Premier now singing from Tory's songbook

Feb 04, 2009 04:30 AM


One of the unintended consequences of Premier Dalton McGuinty's belated epiphany about the dire state of the Ontario economy could well be increased regard for John Tory.

Most of what the premier has been saying in recent days the need to cut red tape, to become business friendly, to encourage investment has been the mantra for years of the Progressive Conservative leader.

But while Tory was banging that drum, the premier was assuring the province even as jobs vanished in the tens of thousands that "this too shall pass," that "we're going to be okay." His five-point plan, he insisted, was the next best thing to economic Kryptonite.

No more.

"I don't think anybody really understood that this was going to be a recession unlike any other that we've ever experienced in our lifetimes," a rueful McGuinty told the Star yesterday. "I've learned more along the way."

Now McGuinty says, in media interviews designed to rechart his course and again in a speech yesterday to the Canadian Club of Toronto, that far from being okay, there is much that needs fixing in both Ontario's economic foundations and its broader culture.

If his downbeat tone was reminiscent of former U.S. president Jimmy Carter's infamous "malaise" speech of 1979, the blame was spread widely.

Businesses don't invest enough and have hidden behind a low dollar and cheap energy, he said. Ontario's young aren't educated enough. And governments, "including mine," are a "brake on growth."

Not surprisingly, another of the bromides the premier has shelved is one he frequently trotted out about the duty of leadership being to represent the future to the present.

By that measure, he didn't do much of a job over the last year or so, as he travelled around patting heads and whispering sweet consolations.

"I didn't want to frighten people," he said yesterday.

But averting the gaze from harsh reality seldom makes it go away. And both Tory and NDP Leader Howard Hampton have long warned that this recession was different from those before.

Doubtless, the premier will be hearing more than his share of I-told-you-sos in the next short while. He's already having read back to him his old quotes speaking of the unfair reputation red tape had got and of the merits of oversight and regulation.

Meanwhile, as the premier reinvents himself, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will surely be trying to fathom what kind of never-never land it is in which he's a free spender and Dalton McGuinty is warning of "deficit euphoria" as if it were the new reefer madness.

Still, the premier's repositioning is probably not so much anything new as it is a going back to the future. He started out on the conservative wing of the party. His life story is one of duty, responsibility, self-reliance, pay-as-you-go, small-scale entrepreneurship. And his new voice is similar to that he used when running for the Liberal leadership in 1996.

If the Canadian Club was expecting a dose of "the vision thing" yesterday and you'd have to think it was, considering the premier was introduced with a quote from Kipling and thanked with a citation from Churchill then it must have been disappointed.

They had to make do with the promise of a green energy act and a weird riff by McGuinty about the lessons to be drawn in the current crisis from Canada's 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union.

If green is the panacea touted in all jurisdictions these days, tortured hockey analogies must surely be the first refuge of a Canadian politician on thinning ice.


Jim Coyle's provincial affairs column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.




Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre


Remember that Dalton is first and last a lawyer and eventually as you climb the ladder of abuse of power and flagrant abuse of power, the ultimate place where it all ends are the eyes of Dalton McGuinty who chooses to remain blind to the Judicial Council who have as much effect as ghosts of deceased that wander University Avenue. Our judiciary are out of control with draconian flagrant abuses of judicial discretion that is costing Ontario billions. Under Dalton, Male Gender Apartheid has gotten worse and our jails are filling up with father's who simply asked a family court for access.