Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tim Hudak’s 10 for 2010 program

Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader, Tim Hudak, is asking for ten “practical, affordable and achievable ideas that will create jobs and grow our economy.” A new PC Web site and video points out that Ontario was had “… the best jobs, hospitals, schools and roads in all of Canada.”, but now is a “have not province,” relying on hand-outs from other Canadians.

To kick off this worthy campaign, the PCs have offered their list of ten ideas that they believe will create jobs and grow our economy.

Here’s their list:

  1. Suspend the Tax on New Jobs
  2. Eliminate Job Killing Red Tape and Regulations
  3. Make Home Ownership More Affordable
  4. Restore Balance to the WSIB System
  5. Expand Job Opportunities for Young Workers
  6. Create Jobs in Northern Ontario
  7. Cut Wasteful Government
  8. Stop Corporate Welfare
  9. Cap Spending
  10. Bring Public Sector Agreements in Line with Reality

My first reaction to the ten points? Tepid, timid and tame. In other words, quite underwhelming. Nothing offensive, of course, but nothing bold or really new. To me this smacks of political-speak and will result in a lot of rhetoric and little action.

If I became premier in 2011, my first legislation would be to forbid Ontario from accepting equalization payments—the bail-out payments to “have not” provinces. I know Quebec accepts equalization. In fact, that province seems now to depend on this federal welfare. But surely we’re better than that: we got ourselves into this mess and shouldn’t be looking for a bailout. Other provinces have their own problems and challenges and we should not be adding to their tax burden.

My reaction to the Hudak list:

Point 1 calls for a one-year payroll tax holiday from the “burdensome” Health Tax and WSIB premiums on all new hires. If taxes are truly “burdensome” reduce or eliminate them permanently on all staff. Baby steps are fine, but we’re all adults here, aren’t we?

Points 2 and 7 are pure motherhood statements. Virtually every government seems to promise to reduce red tape and government waste. And spare us another in an endless line of commissions to cut government red tape, please. What’s needed is less government: cut government, and its red tape ceases to be a problem.

Point 3 calls for a one-year suspension of the land-transfer tax. Either this is a good tax or it is not. If its suspension creates jobs, then the reverse is probably true: the tax kills jobs. So why not reduce or eliminate it permanently? A one-year suspension is better than nothing, I suppose, but our economy will not be out of the woods in a year. That’s why I see this proposal as petty politics and can’t take it seriously.

Points 4 and 8 are good—let’s do them.

As to points 5 and 6: if we had all the jobs governments have promised to create in the past, we’d be living in paradise. It’s a myth that governments create jobs, except when they hire workers and we don't want that. Conservatives know (or should know) it is the private sector that creates jobs; government creates bureaucracy, a drag on the economy. Promises like these are almost always hollow.

Point 9 calls for spending to be capped at the 2010-11 estimate provided in the 2009 budget. Good idea. But what about adding an 18-month freeze on public-sector hiring and limiting hiring after that to 1.5% a year, while making sure government departments don’t cheat by hiring “consultants?”

Point 10 calls for a wage freeze on senior government administrators, non-unionized employees and MPPs. Definitely. I like this one. I’d add a legislated across-the-board freeze on public sector wages and benefits until private-sector workers catch up. Then legislate that future increases will be no more than 1.5 per cent a year. Make it a crime to offer/give more. Put a 10-year sunset clause on the bill and revisit it after that.

I would encourage Mr. Hudak to add the following to his list:

  1. Cut HST (Ontario portion) by 3 points for a 10 per cent HST total. I can not believe the PCs have had this noisy campaign against implementing HST, but are silent about what they will do after HST implementation this summer. I smell a rat here, or, at the very least, a whiff of hypocrisy.
  2. Sell off gaming and liquor boards/commissions plus every other government enterprise that competes with the private sector.

I know the PCs mean well, they always do. But the road to hell, I’m told, is paved with good intentions. We do not need more empty rhetoric and short-term political promises. We need something more. Perhaps a version of the Common Sense Revolution geared to the current social and economic environment. I don’t see that in Hudak’s “10 for 2010” proposals.

It’s going to take a lot more than party-politics-as-usual and politically motivated gimmicks to dig Ontario out of the hole it’s in. Some strong medicine, creative thinking and bold action is called for. Premier Dalton McGuinty, we all know, isn’t up to it—he’s proven that over the past six or so years.

I’m convinced Tim Hudak would be an improvement. But Mr. Hudak and his caucus will have to up their game—kick it up several notches in fact—if they expect to replicate Mike Harris’s turnaround after the Bob Rae New Democrats left the Ontario government with record debt and deficits.

Can they do it? I hope so.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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