The Daily Exchange: McGuinty has nothing to apologize for
A friend recently messaged me to tell me why he liked Premier Dalton McGuinty - he summed it up with I like “leaders who are unapologetic.” It worked for Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the spring campaign, but will it work for Premier Dalton McGuinty?
The Premier for the past year has been talking about tough choices. He has been Premier for the past eight years, at the helm during very tumultuous times. First, he was elected on a platform of “change” (i.e. improve services which have deteriorated) only to inherit a $5.6-billion deficit. He could have taken the easy route and done nothing, but instead he implemented a very unpopular health care premium. But really that was last election’s story and Ontarians overwhelmingly forgave him for it – he was re-elected with a majority (with a major assist by John Tory’s catastrophic proposal to fund faith based schools).
On education, however, there is no need for apologies. Arguably, the Premier made the tough choice of raising taxes in that first term to invest in education. The party’s brain trust knows that education is a solid accomplishment of this government. Ontarians who were in high school during the Mike Harris “create a crisis” era can now send their own kids back to school without the threat of labour unrest. For the first time, Ontario has a full-day Kindergarten program. Class sizes for primary grades are smaller, crumbling schools have been rebuilt, physical education and music programs are now considered staples instead of frills, test scores are way up, and more kids are graduating.
Now, add to that record the Liberals' big election goody: a 30% grant for post-secondary students, aimed squarely at middle class parents worried about how to pay for college or university. Multiply all of it by the cash, organizational and reputational muscle of Ontario’s teachers’ unions, and you’ll understand why Dalton McGuinty will try to keep education in the front window for the remainder of the campaign. At this point in the campaign, it even appears the opposition parties have ceded the education-turf to the Liberals. The NDP has yet to release a plan for education, and the PC Party surely wants to stay away from the issue based on their past record. Further, Tim Hudak’s flip flop on the cost of full day kindergarten leaves him vulnerable on the issue.
So what is Premier being unapologetic for? Investing in education? For leading Ontario through a severe global financial crisis and a rising Canadian dollar? The latter could have crippled the Province, yet Ontario has thrived far more than other economies. The HST was a big part of the economy’s recovery – and another tough choice. My friend’s exact words were, “I find it interesting that McGuinty has to defend an agenda that is the envy of almost every other economy in the world.” I agree. Further, McGuinty’s education platform is more than just sound tactics and strategy. The best investment we can make as a province is a highly educated and skilled work force in order to better compete with growing economies like China and India.
The Premier very well may have to apologize again for taxes, but I do not believe that he has to apologize for being at the head of the electoral class on education and stabilizing and growing an economy which was hit with global pressures.
- Erika Mozes, former senior adviser to George Smitherman and Gerard Kennedy
Response from Guy Giorno, former chief of staff to Mike Harris and Stephen Harper:
Erika suggests several reasons to re-elect Dalton McGuinty but I don’t think anyone heard them yesterday. The Liberal campaign revolves around the tax incentive for foreign workers.
I must confess that don’t understand the Liberals’ foreign-workers strategy. I don’t appreciate the rationale for the policy. And I really don’t understand why the Liberal brain trust has decided to make foreign workers the centrepiece of the McGuinty re-election.
Communication is everything in a campaign. Funny thing is, despite so much chatter about foreign workers, the Liberals have failed to explain the reason for the incentive – failed to articulate the rationale in clear, straightforward prose that speaks to ordinary voters.
I am thinking of ordinary voters like the one million Ontarians without access to a family doctor. These families would welcome a policy that takes foreign-trained physicians out of menial jobs and puts them to work providing health care in our communities.
Unless I am mistaken, however, the Liberal foreign-worker incentive won’t take doctors out of taxi cabs and place them in hospitals. There must be some other rationale for the Liberal policy. We’re just waiting for the Liberal campaign to provide it.
This leads to my second point of confusion: Why are the Liberals spending so much time talking about an unpopular policy they cannot explain? This isn’t the first time in history that an ill-conceived, unpopular policy has slipped into someone’s election platform. Wise campaign strategy would be to downplay the mistake and move on. Don’t escalate the crisis because hubris prevents the backroom operatives who drafted the foreign-worker policy from admitting their mistake.
Nonetheless, the foreign workers’ incentive remains the number one message being pushed by Liberal campaign spokespeople. Liberal material posted online and being pushed to reporters is predominantly about foreign workers. The repetition and consistency reveal a deliberate effort to push foreign workers to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. Whether by design or by refusal to admit an error, the central Liberal campaign has decided to make foreign workers the centrepiece of its strategy.
We will see if the strategy holds. I suspect that, over the next few days, Liberal headquarters will be deluged with phone calls from candidates and volunteers in the field, begging to switch away from the one-track foreign-workers message.
The plan to base a four-week campaign on affirmative action for foreign workers cannot possibly succeed. Until the Liberal leadership realizes this, Mr. McGuinty won’t be able to drive any other messages.
Response from Jeffrey Ferrier, former communications director for the Ontario NDP:
Guy talks about confusion. It’s an apt word to describe how I feel about the election campaign’s first day.
On the one hand, you have the PC Party attacking McGuinty for an immigration policy plank that is similar to a private member’s bill Hudak championed not too long ago. On the other hand, you have the Liberals attacking Hudak as a xenophobe, when that private member’s bill the Liberals gleefully point to shows that’s simply untrue.
Why is this happening? It’s all party strategy. The Liberals and PCs are trying to squeak to a majority government through micro-targeting and voter suppression. It’s a one-two punch mastered by the likes of Karl Rove. First you target a small number of swing voters you feel you need to win. You target your communication at them. Ads. Flyers. Direct mail. Fund-raising. Everything. Bring them onto your side. Then mercilessly slag your opponents to try and make their supporters stay home. Hurray democracy!
That’s why you see Hudak focused on taxes (a top-of-mind issue for centre-right Liberal-PC swing voters) and why they’re playing the “taxman” and “affirmative action” cards on McGuinty. It also explains the Liberals playing the “Tea Party Tim” card. It’s also why McGuinty is spending so much time attacking Andrea Horwath on the campaign trail. A Liberal victory will require them to win back many of the centre-left voters that are coming over to Horwath and the NDP.
If there’s one piece of good news from the campaign’s first day, it’s that one leader and one party have decided to do things differently. Horwath and her New Democrat team are taking a different path. They are making a positive appeal for change to all Ontarians, that we can make life more affordable for families if we just put people first. I’m glad to see her shrugging off the attacks and instead focusing on the solutions she and her party are advancing.
Today, Horwath will be in Northern Ontario to speak about her plan to attract jobs and investment to this part of the province, and to give the people who live there more of a say over decisions that affect their lives. She has indicated more policy planks are on the way, including education and more details about plans to get more Ontarians working and our economy growing by rewarding job creators.
Cynical politics as usual versus a different approach that puts people and positive solutions first. It will be interesting to see which approach voters choose on October 6.