On Monday, I attended the Ontario Premier's speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto. Standing at the back of the room with journalists, and Tory Peter Shurman (whose support during Hudak's leadership seems to be paying some serious dividends with media face time), I had a moment of "Why are we here again?" The Premier's strengths don't lie in oratory, but this speech was more of head-scratcher than usual. Or was it?
Between the Finance Committee (which we don't have at the moment--see my previous post), opposition reaction, the Office of the Premier, and the Ministry of Finance, the readers of the "What's coming in the budget" tea leaves would usually have a bit more to go on at this point. The Premier's speech was pretty opaque. His media scrum, which lasted less than 10 minutes (!!), was about the same.
Is a wage freeze ruled out? Can't say.
Are there cuts and from where are they coming? Can't say.
Will the Libs keep their campaign spending promises? Can't say.
Did the Premier say much? Yes and no.
In spite of pointed questions from the gallery, the Premier didn't say much. The frustration among the gallery was pretty noticeable when there was more speculation about the Super Bowl than about whether the Premier would actually answer questions.
At this point there is more on the record about Kim Jong-Un's birthday than there is on the budget.
In this instance, while we don't know specifics, the silence speaks volumes.
The Drummond report is going to be a convenient straw man for the Liberals. It gives them the option to lay any unpleasantness at the feet of an unaccountable third party.
While Dwight Duncan's staffers are undoubtedly reviewing and blacklining Drummond's report as I write this, the public and the opposition are told over and over that McGuinty and Duncan are waiting for a public report before they'll commit to anything about the budget.
We are left to guess at what might be in Drummond's report. Instead of talking about what they will do, they are forcing Ontarians to fight their straw man .
When the report comes out -- though we don't know when -- the Liberals will undoubtedly use this report to justify unpopular cuts. They will say, "We really don't want to have to cut XYZ, but Don Drummond says we have to;" or they will say, "Drummond told us to cut 30 per cent out of ABC ministry, but we are only cutting 20 per cent. Aren't we swell?"
Let me take a moment to say that New Democrats are all for expert advice both in private and public fora. But we also believe very strongly in public input and consultation.
There is no doubt that Don Drummond is a smart guy who has had a lot of success in business and the civil service, and who has been known to speak truth to power. But even when Drummond was working with the federal government, they wouldn't go ahead on a budget without public input.
The fact is that we know Ontario is in a tough bind at the moment. People across the province know it first-hand: wages aren't keeping up with inflation, the Liberals are planning corporate tax giveaways we can't afford, and working people are bearing an undue tax burden.
McGuinty may think he's engaged in a Phil Jackson-esque mind game with the opposition. It's not fooling anyone. Don Drummond should be insulted that his report is going to be little more than political cover for the Liberals. And shame on the Liberals for failing to strike a finance committee which would conduct public pre-budget consultations, instead relying on their own sole-source advice contractor.
But where does this leave Ontarians?
Over the past few weeks Andrea Horwath has been on the road talking to Ontarians--families, seniors, small business people, people in urban, rural and northern communities--about their priorities. Instead of backroom, secret consultations with one economist, we are out talking to everyday people about the issues that matter to them.
Dalton McGuinty, the next play is yours: Are you going to listen to Ontarians? Are you going to work with their elected representatives?