Premier Brown, Van Pelt or Woodstock?

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A couple of months ago, I posted an e-mail that I had written to Ontario Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty, questioning his plan to improve public transportation in Ontario. My argument was, the plan was basically to divert two cents per litre from the Ontario fuel tax and divert that to Ontario transit agencies and nothing more. Given that the Conservatives had already promised to fund 33% of the province's public transit capital cost, how was this an improvement?

I've since learned that the $312 million per year raised by this diversion of funds is in addition to the transportation measures currently offered by the Progressive Conservatives. The Liberal Party of Ontario may not have appreciated the Federal Liberals' deal with the Provincial Tories to provide :GO Transit: with $1.2 billion over the next five years, but they'll not renege on it. There's no promise of completing the Sheppard subway, and if the Conservatives promise their own diversion of the gas tax, he's back to square one, but right now he's still ahead in the game. He's got a one point lead.

Incidentally, I didn't learn this through any Liberal handler, or Dalton McGuinty himself. I heard it through the news. Dalton McGuinty never replied to my letter. Stephen Harper wrote back. He may have disagreed with every single point that I raised in the letter I sent to him, but at least he had the courage and the care to respond to my words. Dalton just didn't bother to explain his policies, much less sell them. Not only are his policies uninspired, he's proved himself to be out of touch, at least with this voter.

An Ontario election is coming. You can smell it in the air, and in the tax cuts and spending promises being tossed around by all three parties. The vote will be close, but it won't be interesting. In fact, I'd venture to say that this may be the least interesting close election in the history of this province. The leading parties are not neck-and-neck because they are energized and full of ideas. They are neck and neck because neither seems to want to win. The choices before the voter are either distasteful or downright boring.

This is Dalton McGuinty's election to lose. Premiers Harris and Eve stirred up incredible resentment across this province in their eight years of slash-and-burn government. Unfortunately, McGuinty is up to the challenge of losing it. His policies aren't bold, he isn't particularly charismatic, and he flipflops on issues whenever the political wind tacks against him. Worst of all, his party is going into this election with the sense that it's going to be a cakewalk -- the very same attitude that may have cost Petersen his victory in 1990, Lyn McLeod her victory in 1995 and Dalton McGuinty his in 1999.

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But on the other side is Ernie Eves, who seems to have decided that he doesn't want to be the Premier of Ontario as he wants to be its President. This afternoon, despite widespread editorial condemnation, despite the criticism of the House Speaker (who is himself a member of the Conservative Party), despite criticism of his own back benchers and despite legal briefs which describe the move as unconstitutional, Ontario Finance Minister Janet Ecker will be reading her government's budget -- not before the legislature, but to a studio audience of handpicked attendees.

Eves has shown startling contempt for the criticism; so have other members of his party. It's no big thing, he and his loyalists have said repeatedly. It's a controversy whipped up by the media and the :CBC: (the "Communist Broadcasting Corporation" is the rather dimwitted comment Brampton Centre Tory MPP Joe Spina has to say). Ontarians don't care about where the budget is read, so why should we? Eves has even gone as far as to criticize his own House Speaker for speaking out, saying that his act violates the Speaker's "independence" (a truly laughable assertion).

Eves is not interested in standing before a house of elected representatives and taking his lumps as any decent premier and prime minister should. And despite Eves' attempts to play the controversy down, it's attracting condemnation from a wide spectrum of critics, from the usual Liberals and NDPers, to the longstanding Tory ally, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation; fairly universal condemnation that's been casually ignored.

If this is the contempt that Eves holds dissent now, just think of what will happen if Eves faces real dissent after he's been given an actual mandate to govern?

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The Conservatives in recent months have shown themselves to be a tired government of closed-minded free-market-fanatics. It's no surprise that the popularity of this administration is dropping rapidly. The Liberals would be a cinch to win... if they had somebody with real charisma and a real plan. Howard Hampton of the New Democratic Party is the best leader of the three, but he leads a party that has no chance at power -- at least, not while the average Ontarian still remembers Bob Rae with bitterness.

So, this provincial election is a choice between a scornful leader, a wishy-washy leader or the leader of a sadly irrelevant party. Come, Ontarians, let us choose our next leader: Lucy Van Pelt, Charlie Brown or Woodstock.

The best thing we can hope for is a Liberal minority government with the New Democratic Party holding the balance of power. However, I'll be surprised if our participation rate in this next vote is over 65%.

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