Recent Liberal largesse: is it bribery or legacy-building?

A Toronto judge last week convicted David Livingston, a one-time Chief of Staff to former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, of being too quick to destroy government correspondence.

The shredded material might have been relevant to the later enquiry into the decision, by Premier McGuinty’s Liberal government, to halt construction of two southern Ontario natural gas powered generating plants. Mr. Livingston was found guilty of “unauthorized use of a computer” and also of “attempted mischief.”

By the end of the first week in June, at the latest, Ontarians will know when they can expect to go to the polls in a summer election. That will determine which political vision over the next four years will determine the thrust and character of the governing policies coming from Queen’s Park.

In the meantime, now that a former high-ranking civil servant who had been close to the Liberal premier of the time has been convicted of what will be characterized as some form of obstruction of justice, we can expect to hear a great deal about what the opposition parties will deem to be shady Liberal tactics.

The Liberals have had a good long run: Premier McGuinty formed three successive governments (a very unusual accomplishment in any jurisdiction in Canada’s three major party system) and his successor, Premier Wynne, brought in her own majority government.

During the past two years, the provincial Liberals have been criticized by their political opponents, in particular the Progressive Conservatives under their leader Patrick Brown, for attempting to buy votes in the upcoming election. (Premiere Wynne can call an election at any time but she must do so no later than June 7 to abide by the maximum four-year stipulated government term initiated by the McGuinty government in 2005.)

In this week’s paper, we read that Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC), a provincial Crown Corporation, will in March be initiating an around-Manitoulin passenger (and freight) bus service that will connect Manitoulin, Espanola, McKerrow and Nairn Centre with Sudbury (or to points within the route) with daily return trips.

Other rural, remote communities across Northern Ontario are seeing similar connections to their regional centres, likewise all under the operation of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

This is a fairly major commitment by the government and it comes, at least to Manitoulin, after several proposals by well-intentioned local committees over many years to both the public and private sectors to put something like this in place.

And now here it is, seemingly suddenly a transportation service for Manitoulin and other areas of the North of the province.

Hydro rates have been lowered, at least temporarily, and the province has committed a billion dollars towards infrastructure to open up the “Ring of Fire” region in Northwestern Ontario for mineral extraction.

The Minister of Health and Long-Term Care visited Sudbury last week and announced funding for the first phase of NEO Kids at Health Sciences North to service Northern Ontario families. This is part of a $7 billion increase in health spending over three years, announced last spring. The NEO kids facility will cost $40 million to construct.

The decision to raise the minimum wage, within a year, to $15 per hour, is a move seen by many businesses as overly aggressive but it’s now the law.

As of this school year, post-secondary students from families with household earnings of less than $50,000 annually will not pay college or university tuition. (They will receive up-front grants to pay the cost.)

The province is now covering drug costs (for commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals) for children and young adults under age 25.

These are relatively large undertakings.

But there are smaller ones too: Highway 540, when it is completely rebuilt between Little Current as far as Gore Bay, will have metre-wide paved shoulders, suitable for cyclists. This has been the wish and hope of the Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates (MICA) group but, until last fall, they hadn’t been given much reason to believe that this would, in fact, be part of the reconstruction. But then it was.

These are only a few examples of the many recent changes this government has implemented.

These changes are such that no other political party that might be elected with a majority of the seats in the legislative, even if it wanted to, would not be able to reverse them. The Ring of Fire commitment is a done deal. So is the new minimum wage. So is the (temporarily) lowered hydro rates. So the decision to keep the legal sale of marijuana firmly in the hands of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and not in private hands. So is the tuition deal for low-income families. So is the subsidy for young people’s meds.

As we approach the election, several things are in play. The opposition parties, especially the PCs, will point to what they see as the provincial Liberals sense of entitlement, “wasteful spending,” especially in light of the conviction last week of David Livingston.

The New Democrats will have to be more sanguine in their criticisms of the Liberals because several of the items recently instituted, notably the minimum wage hike, were pinched from their own playbook. They will, however, like the PCs, make as much of a meal as they can of Mr. Livingston’s convictions.

For some voters, this conviction may be their excuse to decide that, after 15 years in power under two premiers, constituting three majority and one minority governments, it’s time for a change and they will vote accordingly.

We may well see another minority government following the next election, either  PC or Liberal, with Andrea Horvath’s NDP members once again holding the balance of power.

We might see another, likely reduced, Liberal majority.

Or we might see a new Premier Patrick Brown and a PC majority government.

No matter what, though, one thing is certain. The actions the Liberals have been taking over the past few years, that many have attributed to “buying votes” can just as readily be ascribed to building a legacy for these 15 years in office.

The economy is on firm footing, Toronto is firmly established as Canada’s sole metropolis and power city (witness that Ontario’s capital is the only non-U.S. city short-listed as a candidate for Amazon’s planned 50,000 job expansion site) and if the Liberals are reduced to either a minority government or to official opposition status, the changes they’ve recently made, money committed, all affect ordinary people and any successor government would reverse any of these at their political peril.

Politics is an interesting game and the Liberals have laid remarkably cunning plans for not only this election but for the next one in four years’ time, should they be banished to the opposite benches this year, when they can point to all of the largesse that came the way of the electorate the last time they held office. An interesting game indeed.