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                                     BLAME STEPHEN HARPER





By Susanna Kelley

Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

And it's just such a state that Ontario has found itself in over the last years as Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided to abandon any meaningful federal governance of this province.

In one of his first acts as Prime Minister of a minority government first elected in 2006, Mr. Harper did away with First Ministers Conferences, whereby the Prime Minister and all the Premiers had traditionally met annually to discuss common issues.  

With this, Mr. Harper signalled, intentionally or not, that he was not interested in leading the nation by trying to forge consensus on issues to then move ahead on. He intended to go his own way, going over the heads of the Premiers - or at least those who did not agree with him. 

On most files, such as transfer payments - which pay for things like health and education -  equalization payments, employment insurance for the many Ontarians who lost their jobs as manufacturing collapsed, chronically high youth unemployment, public transit - the Prime Minister has simply gone AWOL when it comes to this province. 

Health transfer increases were unilaterally capped by Mr. Harper, as the late Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, without warning, made the announcement in 2011.

Despite Ontario being the hardest hit when it came to job losses in the last six years, the federal government continued to run a surplus in the Employment Insurance fund (just like Paul Martin's Liberal government before it) and refused to raise payments to the unemployed.

As for unemployed youth, they seem to have been the bottom of the barrel for Mr. Harper. No job creation programs for our young - money for training, but not for jobs - who are in danger of becoming a lost generation as they graduate and are lucky to find even a job behind the counter at Tim Hortons. 

There certainly has been little attention paid to the North, as Ms. Wynne has rightly pointed out, decrying the fact Mr. Harper has shown little interest in helping to develop the Ring of Fire in the province's northern reaches, yet he is almost obsessively preoccupied with his push to build pipelines to ship oil from Alberta and help the province he calls home. 

Only on infrastructure has there been any really significant federal money spent in Ontario (the Union Station rebuild and bailing out GM) but that was money Mr. Harper was forced to spend with an axe over his head, facing defeat of his then-minority government as the global economic collapse of 2008-2009 rolled from Wall Street in New York up to Canada and around the world. 

Oh yes there was a lot of infrastructure money thrown around Tony Clement's riding just before the G8 meeting in Huntsville, but as you'll recall, that was money falsely obtained. The Tories only got the money passed in the House of Commons by telling the MPs we all elected that it was for security during the G8 and 20 summits. 

That silly idea that the King is obliged to get the people's approval before spending their money, established in the year 1213 with that minor document called the Magna Carta? Forget it.

(By the way, what exact measures came out of those meetings that made them worth the $858 million in taxpayers money that the governments spent on them?)

But I digress.

The only area of Ontario that has seen any attention from the Harper government are GTA ridings where Jason Kenny has worked in a transparently successful strategy to lure the immigrant vote.  

So it was into this milieu of ignoring Ontario that Ms. Wynne became Premier in 2013 and began asking Mr. Harper to expand the CPP so Ontarians would get more than the $12,500 a year it provides to the demographic bulge of baby boomers when they retire very shortly.

This was the moment when Mr. Harper could have chosen to do what Prime Ministers are elected to do - to lead.

He could have met with Ms. Wynne and, with an open mind, come up with a policy that both could have lived with. For politics, as they say, is the art of the possible, and that means compromise. This is what all great democratic leaders do.

But Mr. Harper missed his moment.

Insead, he refused to meet with Ms. Wynne.  Instead, he said Canadians needed to save more themselves for their retirement. Instead, Mr. Flaherty went so far as to scold Canadians for getting too far in debt. 

It was as if they hadn't read the unemployment stats for this province, nor any of the myriad of papers and books written on the ever widening income inequality gap, and how going into debt was many families' last, desperate attempt to maintain their middle class standard of living as taxes flattened out, jobs disappeared and wages shrunk.


So Ms. Wynne brought up the idea of the pension plan before the June election, then made it the centrepiece of her campaign. A blatant steal from the New Democrats, but not out of keeping with the centre left spot on the  political spectrum where she lives. And her party won a majority of seats, which means, in our first past the post system, majority government.

Mr. Harper calls the plan a "tax on business" even though the premiums would be paid by both employers and employees, and will go straight into a fund administered by a third party.

Ontarians need more than $12,500 a year to retire on and agreed with Ms. Wynne's plan, returning her with a majority government last election.

If Ms. Wynne did indeed "run against the Prime Minister" in the last election, it is because he gave her the opportunity to do so through his abdication of his leadership role.

She has taken that space created by his abdication and used it to create the new Ontario pension plan.

Because politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

















About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : December 09, 2014

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