[A version of this essay was published earlier in my weekly column at Our Burlington online newspaper.]
It was remarkable that two issues topping our community’s list of needs were resolved only weeks before the coming Oct. 6 election. Cynics have questioned the timing, but I’m sure that had our needs come to the attention of Premier Dalton McGuinty earlier, he would have acted then.
Or would he?
Firstly, just over two months before the election, minister of transportation, Kathleen Wynne, came to town and confirmed the government had scrapped the Mid-Peninsula Highway (MPH)—at least, the portion of it that would have crossed rural Burlington’s section of the Niagara Escarpment.
Let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth, but ….
Residents have expressed concern over this proposed highway for over a decade, going back to the time of Mayor MacIsaac and when Norm Sterling served as transportation minister. In 2003, former MPP, Cam Jackson, rose in the legislature to say, “My community and I continue to hold the belief that the province hasn’t sufficiently examined the environmental impacts of building a new highway along the escarpment.”
It has taken eight years for Mr. McGuinty to decide we don’t “need to pave a mega highway through the [Niagara] escarpment,” as Kelly Baker, a spokesperson for Kathleen Wynne was quoted as saying in July. So what will happen to the Burlington leg of the MPH? Apparently, no one knows for sure—more study is planned. It’s a tough decision, you see, and when the going gets tough, politicians duck, especially if there’s an election in the offing. Governments have kicked the MPH can down the road for years, what’s another decade or two?
But let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth.
Secondly, just weeks before the coming election, Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital (JBMH) got the go-ahead for its expansion project, this after waiting decades to get the attention of Queen’s Park. The hospital was expanded in 1971 and again in the early 1990s, but this round of expansion is much needed and overdue.
The Liberals’ decision to fund our hospital’s expansion was crass politics.
The hospital unveiled its $312-million plan in 2009. City council pledged $60 million and another $60 million is to be raised by the hospital. So where have the Liberals been for the past two years? And where were they when a 20-month-long outbreak of C. difficile led to 62 deaths at JBMH in 2006–07. And what, or whose, interests could former Liberal health minister, George Smitherman, have been thinking about when he ignored calls for an independent investigation?
Remember, readers, after a single death occurred during the Ipperwash Crisis of 1995, a public inquiry was launched by Dalton McGuinty, within mere weeks of gaining power in 2003. But, when scores of JBMH patients died in the C. difficile outbreak, no public inquiry was held—nada.
The Liberals’ decision to fund our hospital’s expansion was crass politics. The Grits brought in nearby, out-of-riding MPPs—Hamilton Mountain Sophia Aggelonitis and Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale Ted McMeekin—to make the announcement on behalf of Health and Long-Term Care Minister Deb Matthews. That’s crass retail politics!
The Burlington Post’s Tim Kelley reports Liberal Party candidate Karmel Sakran “positively bristled at suggestions concerning the timing of the announcement, just eight weeks before the election, was meant to give him a dramatic boost in the race.”
Kelly wrote that Mr. Sakran said, “… people don’t understand but everything necessary to complete the deal for funding wasn’t ready until just prior to the announcement.” And Mr. Sakran said elsewhere, “I know the province requires a “state of readiness” before providing capital funding for a project of this nature.”
I may not know much about JBMH being—in Mr. Sakran’s words—in a “state of readiness,” but I do know the hospital has been in a state of need for, at least, the past decade. And I believe the Liberal government has been in a state of unwillingness to fund much of anything in Burlington since 2003.
Liberal governments of David Peterson and Dalton McGuinty have pretty much ignored Burlington’s needs, as did federal Liberal governments going back decades—including terms when Liberal MP Paddy Torsney represented us in Ottawa. Now, with a newbie running for the Tories, the Grits smell blood and believe they have a real good shot at winning Burlington on Oct. 6. Ridings are vulnerable when an incumbent retires, and that fact is not lost on the Liberal Party’s brain trust. So along come the sweeteners in the form of generous giveaways of taxpayer money. It has been ever so in Ontario politics and, sadly, the shoddy practice is likely to continue indefinitely.
This brings me to another example of the Grits’ election largesse. Here’s how Mr. Sakran, put it:
“I was delighted when our government increased its funding, August 31. The additional $320,000 added to base funding will strengthen Carpenter’s [Carpenter Hospice] nursing and personal support services and enhance its ability to deliver palliative care in Burlington.”
Coming a scant five weeks before the election certainly answers the question: What have you done for us lately? If Tories and Dippers held purse strings of their own, Burlington residents would be making out like bandits.
But here’s the downside: Before the 2003 election, Mr. McGuinty signed a Taxpayer Protection Pledge promising he would “not raise taxes or implement new taxes without the explicit consent of Ontario voters….” And, before the 2007 election, he again promised not to raise taxes.
You know how that worked out. First there was the health-care tax of up to $900 per worker in 2004, and in 2009 we got the HST applied to a range of services not previously subject to PST. And, of course, there were those sneaky “eco fees” and more, but I think you get the point.
Perhaps Dalton and Karmel are not such Burlington boosters after all.