The next election in Ontario is only six weeks away. Ontario is 40 per cent of Canada. What happens in Ontario matters to the world, so we should consider the impact of our vote on the world and on Ontario. I will try to keep an open mind until Election Day, but here is my summation of the key issues at this time.
Education and Health Care – These two items take up 70 per cent of the provincial budget but they are the critically important foundation for a healthy and prosperous future. We need sensible restraint on all of our wages, but we don’t need another war with teachers and health care workers.
Looking globally, unsustainable population growth is a root cause of the world’s looming climate crisis. Progress is being made but we are still on track to add the equivalent of three more Africas or 100 more Canadas to the world population by 2100. Canada cannot be a credible voice on this issue if we are not observing best practice in our own country. Stephen Harper knew that and worked with Bill Gates at the 2010 G8 conference in Huntsville to increase funding for maternal and child health in developing countries because, “Although it sounds counterintuitive, when more children live past the age of five, and mothers can decide when to have children, population sizes don’t go up. They go down.”
Research also shows that the facts of life are best delivered at an early age when they are non-sensational. Some parents can do that and some cannot, so there is clearly a need for sex-ed at school. Doug Ford proposes to change sex education and abortion rules. Both are bad ideas.
The Liberals have started the ball rolling on expanding pharma-care and the NDP wants to add dental care to the burden on the public purse. There is an argument for both, but let’s get the basics right first. There is much more to do on wait times and sustainable funding for convenient local hospitals.
Energy and Environment – These two items also go together because fossil fuel use that is driven by unsustainable population growth are the two root causes of climate change. The Liberals have taken a lot of heat (along with Germany) for being in the forefront of a bold experiment in renewable energy, but they have since experienced reality and have adjusted the push for wind and solar power. To their credit, the Liberals have expanded hydro-electricity to the political limit (remember the Bala Falls fight) and are refurbishing Ontario’s Nuclear power plants. The end result is an optimum system (given Ontario’s conditions) with 55 per cent nuclear and 25 per cent hydro that are both emission-free and reliable 24/7 regardless of the weather. The balance is made up by reliable natural gas, using wind and solar to reduce the cost and emissions from gas when intermittent wind and solar are producing. Solar is ideal for mid-summer mid-day peak power and the current amount of solar in Ontario is about where it should be for that. The Green Party and the NDP are still ignoring Germany’s failed experiment to kill nuclear power and are still trying the sell the fantasy that renewables alone can do the job. Yes, Ontario’s electricity cost is now a bit higher than some US states but Ontario’s cost will be lower after those states make the investments to eliminate coal-based electricity.
The other issue around energy and environment is that of a carbon tax. Traffic in and around the GTA is now among the heaviest in North America. Doug Ford’s idea to build houses in the Greenbelt would increase urban sprawl. Ontario is now well-positioned with enough clean electricity to supply electrified public transit and electric vehicles (where they make sense). A carbon tax is a sensible way to fund clean transit. Doug Ford is proposing to kill the carbon tax to compete with the US. President Trump’s recent US tax changes might produce superficial short-term benefits but they will balloon the US debt.
Resources – Electric vehicles are coming but not as fast as some predict for two reasons: EV powertrains require entirely different materials and manufacturing equipment than conventional powertrains, and EVs work better in urban sun-belt areas than in rural snow-belt areas.
There is now a global race by companies and countries to lock up the world’s limited supplies of the copper, nickel, and cobalt needed to make 50 million electric motors and batteries per year. The “Ring of Fire” in Northern Ontario contains large deposits of copper and nickel. Cobalt has cobalt. But the area needs massive infrastructure work to access these minerals. This has potential to end poverty for local First Nations. The Conservatives and the Liberals initiated joint support for development in 2011, but it has been slow going. Doug Ford says he would get on a bulldozer himself to get it going.
The world will need oil for several more decades and Canada is well-positioned to supply it. Except in Quebec, both Liberals and Conservatives were supportive of the Energy East pipeline, which is arguably the most beneficial to Canada and may still be needed. Except for Alberta, the NDP and the Greens are not supportive of energy pipelines.
Social Issues – Having spent considerable time studying the legalization of recreational cannabis, experts find there are still many serious concerns, so responsible implementation is critical. Good plans often go wrong in the implementation. Doug Ford’s idea of privatizing the point of sale puts the goals of the program at risk. I agree with the Liberal’s plan to sell cannabis at locations with well-trained and well managed staff. Dedicated LCBO outlets are much more likely to help achieve the goals of the cannabis program than hundreds of corner stores. Let’s be honest: like every country, we have a serious problem with young people using harmful drugs. Let’s not make it worse.
Leadership – Politicians have a critically important and increasingly difficult job. But they can’t do anything if they can’t get elected, so they are often tempted to make promises they should know they can’t keep. Then they feel obligated to appear to be keeping their promises. The circus south of the border is a prime example. So it is up to the electorate to separate fact from fiction. Doug Ford’s promise to “Make Ontario great again” sounds all too familiar. International studies show clearly that Canada and Ontario are already among the best places in the world.
It all boils down to the capability and credibility of the leader and key cabinet members. While I do not like the Liberal’s Cap-and-Trade program, I find Kathleen Wynne to be an honest, sincere and hard-working person who (like Stephen Harper) was free of any personal scandal for over ten years in office. I don’t doubt Doug Ford’s sincerity, but he had some crazy ideas when he was on council in Toronto and he still has some. Notwithstanding all of the bravado, the only notable success of the Ford Administration was to outsource half of Toronto’s garbage collection. I pine for the days of the so-called Red Tories like Bill Davis and Brian Mulroney. (Remember it was Mulroney that solved our national debt problem by bringing in the GST even though it cost him his job).
We lived in Quebec when the PQ was first elected because the prevailing sentiment was “nothing can be worse than the current government.” Quebec will never be the same again. I will try hard to keep an open mind until June 7, but unless something changes, I am inclined to stay with the devil I know.
Hugh Holland is a retired engineering and manufacturing executive now living in Huntsville, Ontario.
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