As a former US resident I have been fascinated by politics on the north side of the border — particularly here in Ontario. Unlike US politics, where one votes for the individual candidate and the party comes along for the ride. Here it seems that the candidate is almost irrelevant — at issue is which party is being voted for. And beyond the ‘vote for X and get pie in the sky…’ there doesn’t seem to be anything real to distinguish the choices — just which set of stories do we want to embrace for the moment…with apparently no real expectation that any of this will come to pass. The line I heard in Toronto is that the weather can change almost as fast as a politicians promise. I used to think it was just me, but recent conversations with my neighbors seems to indicate that the confusion is much more common — may account for the declining voter participation (i.e. why vote since there is no choice and they won’t listen to me anyhow…).
And then while watching an old episode of Babylon 5 I saw a fictional example of a strange political process at work — that looked oddly familiar. An alien race called the Drazi would every few years put on colored scarfs — blue or green, then fight pitched battles with each other to determine who ran the government. The scarves were selected by blindly pulling them out of a box — so the choice of which side was left to chance. And why they would do it this way was equally obscure.
Politics here seems a lot like this, save we have the red party, the orange party and the blue party (and occasionally the green party). What groups or ideas they each represent is increasingly hard to distinguish — they are each ‘not the other’. And regardless of the color they seem to cooperate to perpetrate activities that do not seem in the interests of either the citizens or the laws of the province and the country. This despite many outbursts of apparent rationality from the designated ‘critics’.
Recently we were treated to the spectacle of the premier (appointed to run the province by the party in power) resigning after a number of debacles. The legislature was shut down while party insiders battled over who would get the plum job of being the next leader. The voting (and taxpaying) public are not invited and much of the dickering was perforce behind closed doors. We can only wonder who did what and with which and to whom… Now we have a new leader and an even larger cabinet and the cheerful announcement that the prior direction was just wonderful so we are continuing down the same miserable path. (Having lost our way we are redoubling our efforts — besides, its not OUR nickel we are spending…).
About voting, my Dad once said, the problem is to try and decide which candidate is going to steal the least. That said a lot about Chicago at the time. In Canada, at the provincial and federal levels, that is pretty tough. I would be hard pressed to find the public benefit in many of the acts of the government. They all seem to be prepared to spend huge amounts of the taxpayers money and tailor programs that appear to benefit the well-connected at the expense of the public. And as one federal politician remarked – ‘we are not interested in the views of experts or the opinions of the public’. And evidence-based policy (where the reasons and objectives are on public display) seems an alien concept. There is an amazing resistance to learning from the experience of others — since if it is not invented here it may as well not exist.
What I learned over the course of my business career is that the optimum way to accomplish anything is to decide what problems needed to be solved, an affordable plan of how to get there and tests along the way to evaluate whether the plan was producing the intended results at the projected costs. Studies of large scale project failures world-wide show that periodic evaluation of the project is key to producing results or containing losses — and there is no shortage of large scale failures as warnings. Against that standard one could put eHealth, the LHIN network, province-specific science and math education (and textbooks) and most egregiously the whole energy policy (wind power and the low key but vast buildout of gas turbine generation). What the REAL objectives are or whether they are being achieved I will leave as an exercise for the paranoid. For discussion, I would cite two modest examples:
Economies of scale is a phrase we have heard over and over — consolidation to save money and improve efficiency. Some years back the Harris government (blue party) legislatively consolidated regional governments all over the province, in some cases wiping out productive local aggregates in favor of new arrangements. Problem with people systems as opposed to making steel is that the bigger the enterprise the more lines of communication open up and the larger the set of divergent viewpoints to be managed. So in fact there are dis-economies of scale (read the classic ‘Parkinsons Law’ or ‘The Mythical Man-month’).
Closely related to this was ‘downloading’ — where responsibilities once carried by one level of government were pushed down to a lower level, but without additional revenue-raising capabilities provided to sustain them. The story here was local responsibility for local costs. It would seem a very cynical way to slash services without appearing to do so. I am curious as to whether any of the benefits for either transformation were realized anywhere? Did anyone even care to look? Where I used to live in Toronto the result of consolidation and downloading was degraded services and higher costs. Where I live now the local government was swept away with community decision-making largely eliminated — it has meant a bit more money for road maintenance but otherwise development has stagnated. And with the eventual arrival of the industrial wind farm possibly moving backwards.
Industrial scale wind seems to be the new obsession of the current provincial government (red party). Legislation called the ‘Green Energy Act’ allowed developers to invade rural communities all over the province, negotiate secret deals with favorably minded landowners, then send in the bulldozers. Government provides rich incentives, a long term power contract with guaranteed prices several times the commercial power rate, statutory limits on the local taxes that get paid to the invaded community (host to these parasites) which limit any local benefits and seemingly an automatic pass on any conflicts with laws.
Rural Ontario, home to farmers and retired people, is being converted into a huge industrial site. Essentially it appears to be 19th century colonial exploitation at its finest. While the arguments are that we need to get rid of coal and go to renewable energy to save the planet, the reality is that coal was never a big part of the power supply here, backing up the wind farms requires huge numbers of spinning gas turbines (so lots more greenhouse gases than before) and the province had a surplus of power anyhow. The soaring power costs are driving out industry — Ontario is on track to have the most expensive power in North America. A dubious achievement I think. So are the project objectives of ‘green energy’ being achieved? And if so, what are they and who is benefiting? And how long will it be before any of this sees the light of day?
Perhaps the real reason the red, orange and blue parties are so indistinguishable is that behind the scenes they are all fighting for their place at the same trough. Any pretense that they are there to govern for the benefit of the province and its citizens seems to be mostly lip service. Whatever stories one may hear (the party platform and promises that are made and quickly forgotten), in the end it comes down to which group is in the drivers seat — red, orange or blue. What other difference it makes is anyone’s guess. And I am curious as to how long the party will continue with rising debt and further job losses due to costs and stifling regulations?
From our perspective, being retired, watching our kids struggle and wondering in our own lives whether the soaring power prices or escalating property taxes will be the first to consume our fixed incomes and force us elsewhere. But knowing that being in an industrial park means our home is devalued (though MPAC pretends otherwise) so our choices may be more limited than we would like to admit. Meanwhile the red, blue and orange parties continue to squabble.