TAKING IT TO THE STREETS: THE ELEPHANT IN THE CAMPAIGN ROOM
Why are all three parties ignoring jobs and the economy?
By Susanna Kelley
Stock markets are careening up and down all over the world, threatening a global financial crisis.
America - our biggest trading partner - has had its credit rating downgraded and its debt ceiling increased.
Germany, the financial rock that holds much of Europe's debt, has posted GDP growth lower than expected, worrying investors around the world.
Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain - the so-called "PIGS" - are nearly bankrupt.
France may, or may not, be getting shakier - depending on whom you believe.
And here at home the reverberations are being felt.
Ontario lost 22,000 jobs in July.
The province's manufacturing sector - which provided well-paying jobs for 50 years - has collapsed. 62 mills shut down in the last eight years as Ontario's forestry industry was decimated. Governments have no significant plans to revive either one.
The city of London, Ontario (London!) has the highest unemployment rate of any census metropolitan area in the entire nation. Barrie, Ontario is third in Canada.
In the riding of Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, the jobless rate is 12-13 per cent - down from a staggering 16-17 per cent several months ago, according to PC candidate Laurie Scott.
It's not as if nobody's noticed.
In every issue poll, the economy and jobs are either first or second in terms of importance to voters.
Almost all of the candidates ONW have spoken to across the province say voters are telling them they're worried about the economy and jobs.
So what are our major political parties spending the most time talking about so far in this election?
Dalton McGuinty's Liberals: The Liberal campaign platform has not yet been revealed, but less than two months from election day, Premier McGuinty has concentrated mostly on health care and education, with a nod to green energy to clean up the environment and create some jobs. Most experts agree, however, green energy can't create nearly enough to bring sustained employment to many. Rather than focus on jobs, Liberal attack ads accuse Hudak of treating voters as "chumps" and "dolts." No high road this election for the Liberals.
Tim Hudak's PC's: The biggest publicity Hudak has garnered are for chain gangs for prisoners in provincial jails; a "sneakyecotax" (all one word now apparently); "sweetheart deals"; and "union bosses" (his derogatory description of democratically elected labour leaders.) And lest we forget - tax cuts and the "Wheel of Tax," Hudak's resurrected version of the Dalton McGuinty "Spend-O-Meter" Mike Harris used in 1999. (Makes it kind of awkward for the Tories to deny the accusation Hudak is Mike Harris Junior, using that kind of similar prop. Are the Whiz Kids back?)
Andrea Horwath's New Democrats: Horwath wants to give voters a break on hydro and gasoline prices. That's not an economic plan. She does, at least, acknowledge the manufacturing crisis exists by promising not to raise taxes on manufacturing companies and tying any government financial support for companies to providing jobs.
Strategists for all parties believe people are feeling stretched financially, so they're stressing pocketbook issues - minor relief like lower hydro rates. These are mere band-aids.
They might be asking themselves: why are people feeling so stretched to begin with? It's because the economy is unstable and hence, so are their jobs.
The parties just don't seem to see - or don't want to see - the elephant in the campaign room: jobs and the economy.
But the voters sure see it, and they're talking about it on the doorstep, according to candidates we've spoken to all across Ontario.
Ontarians are very aware that the Canadian economy is underperforming and there's little growth.
Still, the parties fiddle while the Ontario economy burns, nearly silent on the biggest issue facing the province.
They are underestimating the intelligence of Ontario voters.
They do so at their peril. Voters usually respond to this kind of political situation - where no party is really speaking their language - by denying any party a majority. There are many minority governments in Ontario's history. And while it's early days yet, the latest polls have the Liberals and Tories almost neck and neck, when the margin of error is factored in.
What the parties need to understand is Ontario voters are every bit as smart as they are.
They know it will take more than just a few dollars off their hydro bills or building some windmills or venting their anger on prisoners to fix the serious challenges facing their families.
Cheesy campaign gimmicks and juvenile attack ads do not fool most, even if they "work."
They'd know the real thing - a comprehensive economic plan - if they saw it.
Voters know true leadership when they see it too, which is what it takes to put such a plan out there.
Trouble is, so far they're not seeing it.
Is the political class in Ontario really bereft of ideas? That's hard to believe, with the talent on evidence at Queen's Park every day.
Ironically, there's a huge opportunity for the first party that actually starts talking seriously about ways to get Ontario of this economic stagnation and get people back working at well-paying, stable jobs.
Meanwhile average Ontarians - voters - wait.