Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Better the Devil we Know, Then the One we Don’t

With the election of Dalton McGuinty, some of us on the left thought the tide of neo-conservatism may have finally been dealt its first big blow. The man seemed to hold promise. From Wawa to Wainfleet, we heard about the urban agenda, a portion of the gas tax for municipalities, a halt to development on the Oak Ridges moraine… my those were heady days a mere three months ago.

Today we hear about unforeseen deficits, ‘restraint’ and ‘determining core businesses’. Sound familiar? Think 1995 and the beginning of the Common Sense Revolution. At least Harris laid out his plans for all to see. In 1995, Ontarians swallowed whole the competitive behaviour and individualistic responsibility mantra of the Conservatives and got exactly what they voted for. Welfare cuts, boot camps and freeing the market from the chains of big, bloated government. Teachers, nurses and even water inspectors were vilified as costly dinosaurs holding back the market. After the deep recession of the early 1990s, people were more interested in wealth accumulation than things as trivial as social justice, equality and democratic values.

Flash forward eight years and the masses were tiring of neo-conservatism. The deficit had been slain, taxes were lower and the world was rosy again… except at Queen‘s Park. Budget cuts were undermining public services and standards in the eyes of the public. The public held the Conservatives directly responsible for Walkerton and Aylmer.

Just then, along came Dalton McGuinty (or Norman Bates as we at the Lounge prefer to call him -ed.) with his rosy picture of the future. Claims of restored health funding here, comprehensive planning and arts expenditures permeated the media despite claims of a deficit of $5 billion from his own party.

So they won and guess what… a $5.6 billion deficit. Choose change... change the same.

The election of Harris brought about a barrage of numbers to justify his claims and to denigrate the NDP. Well folks, all those numbers are back. Terms such as ’restraint’, ’restructuring’, ’devolution’ and ’privatization’ are back in vogue and are neatly tied into other… better… terms such as ’fiscal responsibility’ and ’prudent financial management practices’. Did the liberals really think there was a surplus? Or was this just a veiled attempt continue unabated the implementation of the neo-liberal agenda of ‘less government‘? Is the public sector doomed to an endless crisis?

We may have hated him, but at least Harris was an honest devil. With McGuinty, who really knows what tomorrow will bring? Can we really be surprised anymore.

The transition of power has passed seamlessly. Adam Smith would be proud.

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