappeared from the web since their appearance in the 2014 election. Even Kathleen Wynne’s political staffers have fled the provincial capital for the national capital, hoping that Team Trudeau will offer them a better chance of remaining employed and staying out of jail past the year 2018. (Team Trudeau is formerly Team McGuinty.)

The Liberal scandals have compounded into at least a full book’s worth of material, and a summary of those same scandals written this spring shows no sign that the Liberals have learned their lessons or attempted to change course. Just since this spring we’ve seen two of the Premier’s staff criminally charged for allegedly deleting emails surrounding the gas plants scandal. We’ve seen the Deputy Minister who worked to revamp Ontario’s sex education under then-Education Minister Kathleen Wynne sentenced for child porn crimes. Debt continues to climb. Our credit rating was downgraded (again). Even missing snow plows the government (read: taxpayers) paid for have become a scandal in recent months! When the government spends multiple Question Periods trying to explain its snow plow financing scheme, it can no longer focus on big, important issues, for instance health care or education. The provincial government is completely imploding on itself, devoid of new ideas, new supporters, or even really the legitimacy to continue.

To repeat this list over and over and over again should be in and of itself enough reason to throw the bums out. What will it take for Ontarians to finally demand change and elect someone to clean up the mess? The Opposition Conservatives and New Democrats have shot themselves in the foot in previous elections by failing to properly articulate this horrible record, allowing the Liberals to change the message into “yeah, but what about what those guys might do?” Even Liberal supporters must agree that there is a turning point where they simply cannot support them any longer.

Maybe it’s their latest scandal. On Saturday, the Toronto Star exposed the latest scandal: the Ontario Tire Stewardship has been using taxpayers’ money to dine on fancy wine and steak dinners, luxury outings, and – most seriously – making donations to the Ontario Liberals and New Democrats.

This is wrong on so many fronts, but it’s just business as usual for the Liberals. The Stewardship has already responded that their lavish dinners are a minor “administrative cost” – the big expenses are in check, so let us enjoy our wine, steak, and vineyard tours in peace, they say. And the Liberal Party doesn’t seem to care at all – they claim the Stewardship isn’t controlled by the government, despite the fact that the Stewardship falls under Waste Diversion Ontario (which reports to the Minister of the Environment), was created by a law passed by the legislature, and collects a tax from taxpayers when they purchase tires (the Stewardship admits they are a trustee for these fees).

The revelations that these same lushly-treated executives have been making political donations to the provincial Liberals and New Democrats smell of a potential kickback scheme, where the government has mandated the Stewardship to collect taxpayers’ money and the Stewardship conveniently thanks the governing party by making generous donations. It is too early to tell whether this is the case, but the Auditor General must be called in to investigate.

This has all the makings of your typical Liberal scandal. The Auditor General will be called in to investigate the mess, will issue a damning report that will make headlines for a few weeks, maybe the Liberals will fire the head of the Stewardship, a few ministers will make statements, and then they’ll close the books and expect Ontarians to forget about it. Like their eHealth or Ornge scandals, they will attempt to claim that the Tire Stewardship is a “private” company not affiliated with the government – those darn capitalists were operating right under the Environment Minister’s nose without authority! A fancy-sounding “action plan” will put the issue to bed and the Liberals will expect Ontarians to move on.

But Wynne’s Liberals are only right if we let them be right. Where is the outrage from Ontario’s citizens? Where is the outrage that this is what we’ve come to expect from the Liberals’ 15 years in power? Where is the outrage that this isn’t the first, or second, or third, or fourth scandal, but rather a proven history of scandals and corruption? It’s the same old record playing over and over again, but what if, this time, instead of shaking our heads and turning the other way in disappointment or disgust, we actually did something about it? What if we actually held the Liberals accountable? What if 2016 for the provincial Liberals becomes what 2004 was for the federal Liberals, and there is only one clear direction for the government to go in but two years’ time?

2018 cannot come soon enough. In the time between now and then, the Liberals had best clean up their act and at least attempt to put a new face on their party, and the Opposition had best be preparing to take government and fix this mess.