glory, Tory ghosts in uneasy mix
The Ontario government isn't ready to put its brass knuckles into permanent storage just yet.
Community Services Minister Brenda Elliott was displaying a hard-posterior attitude last week as she talked about a coroner's jury that said imposing a lifetime benefits ban on welfare cheats is unconscionable.
"Welfare fraud is a crime," she said repeatedly to reporters looking for her reaction. "Fraud cannot be tolerated."
It was a startling bit of bravado for a government that has shown in the past eight months that it hasn't met any policy that it didn't want to reconsider if there was any electoral advantage in doing so.
Perhaps Ms. Elliott is walking on solid ground when she clomps on the backs of welfare recipients. In 1995, after all, the Progressive Conservatives struck a chord with voters with their euphemistically labelled pledge to "reform" the welfare system.
Playing that card again is certainly one way to retain the loyalty of the Tories' core vote.
Perhaps, however, the minister simply hasn't yet been countermanded by Premier Ernie Eves. Will Mr. Eves hold tight when he is challenged to square his oft-proclaimed "social conscience" with the jury's finding that the lifetime welfare ban has a "devastating and detrimental effect on our society"?
It's not just cynicism -- the Premier has, indeed, shown a good deal of flexibility since he took over from Mike Harris last April. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on whether you are a loyal trooper in the Common Sense Revolution or whether you simply want a government that accepts it can sometimes walk around obstacles rather than running straight at them.
At any rate, six of the nine highlights of the fall session noted in a press release from Mr. Eves's office deal with issues in which he reacted to something put on his plate, often reversing something left over from the Harris era.
These are our highlights:
Mr. Eves signed on to a federal-provincial plan to provide nearly $230-million for Toronto cultural institutions. The deal foundered under Mr. Harris.
The Eves government retreated on the plan to privatize the Hydro One electricity-transmission system. A judicial ruling forced the issue but the Premier was astute enough to sniff out that public opinion was running against it.
Less than six months after it began, the government effectively ended Ontario's experiment with allowing electricity prices to float according to supply and demand.
Mr. Eves killed a $10-million tax credit granted to Ontario's professional sports teams in the dying hours of the Harris government.
Mr. Harris found out two months after he left office that the government would not be paying the legal fees arising from his libel lawsuit against The Globe and Mail.
A number of planned personal, corporate and property tax cuts are delayed for at least a year.
Mr. Eves says the education-funding formula is broken and he appoints Mordechai Rozanski to tell him how to fix it. In one astonishing week, he promises to give $610-million to school boards that have been complaining fruitlessly for years.
Following the tainted-water tragedy in Walkerton, the government gets back in the business of regulating Ontario's water.
The Premier defends his embrace of situational pragmatism by saying that the situations of 2002 are vastly different from what Mr. Harris had to deal with when he became premier seven years ago. But there are times when he seems almost reluctant to let go of those glory years of Tory rule.
Some days (usually when it's bad news), he and his gang take pains to refer to "the previous government."
At other times (when it's convenient to note, say, job-growth figures in the past seven years), they crow about "our government" as if it has been a seamless continuum since 1995.
Tweaked about this recently, Mr. Eves said: "What would you like us to be today?"
It was a joke, I think.
source URL: Globe and Mail