Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2019/ Three Premiers

Three Premiers

Last week three former Ontario Premiers were in town giving talks. As a unemployed weird old crackpot, I felt it was my duty to go see them.


On Monday Kathleen Wynne participated in a panel discussion about education. Later I learned the panel was organzied by the Liberal Party of Ontario (Oops. It looks like I am on their mailing lists now.). Although Wynne was one of four panel members she did a fair amount of talking.

Wynne has charisma. She comes across as well-informed and genuine. She talked about the pros and cons of different policy options (letting school trustees control budgets, religious funding for schools) without coming across as confrontational. Other politicians slap their flippers together and repeat talking points. Wynne phrases her talking points more eloquently. She speaks as if she is a human being.

When I first listened to Wynne on The Agenda I was struck by how down-to-earth she seemed. At the time, she was receiving kudos for becoming Minister of Rural Affairs, and also for apologising for the gas plant scandals. I think this charisma is part of the reason she lost the last election so badly. We thought she was genuine, and then she turned out to be another Liberal politician and her government turned out to engage in exactly the same kind of political shenanigans that made us all sick of politicians in the first place. From what I recall she did not apologise in any way for the shenanigans she (or her government) organized in Sudbury to get Glenn Thibeault nominated.

Wynne likes to cultivate an image of being a mediator, but she has a history of refusing to cooperate with people who do not share her values. That was in evidence during the panel. She blamed parents for not supporting their children taking co-op credits in high school. She blamed businesses for not bringing more kids in for experiential learning. I was reminded of the times she took a similar tack while premier of the province (especially with respect to Rob Ford).

And boy does she love to spend money. She wants cheap daycare for everyone. She strongly advocates for full-day kindergarten, and more staff in schools, and so on and so on. Then she got kicked out of government, and the Doug Ford OPCs got in, and now they are slashing so much. I agreed with Wynne that targeting OSAP grants to low-income students was wise, but in the backlash against Wynne's spend-happy ways, we lost that and a whole lot more.

Do I wish Wynne had won another term as Premier? Not really, although I admit the the Ford government is worse, and I do not like the policy lurch at all.

Do I hate Wynne? Not really. I do wish she had been less spend-happy, and I wish she was more the politician we all thought she was rather than just another politician, but I feel some respect for her. Also, she showed up to some podunk education panel even when she didn't need to.


On Wednesday I saw Dalton McGuinty talk about climate change, on behalf of some climate change research group at the University of Waterloo. His talk was entitled "Climate Change: Can We Win This? Be Honest".

For a guy who was Ontario Premier for 13 years, I hoped for more insight. His talk was a combination of standard climate change alarmism and an exhortation towards public service. His answer to "Can we win this?" was: it depends on public policy, which is is mandated by public sentiment, and public sentiment is driven by economic anxiety, not long-term environmental interests. So the answer appears to be "no," but he says that we cannot afford to be pessimistic, so the answer is actually "yes". How? I don't know. He spent a bunch of time near the end of his talk slapping his flippers together and repeating McGuinty Liberal talking points about shutting down coal plants, establishing the Greenbelt, reducing smog days, etc. He alluded to the Green Energy Act, and briefly acknowledged that it was controversial, but did not dig any deeper than that. He said that climate change was the beginning of the biggest social justice issue we have seen. He told us that state of mind matters, and that we need an attitude of determination, not defeat. Whatever. Colour me unimpressed. I am 90% certain the man took a PLANE from Ottawa to get to Kitchener-Waterloo for this talk, and was hopping on a plane once the event was finished. (He talked about coming from the airport. Why might he be doing that?) That is how much he cares about climate change and making a better future for his grandchildren.

The first question he was asked had to do with electoral reform and policy lurch. He tried electoral reform, he said, and the people rejected it (he did not mention that his government sabotaged the process). He claimed that many of the policies he put in place will stick around, including the Greenbelt, because he does not believe that Ford will compromise the Greenbelt despite recent legislation. He thinks nobody will re-open coal plants. He thinks all-day kindergarten is here to stay. In short, he is fine with policy lurch as long as Liberals continue forming government, and not every last policy is overturned. When asked whether we should fear Premier Ford, McGuinty claimed to be an optimist.

I'm sorry. I can't be fair about this guy. Like the other politicians I saw this week, he is reasonably charismatic and reasonably bright, but he was every bit the politician. He told us that "in the face of failure, we have to look in the mirror" but his talk showed a remarkable lack of introspection. Instead we got Liberal talking points. Wny did the Green Energy Act turn out so badly? What should he have changed? He barely acknowledged there was anything controversial about the Act at all. When asked difficult questions, he told us stories instead. He talked about "communication" with voters and then gave us glib talking points. Of the three former premiers, he is the most removed from politics. So why did he continue to spin us?

I wanted to ask him head-on about the Green Energy Act, but I chickened out. I wish I had asked. Maybe he would have actually looked in the mirror and given a straight answer to the question, and then maybe I would have respected him more. As it was, I was primarily grumpy that he took a plane to get here, even though I know full well all politicians (including Wynne and Rae) take planes all the time, too.

(Later that evening I went to a presentation about snakes at the KPL. It was fun and educational, and at least the snakes openly admitted to being ectothermic reptiles.)


On Friday I went to see Bob Rae speak about clean water. He focused on the problems of water in indigenous communities.

Unlike McGuinty, Rae was deeply introspective. He was well aware of the reputation of his government, and he was far-enough removed from it to have fun at his own expense. That probably unfairly biased me towards him. We Canadians love our self-deprecating humour.

He started by talking about the history of water sanitation, and how it increased longevity by decades. He claimed that clean water was not just a technical issue, but also a social and political one. He then transitioned to a story where he went to visit a reserve in Northern Ontario (I think the Neskantaga First Nation in Treaty 9) and was invited to visit a water treatment plant his government had helped open in the 1990s. It was broken, and had only worked for a few years after being built. He reflected on how and why it failed, and claimed that Ontario was littered with such projects. He claimed the problem was governance, and he claimed the tragedy at Walkerton was also a failure of governance more than it was a failure of technology. He did not have any good answers (they mostly were the same talking points you hear endlessly on the CBC) but he was aware and reflective about the issues. One person asked him whether he supported privatizing water services, and he both expressed a personal preference (for public systems) and an acknowledgement that private systems create safe, sustainable drinking water in some places (such as France). From one perspective that is a very Liberal answer, but from another it illustrates the kind of nuance that I appreciate when talking about complex issues.

The other thing I noticed about Rae is that he spoke off the cuff. Maybe he had memorized a speech, but he had no written notes. Yet he was coherent, and did not repeat himself that much.

This is not to say that I was wholly comfortable with him. In particular, most of the questions he was asked had to do with indigenous issues, and it was weird that an old white guy was at the front of the room speaking authoritatively about a culture not his own. It is true that he has some knowledge of the issues (he is a lawyer who takes on cases involving indigenous rights) but why do we always defer to old white guys as the authorities in these matters? I don't think he did a terrible job of answering these questions (and I have listened to lots of CBC and Red Man Laughing interviews which rubbed me the wrong way) but it was still weird.

Do I wish he had won the federal Liberal leadership and become prime minister? I don't know. I think he would have been strong on some files. I supported Ignatieff over Rae at the time, but Rae did an okay job as interim Liberal leader before Justin Trudeau was coronated. I think that many people in Ontario were still shaken by what Rae had done as premier of Ontario to trust him as Prime Minister, but maybe he would have learned from his mistakes. For certain, Conservatives would have smeared even him worse than they did Ignatieff. I might have preferred him to be Prime Minister over Emperor Trudeau, and definitely would have preferred him to Stephen Harper. Mostly, I wish he had been able to use his hard-won knowledge as Premier of Ontario to effect actual change, so that we will not be talking about the boil water advisories on reserves 20 years from now.

It also occurred to me that although Rae definitely leans to the social justice left, he does not seem out of place as a Liberal. Indeed, if we have had an NDP premier in Ontario, it was probably Kathleen Wynne, not Bob Rae.