Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown’s 78-page campaign manifesto reminds me of the old line: if you can’t beat them, you may as well join them.
Brown’s recently-released People’s Guarantee makes 147 promises. But despite vowing to bring change for Ontario voters in 2018, the only obvious change is that he would spend even more than the current Liberal government of Premier Kathleen Wynne.
For the many Ontarians unhappy with Wynne’s spending, that’s hardly positive change.
Brown apparently intends to reverse 14 years of Liberal government by outdoing Liberal largesse, not opposing it.
Who would have guessed he has an admiration for Wynne’s spending and feels compelled to copy it? (And he signed the document, much like former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty’s signed – and later broke – a promise not to raise taxes in 2003 if he was elected.)
Brown is either suffering an ideological identity crisis or is one of the biggest political opportunists we’ve seen in some time.
Brown opted to endorse most of Wynne’s costly commitments – such as free pharmacare for young people and free post-secondary tuition – and added a free dental plan for low-income seniors.
All of this comes after years of passionate denunciation of the Liberals’ reckless 14-year record of spending, which is spiralling Ontario’s debt ever higher.
The biggest jaw-dropper in the People’s Guarantee deals with hydroelectricity.
After a year of the PCs demanding fairness on skyrocketing hydro costs, Wynne complied by presenting the Fair Hydro Plan, which included a 25 per cent reduction in rates.
Brown in turn demanded accountability, saying the deferral on the inevitable costs of electricity would simply dump the debt on future ratepayers.
And Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk suggested that “future governments will have to explain to ratepayers why electricity rates charged in 2028 and beyond exceed the actual cost of electricity.”
PC energy critic Todd Smith even called the Liberal’s Fair Hydro Plan “deceitful, it’s dishonest and it’s shady.”
That was all just a month ago, long enough for Brown to do a complete about-face.
The People’s Guarantee says a PC government would give hydro ratepayers an additional 12 per cent discount on top of Wynne’s 25 per cent.
Independent energy and environmental adviser and researcher Tom Adams called Brown’s plan “cost shifting – moving electricity liabilities from ratepayers to taxpayers.” Pointedly, he said “Brown’s electricity plan makes Wynne’s look honest and responsible by comparison.”
Throw in these other promises from Brown:
- a new 75 per cent tax rebate on child care;
- billions in taxpayers’ money from communities far and wide pumped into Canada’s richest city in the form of a Toronto subway takeover (imagine the bloated government on that), complete with free Wi-Fi on its trains;
- and a 22.5 per cent income tax cut.
Now Brown seem less intent on providing opposition than proving who would make the better socialist premier of Ontario.
Brown has apparently decided that conservatism is too difficult to sell in Ontario. So instead he’s offering an assortment of free things for everybody. Never mind that it’s all economically unsustainable.
It’s painful to see Brown loyalists express support this awkward, Liberal-mimicking platform.
The real losers are the grassroots conservatives who have long supported a party that was supposed to stand for responsible government. Brown would have them believe that his party can’t regain power in Ontario without swinging to the left.
That’s downright false. Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford won in Canada’s most liberal-rich city, proving that voters care about fiscal responsibility. And Stephen Harper’s federal Conservatives won much-needed seats in Toronto in 2008 on a campaign of accountable spending.
Brown, inauthentic and ever-changing, described his platform as “pay less but get more.” The illogic of that is an extraordinary insult to every hardworking Ontarian who struggles daily with their bills and worries about their children’s prospects.
In March 2016, Brown told TVO’s The Agenda host Steve Paikin: “There are some in our party right now who are saying the only way to beat the Liberals is to mimic the Liberals, to be Liberal-light. And I can tell you Steve, if you look at history, whenever we’ve tried to be Liberal-light, the voters always pick the authentic Liberal.”
Next spring when Ontario voters go to the polls, they can decide who that is.
Troy Media columnist Maddie Di Muccio is a former town councillor in Newmarket, Ont., and former columnist with the Toronto Sun.
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