The End Of McGuinty’s Marathon

If there’s been one equal reaction around the world to the global financial meltdown and its enduring fallout, it’s that the electorate of every country, state, and province – at least those who subscribe to the free market and democracy in general – has blamed the standing government.

Everybody loves their elected officials right up until those same elected officials reach the end of their budgetary ropes and start asking the people to tighten their belts as the government is forced to tighten its purse strings.

Yes, we’re all familiar with the riots in Greece as that government ushered in drastic austerity measures… the Arab Spring uprisings that stemmed from the citizens of those countries being unable to make ends meet within what the corrupt regimes had laid out… and the Occupy Wall Street/99% movement.

Other governments around the globe have dealt with the financial fallout in a more quiet fashion – at least in so much that there aren’t angry hordes of protesters filling the streets and boulevards in the seats of power.

Canada is one of those places – with the exception of the province of Quebec, which had a spring and summer filled with angry post-secondary students.

Yes, there were some tricky or tumultuous elections from coast to coast where the incumbents were either given a black eye or completely tossed from office – but for the most part, order has been maintained.

Ontario – which had been the wealthiest of provinces for the longest time before Alberta got it’s oil sands operations into full swing and took the title – was forced into a corner when the American economy collapsed, and the government at the time had to make some difficult choices.

The most visible – and the most quoted – was joining the U.S. in bailing out General Motors and Chrysler who were bankrupt from decades of bad deals with the auto worker’s union that had bled their coffers dry in a time where neither company was innovating at a level to compete with their counterparts from abroad.

Before I move on, I’d like to point out that those bail out loans have been paid off as both companies managed to pull their asses out of the fire.

As in America, the average citizen didn’t think the government had any business propping up private interests like Fortune 500 companies that had made bad choices – that it was perfectly acceptable to let those industrial giants die and take every job they created with them to the grave.

However, it was actually cheaper to prop up General Motors and Chrysler than to have all their workers (plus all the workers from companies that  manufactured parts for the auto industry) suddenly flood the nation’s unemployment benefit system – which would have crumbled under the load of 500,000 new applications since there was barely enough money to go around for the existing case load.

Plus, unlike money paid out to unemployed workers, all the money loaned to General Motors and Chrysler would come back to the government plus interest.

Anyhow, after the putting out the most immediate fires, the government of Ontario was left with a basic truth: all the smaller companies that either went bankrupt or had to radically downsize their workforces removed a sizeable chunk of tax income from the province’s spreadsheet.

Added on to that problem was the strategically leveraged investment tools that governments use to grow their bottom line – mainly investment bonds issued to raise capital – took the same kind of hit that the primary stock exchanges did… which turned billions into millions practically overnight.

People who drink the Hudak & Horwath flavor Kool-Aid fail to take that into account when they blame the Liberal government – and Premier Dalton McGuinty himself – for all the financial woes that have fallen on Ontario.

I’m not here to say that the McGuinty government hasn’t made any number of mistakes: a few programs have turned into total clusterfucks due to the lack of oversight.

Most notable are the eHealth and ORNGE debacles – and those two messes are all kinds of bad… but it’s one of those situations that make people say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Both programs were created to save the province money, and they should have… but the Liberals decided to save money on top of those savings by not appointing the number of provincial overseers that would have prevented the repeated foul-ups at eHealth and the insider kickbacks at ORNGE.

The eHealth program – which, by the way, was set in motion under the previous Progressive Conservative regime – was designed to/still has the potential for measurable savings to the province’s public healthcare system by creating a singular patient database that would eliminate layers upon layers of redundant paperwork across hundreds of hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices… pointless duplication that costs millions of dollars in working hours needed to fill it out, process it, and file it.

The sort of electronic data system to store the patient information – which would include everything from your family doctor’s written notes to blood work results to x-ray images – doesn’t exist anywhere in North America… which means that it has to be built from scratch.

Information servers, remote client software, unified image/video protocols… and that’s just a fraction of the problems facing just the technology vendors – and doesn’t account for the legal teams necessary to create a framework that protects both the patients and the healthcare providers.

The very nature of public healthcare makes it even more complicated as governmental agencies aren’t really suited to the kind of R&D (research and development) that a company like IBM does routinely – so, regrettably, the staff at OHIP took a stand-off approach with the idea that the ‘professionals’ that were hired would figure things out on their own without much input from the government.

Obviously, that hasn’t worked – and it’s going to be a long, hard road before the eHealth concept comes to fruition because the province is trying to compete with the private sector for the management staff needed to make it happen.

Looking over towards ORNGE, the same hands-off policy lead to a disaster – albeit for different reasons.

Prior to the province incorporating ORNGE, the health ministry leased the aircraft it used for air ambulance services from private contractors which meant that Ontario was losing money on the service in 2 out of 3 categories: while the pilots were trained and managed by the province, the fuel costs and aircraft use/maintenance was sold to Ontario at a moderate mark-up.

ORNGE was formed so that the province would own all the aircraft – purchased directly from the manufacturer – and would be buying the fuel for those planes and helicopters at open market prices.

Over the projected service life of the aircraft, the province would save hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not millions – in the same way that owning a home saves money over a 20 year cycle in comparison to someone renting an apartment for that same 20 year period.

The problem was that the province picked the wrong people to manage ORNGE, people who felt they weren’t beholden to the people of Ontario – managing ORNGE like a private company instead of a subsidiary.

When you run your own company, you can arrange all the kickbacks and shmoozefests you want – but when the money you’re playing with is supplied by the public, you’re responsible to the public.

Again, the Liberals had a little too much faith in the people they chose – and it came back to bite them in the ass.

Other problems that people want to hang around Dalton McGuinty’s neck – things like the poor relations with the province’s educators for instance – aren’t really the fault of the government when you look at the bigger picture.

Remember how I said the province is taking in a lot less money than when the Liberals ousted the Progressive Conservatives due to this shitty economy?

Well, that kinda means that the Liberals – or any government for that matter – can’t make the pay scales continually rise like in days of yore.

Up until quite recently, the McGuinty Liberals were the darlings of the public employee unions because the Liberals were happy to spend money to maintain the status quo where all the nurses and teachers had their demands met.

Problem is that the province can’t spend money it doesn’t have… and that fact fails to register with the unions.

There is already too much red ink on the provinces budgetary tables, and to pay for what the teachers are asking – and what the nurses will soon also be demanding – would require adding a lot more debt… the same debt that the ignorant public wants to hang around the government’s neck.

The same kind of thinking – though modified by a lot of NIMBYism (people saying ‘not in my backyard’) – is what has caused the power generation snafu that the opposition is beating the Liberals over the head with.

By and large, the people of Ontario had given the Liberals an environmental mandate – demanding that dirty, smog-creating power generations stations be replaced by cleaner alternatives like natural gas plants and wind farms.

Problem is that nobody wants these things near their homes – regardless of the fact that they had already grown up in the shadow of the coal power smoke stacks, and that they would only be trading one for the other.

No… they demand that these new power generation facilities be built far from their homes – which would be an okay idea if it weren’t for the problem of transmitting electricity from far-off locations to the average home with 2.5 kids and an ever-growing collection of electronic devices.

Which means that on top of the costs of replacing coal with renewable/environmentally friendly alternatives, the province would be on the hook for the cost of building new transmission corridors – which, coincidentally, nobody wants in their backyards either.

The natural gas power generation facility that the Liberals cancelled was called off due to NIMBY pressure – cancelled so that the voters in that area would be happy.

Those same voters are now angry because the province now has to pay a cancellation fee – a fee incurred on their behalf.

Doesn’t make a lot of sense to be mad about getting exactly what you asked for, does it?

However, John Q. Public isn’t known for making sense – he depends on his elected officials to make sense of the world for him in the form of a sound bite that requires him to think the least amount possible.

The only time John Q. Public wants grand visions of the future is during election season – the rest of the time, he doesn’t want to be challenged.

Which is why Dalton McGuinty is stepping down as premier.

The truth is just far too complex for the average voter… which leaves them to be influenced by the more basic name-calling and finger-pointing done by the leaders of the opposition.

It’s a hell of a lot easier to blame someone than to help that same person fix the problem.

South of the border, we see that in the Romney/Obama contest.

If Romney wins, it will be because the public at large – who doesn’t follow/understand the machinations of their government – has swallowed all the bullshit that the GOP opposition has thrown out there… when the truth is that Obama didn’t meet a lot of his promised goals because the GOP/Tea Party has refused to work with the White House on just about anything.

We here in Canada like to think we’re smarter than our American neighbors – but honestly, if we’re so easily convinced by the person who yells the loudest, then that isn’t the case at all.

Dalton was never perfect… but he has always tried to do the best thing possible for the people who elected him.

Resigning now is a less-than-ideal option, but it’s what was left in his toolbox: the PCs and NDP won’t work with him as they’ve painted an image of the premier that they won’t reconcile with in the interest of the province.

No… that’s not entirely accurate.

The Progressive Conservatives sided with the Liberals on the salary freeze for the province’s teachers – which means the PC’s are capable of working with the party that the electorate chose to govern… but in larger scheme of things, they don’t want to because they want to have their own hands on the levers of power.

Mr. McGuinty made it clear that he was resigning in an effort to give the Liberal party a new face – one that doesn’t carry 8+ years of name calling with it whenever the next premier appears to the public.

Of course, the next premier and leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario won’t have that long of a grace period before the opposing politicos start flinging mud.

It’s the nature of the game – and no matter what anyone says, politics is a game that’s paid for by the public.

It’s just not a game that people keep track of – unlike something like baseball where the fan at home can cite any number of statistics for their favorite team or player.

No… the public at large has no stomach for politics and therefore has a very short memory.

They’ve clamored for McGuinty’s head on a pike – but have no idea what to replace him with.

They still remember the shit Mike Harris did, so the voters don’t trust the Progressive Conservatives.

The public service unions remember the cutbacks they received at the hands of Bob Rae and the NDP (coincidentally, this happened during the last time there was a recession even remotely like the one we have now), so they don’t really trust the current New Democrats all that much either – but it would seem to be the only option in a 3 party system.

Anyhow, I’m going to bring this blog to a close since you probably came into it with your mind already made up as to whether Dalton McGuinty has been a good premier or not.

However, the facts are indisputable: the Liberals under Dalton McGuinty healed a very fractured province that was left in the wake of the Mike Harris/Ernie Eves era.

They also brought a socially responsible agenda – one that was expressed once again mere hours before Mr. McGuinty announced his plan to resign at the earliest possible convenience… a message that I’m going to leave right here instead of the usual clever graphic that I normally end my blogs with.

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