Ontario Liberals "delist" their own credibility

Monday, May 31, 2004


Written by Scott Piatkowski

Last spring, as Ontarians were getting ready to vote in a provincial election, Dalton McGuinty stood beside a tree in a snowstorm. In images that saturated television airwaves, McGuinty spoke about the essential contradiction of his campaign platform:

“People ask me how I can improve health care and education without increasing their taxes. Am I an optimist? Maybe.”

Of course, while explicitly admitting the contradiction, McGuinty never really responded to it, did he? In fact, he couldn’t even bring himself to answer his own question with more than a “maybe”.

If we needed any more evidence, last week’s provincial budget proved that McGuinty can hardly blame his government’s broken promises on “optimism” (or on a budgetary deficit that he knew full well would be awaiting him). McGuinty simply was unwilling to tell voters the awful truth – that restoring public services cut by Mike Harris and Ernie Eves would also require restoring some or all of the taxes that were cut by Mike Harris and Ernie Eves.

McGuinty painted himself into a corner by promising “not to cut taxes, but not to raise them either”. If that wasn’t enough, he applied another coat of paint to the floor by participating in a press conference with the right-wing Canadian Taxpayers Federation during the election campaign in which he signed a so-called “Taxpayers’ Protection Pledge” promising not to raise taxes without first holding a referendum.

Even if we believe his feigned astonishment at the sorry state of the province’s books, this photo op was an act of gross political irresponsibility. I say this not because the group has announced launched a dubious lawsuit against McGuinty for breaking his “contract” with them, but because it led voters to believe that they could have the equivalent of “steak dinner and pony to every boy and girl in the province” (a phrase that he used during the leaders’ debate to demonstrate how responsible he was being) without having to pay for it.

Because of this pledge and a general desire to appear “fiscally responsible”, McGuinty and Finance Minister Greg Sorbara had to twist themselves in knots to avoid imposing any new taxes (or, more to the point, anything called “taxes”). That’s why the budget re-introduces health care premiums – something that a previous Liberal government had once been proud to eliminate.

So what’s the difference between a tax and a health care premium? Well, if McGuinty had bit the bullet and simply reinstated just a portion of the Conservative tax cuts, higher income earners would have been impacted proportionately more than lower income earners. That’s called progressive taxation and it’s been the cornerstone of how government programs have been funded for decades. McGuinty’s premiums are the opposite of that. A person earning $20,001 per year will be paying 0.75% of that amount in health care premiums; a person earning $200,001 per year will pay 0.23% of their income in health premiums. If that seems unfair, it’s because it is.

At the same time as he is using an unfair mechanism to raise the revenue to fund health care, McGuinty has redefined what health care is covered (apparently the new premiums won’t be enough). Physiotherapy, chiropractic care, and eye exams (for those aged 20 to 64) will no longer be covered by OHIP. These changes will have measurable negative impact on the economy and on peoples’ lives. For example, a patient needing physiotherapy or chiropractor treatments in order to recover from an injury may have to delay their return to work -- particularly if they are unable to borrow enough money to pay for the treatments.

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind strongly recommends annual eye exams for everyone aged 45 and older – not just to detect vision loss, but also to detect serious diseases such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration. If people aren’t getting regular eye exams, how do they know whether it’s safe for them to drive, or to operate heavy equipment, or to do anything else?

Three years ago, we lost my father to liver cancer which had metastasized from an ocular melanoma – one that was first detected during a routine eye exam. How many other cancers and other diseases are going to go undetected because of McGuinty’s decision. Frankly, I can’t see any justification at all for delisting this vital service from medicare coverage.

Reasonable voters shouldn’t blame Dalton McGuinty for breaking promises that were virtually impossible to keep. But, they should definitely blame him for making those promises when he knew very well that they were impossible to keep. And, if they voted for him, they can also blame themselves for believing him. On June 28, when they vote federally, we’ll see whether they’ve learned their lesson.

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