Sunday, October 2, 2011

The speech Ontario should hear, but won't...

As we enter the homestretch of this too-close-to-call provincial election, we find the Liberal, PC and NDP leaders spending their time criss-crossing the province. Whether they are in a riding they hope to steal or one they are trying to protect, the remarks now start to take on a familiar shape - final arguments.

Between now and election day, the leaders will each use that mountain of polling data they have collected to frame and make their final pitch to the voter. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, their respective pitches will be built around what they feel the voter wants to hear and not what they voter should hear.

A few days ago, Jeffrey Simpson wrote about the absence of hard truths in our campaigns; about the political reluctance to "tell it like it is." This is something that has been on my mind for some time, and which this campaign (and the federal one in May) has reinforced.

So with that in mind, I decided to write "The speech Ontario should hear, but won't..."


Hello ladies and gentleman, and thank-you for taking the time to be here today. Whether you are a supporter or someone still undecided, welcome to the last week of this campaign. Your campaign.

Let me say that again. Your campaign.

This is not, and should not, be about me getting elected or becoming Premier. This campaign is about the Ontario you want; the province you will charge the women and men standing for office with building.

It is a big responsibility, for sure. And it is a responsibility which deserves respect and honesty. Unfortunately, in a campaign these attributes - respect and honesty - often appear to be in short supply.

That changes today. Let me start with some three simple observations.

- the politician who says they have all the answers doesn't

- be wary of the campaign which spends more time telling you why not to vote for someone, and less time making their own case for your vote

- there is no easy fix to any of the challenges we are facing

With those three maxims in mind, consider the following three issues.

If the past few years have taught us anything, it is that we now live in a world defined by change and uncertainty. Ontario is part of a highly integrated global economy which is going through significant changes. Jobs have been lost and deficits have grown as governments attempted to stem the bleed and alleviate the damage.

While we are still trying to figure out what this economy looks like over the next 4 years, we can be certain of one thing: it will not look like it did before the 2008. If I told you that my party would return Ontario's economy to its "glory years", I would be lying. Or own a time machine.

The government you elect will not be tasked with bringing the old economy back. It will be tasked with reinventing our economy for the 21st century.

At the same time our economy is changing, we are seeing tremendous change in our society. We are getting older and living longer. This will place demands on our health care system which cannot be met based on our current model.

We need to have a serious discussion about the health care system we want, its costs and how we can fund it. This is not just a question of spending more - throwing dollars at health care is not a solution. It also misses the point that health care is as much about building a competitive economy as it is about building a healthy society. We need to talk about both.

The government you elect will not be tasked with protecting the health care system we have today. They will be tasked with starting a real dialogue about how to make health care (a) sustainable and (b) a competitive advantage.

We have a deficit. And it is large. As we look at what is happening around the world, we see markets which are increasingly unforgiving on those who live beyond their means. We cannot put Ontario in this position.

A large part of our deficit is related to the measures taken to protect Ontario over the past few years. But that is not the only reason we have a deficit. Health, education and social spending are big tickets. Energy and environment policy measures cost too.

What this means is that we can't simply grow ourselves out of deficit. We need to have a serious discussion about government spending. This can mean cuts. It can mean taxes. If I told you I had the answer, I would not be telling you the truth. What I can tell you is that it is not easy and we need to talk about it.

The government you elect cannot promise to eliminate the deficit without spending cuts or tax increases - the world is too uncertain. The government you will elect will be tasked with engaging the legislature and the public on how best to address the deficit.

There are more issues we could discuss, but the point I would make is the same. Governing is not about having all of the answers; it is about asking the right questions and then working with others to find answers to those questions. This is what I can commit to you. Asking those questions and then working collaboratively to find and implement the answers.

So when you walk towards that box on election day, ask yourself the following:

- whose questions are my questions?
- who has been honest with me about the tasks we face?
- who has told me why I should vote for them, versus telling me why not to vote for someone else?

October 6th is a few days away. It's your campaign. Vote.


More platitude than details, for sure. But the point I want to make is that we should expect more from those seeking our vote. We have real challenges which will require difficult decisions. This is not discussed in a campaign. And it should be discussed.

Speak your mind.

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