In the past month Ontario has taken one step forward in the direction of building a stronger democracy.
Regrettably, a few weeks later, the province took three steps backward.
In early June the premier announced that Ontario would add 15 new ridings in time for the next election, scheduled for 2018. The new ridings mirror changes at the federal level where Ontario has gained 15 seats in time for this October’s vote.
The move by the provincial government to add more voices at Queen’s Park would seem to strengthen our democracy. It reflects Ontario’s population growth and its expanding diversity. It helps undo the democratic damage caused by Mike Harris in the 1990s when his government passed the Fewer Politicians Act that actually reduced popular representation inside our provincial legislature.
But the goodwill engendered by building our democracy through wider elected representation quickly evaporated with the announcement on June 29 that Ed Clark would serve as the premier’s “business advisor.”
By now Ed Clark needs little in the way of introduction. He’s the former CEO of the TD Bank Group who chaired the Premier’s Advisory Council on Government Assets. Earlier this year, the council recommended the sell-off of Hydro One and the introduction of beer and wine into supermarkets. Now that he has the close ear of the premier, I strongly anticipate we can expect more in the way of privatizing public assets and downsizing public services.
The move to add 15 MPPs in 2018 is a good example of window dressing. A mirage, if you prefer. It’s more than offset by the undemocratic maneuver to appoint an unelected and unaccountable former banker whose job description includes selling off multi-billion dollar public assets like Hydro One at pennies on the dollar.
This trend didn’t start with Clark. Before him, we had another ex-TD banker, Don Drummond, who served as Dalton McGuinty’s unelected and unaccountable economic czar and who also recommended downsizing public sector work.
There are others in the private sector who enjoy similar privileged status: Former Liberal election campaign chair Tim Murphy, who, as a corporate lawyer, champions P3s; Bert Clark (son of Ed) who runs Infrastructure Ontario which promotes P3s; and, Geoff Smith, former chair of the Ontario Liberal Fund, who today steers the EllisDon construction conglomerate that has earned billions of public dollars through dealing in P3s.
We’re left asking ourselves this: What’s the point in adding more warm bodies to our provincial legislature when the only voices that count in Kathleen Wynne’s closeted world are those of unelected and unaccountable corporate soothsayers whose mantra is to privatize more public assets?
Clearly, MPPs don’t count anymore, nor do cabinet ministers. The real decision-making is taking place around a Bay Street boardroom table, not at the cabinet table.
That wasn’t always the case. When Ontario last experienced a massive growth in the public sector in the 1960s and 70s (ironically, under Progressive Conservative governments of Leslie Frost, John Robarts and Bill Davis), cabinet ministers counted for something. They delivered because they were elected and they were accountable.
Not anymore. Not in Wynne’s world.
Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau once famously said: “Fifty yards from Parliament Hill, members of parliament are nobodies.”
Today, Kathleen Wynne could easily appropriate that phrase by adding: “Once seated inside Queen’s Park, MPPs are nobodies.”
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida