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Welcome To Liberal Ontario, The Province Run By Bankers  

The Liberals' most influential advisors in charting the province's economic future have been two bankers. Now Kathleen Wynne's taken one's advice to sell Ontario's most valuable piece of infrastructure - Hydro One's electricity grid - to pay to build ... infrastructure.  


By Susanna Kelley

I may have missed it, and please correct me if I did, but notwithstanding Kathleen Wynne's claims otherwise, I don't recall her ever mentioning she would privatize Ontario's most valuable, largest and oldest public asset - Hydro One - during the 2014 election campaign.  

The move by Ms. Wynne - and make no mistake, it will be a big part of her legacy - is a massive public policy change affecting not just this province, but Canada as a whole.  Just as its more than 100-year history as a major economic driver of Ontario has affected the nation.

A Conservative government launched what was eventually to be called "Ontario Hydro" in 1909, or as the major part of it - its electricity distribution grid - is now called, "Hydro One."

Adam Beck's vision was to provide cheap electricity for Ontario's businesses in order to promote prosperity for all, which indeed, it did. Residential customers also benefitted from the availability of relatively inexpensive power to run everything from indoor plumbing to the lights in their homes.

Premiers of every stripe, for more than a hundred years, resisted the urge to plunder Ontario's crown jewel for cheap political points.

Other than Mike Harris and Kathleen Wynne, that is.

Ms. Wynne, despite her protestations to the contrary, has certainly pulled quite the sleight of hand on Ontario voters.

She campaigned on the left in the last election, portraying herself as a progressive: promising a public pension plan for Ontario, increased child benefits and a job creation plan that rewards companies for new hires. 

"I believe government should be a force for good in people's lives,” she intoned in campaign ads shown in every living room across this province in the last election, boldly and very publicly claiming one of the main tenets of left-wing political beliefs as her own:



 

The Liberals had clearly moved away from the political centre and into left-wing territory in the last election in an attempt to lure NDP votes.

But incongruously, since entering office, the most influential advisers to Ms. Wynne have been two very prominent bankers - hardly advocates of the left-wing part of the political spectrum she portrayed herself as occupying during the election.

So who exactly are these men from the highest offices of private enterprise in the land, who have the Premier's ear and upon whom Ms. Wynne is depending for advice in running Ontario's economy these days?

We have to go back to Ms. Wynne's predecessor, Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty, to find the first one entering the halls of power at Queen's Park. 

Mr. McGuinty was a blue Liberal who, thus, was worried when his government ran up a $16 billion deficit. Much of that was not his fault, but resulted from infrastructure spending Ontario embarked upon to fend off a world economic meltdown in 2008-09. All parties agreed with the infrastructure spending approach at the time, and governments all across the world were doing the same.

Once the worst of the danger had passed, Mr. McGuinty turned to Don Drummond for advice on how to eliminate the deficit - or in the political double-speak of the time, how to "reform the way government delivered services."

Mr. Drummond had served as Chief Economist for the Toronto Dominion Bank for many years, and before that, was Assistant Deputy Minister under Paul Martin when he was Minister of Finance. 

Mr. Martin as Finance Minister was as blue a Liberal as you could find. His budgets in the early 1990s Chretien era cut spending drastically in the midst of another economic crisis - the worst recession since The Great Depression. Despite a jobless rate in Ontario that soared as high as 16 per cent, Mr. Martin downloaded cost after cost on the provinces. Those same provinces then cut spending more and downloaded programs to municipalities. Mr. Martin's defense was he had been left a massive deficit from the Liberal Pierre Trudeau era that had to be cleaned up. 

Mr. Drummond was asked by Mr. McGuinty to advise him on how to "reform" public services — as mentioned, code for how to eliminate the then-$16 billion deficit left by Dalton McGuinty. (Note: when a politician talks about "reforming" anything in politics, get your antenna up, because that vague word is used for everything from initiating or expanding a policy or institution to downright killing it.) 

The Drummond Commission made 367 recommendations in 2012, including flat lining public sector wages, killing McGuinty's signature full-day kindergarten program, and reducing public sector pension benefits.  Teachers and other public servants across Ontario abandoned the Liberal party in droves as Mr. McGuinty sought to implement the austerity measures.

Ms. Wynne, the new Liberal leader, was desperate to keep teachers and other public servants onside — she knew their help at election time, financially and with feet on the ground, had paved the way for Mr. McGuinty's lengthy reign as Premier. 

And so she cut special deals with teachers before the last election.   

But politicians being politicians, during the campaign she overpromised, pledging to balance the budget by 2017-18 while building massive new infrastructure across Ontario.  And when she got into office, it was time to pay the piper.

But where exactly to get that money to balance the budget while paying for massive infrastructure builds?  

The progressive Premier called in another banker: Ed Clark, the former President and Chief Executive Officer of TD Bank Group. 

Mr. Clark has sometimes been thought of as a centrist despite being a banker, but there is nothing centrist about his recommendation to privatize 60 per cent of Hydro One.  

Kathleen Wynne seems to have "crossed the floor" politically in order to fulfill a poorly thought out, doctrinaire campaign promise to balance the budget by the arbitrary date of 2017-18. 

This is about politics.  Pure, crass politics.

This is the entire reason the "progressive" Premier is going to sell off Ontario's crown jewel, the driving force behind what made our province the economic engine of Canada, hanging on to that role throughout the Great Depression, helping Canada and the Allies win World War II (how would those munitions factories have run without the electricity produced by Ontario Hydro?), driving Ontario's post-war economic boom that Canada rode until the trade barriers taken down by Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, Paul Martin and now Stephen Harper drove us to our current low-wage stagnation.

"Campaign on the left, govern on the right" was the mantra of another Liberal - the late Keith Davey.

Ms. Wynne seems to have taken his advice to heart.

Welcome to Liberal Ontario: Province Run By Bankers.

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 : April 29, 2015

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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