Sunday, February 8, 2009

McGuinty changes tune on use of regulations...

Saturday, February 07, 2009
National Post
McGuinty changes tune on use of regulations
'Different, sombre' Premier preaches free-enterprise gospel
by James Cowan,
McGuinty: Ontario is struggling.Scott Webster, Canwest News Service
Dalton McGuinty launched a promotional blitz recently, invitingreporters into his office to offer some sombre observations on theeconomy. Politicians are rarely eager to deliver bad news, butOntario's Premier spent nearly two weeks dwelling on his province'seconomic troubles, first in a string of one-on-one interviews and thenwith a big speech to a business audience in Toronto.
Throughout the campaign, his message remained consistent: Ontario isstruggling. The era of unapologetic government expansion is over. Itis now time to reduce regulations, mind government coffers and clearthe path for business. For a man who once said red tape "is good forus," who regulated everything from pesticides to school cafeterias,Mr. McGuinty's new posture as a bureaucracy slayer is jarring. Is Mr.McGuinty just taking pragmatic steps to survive a recession, or hasthe Liberal's Liberal stepped to the right?
"It is a very different, sombre Mc-Guinty who -- I don't want to sayhe was out of his depth -- he just didn't seem comfortable saying whathe is saying," said David Docherty, a political scientist and the deanof arts at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Mr. McGuinty opened his speech to the Canadian Club on Tuesday with anawkward hockey analogy, arguing Ontario must "play better and smarter"to survive economic tumult, just as Canada did in the 1972 SummitSeries against the Soviet Union. Mr. McGuinty then moved to hiscentral message about curbing government deficits, shrinking spendingand a more business-friendly attitude.
"We need our businesses to become more competitive, we need ourfamilies and young people to reach higher in school and training, andwe need our government to pick up the pace in our dealings with jobcreators," Mr. McGuinty said. "None of these challenges are easilyovercome. It's going to take all of us. And it's going to take time,hard work and a fundamental shift in the way we compete."
Evidence of the Liberal government's new-found belief in the gospel offree enterprise can be found in Open for Business: Guide to Reduce theBurden, a 45-page booklet designed to help government ministries meetthe target of eliminating up to 35% of all regulations by 2011.
"We seek to create a modern and competitive system that deliversresults for Ontario businesses," the booklet states.
Business leaders welcome the deregulation but observers say itrepresents a dramatic shift for Mr. Mc-Guinty, who was elected in 2003with a mandate to revive Ontario's public service after eight years ofcutbacks by the Progressive Conservative governments of Mike Harrisand Ernie Eves. The red-tape-reducing rhetoric now falling from Mr.McGuinty's mouth could just as easily come from John Tory, the currentConservative leader.
"Mr. McGuinty's the education Premier, he's the one who wants to cutclassroom sizes, he's the one who wants to close coal-fired generatingplants," Mr. Docherty said. "Now, all of a sudden, his hands are tiedand the issues at the forefront are the ones where the Conservativeshave a track record."
The slicing of red tape has long been a Conservative issue. NormMiller, the party's small business critic, even introduced a privatemember's bill last year that called for many of the same measures nowbeing pursued by Mr. McGuinty's government. While Mr. Miller applaudedthe government's current efforts, he noted the Liberals have spent thepast five years building a culture of regulation, banning cellphoneuse in cars, trans fats from school cafeterias and cigarette displaysin corner stores. "The problem with a lot of the bills that thisgovernment has brought forward is that they're based on politics andnot good policy," Mr. Miller said. "They think people want thesethings."
Politics likely motivate Mr. Mc-Guinty's recent economic warnings aswell, said Bryan Evans, a professor at Ryerson University and a formersenior manager with the Ontario government. "The strategy is aboutdampening expectations," he said. "When his government comes forwardwith a budget in March, it won't appear to be as bad we're being told.It will be bad, all the way around, but it won't seem as bad as we'retold."
One worst-case scenario that Mr. McGuinty allowed to fester this weekinvolved the revival of "Rae Days," the unpaid vacation days forpublic servants introduced by Bob Rae's NDP government in the 1990s.Speaking with reporters, Mr. Mc-Guinty would not discount thepossibility of "Dalton Days," leaving it to Dwight Duncan, his FinanceMinister, to say there were no plans to resurrect the unpopular cost-saving measure.
Beyond the political challenges inherent in the upcoming budget, Mr.McGuinty faces re-election in two years. His government's financialstewardship will no doubt be an issue, particularly given many oftheir successes up until now were funded by the booming economy.
"The McGuinty government came into office being characterized as beingmoderately progressive because of their pro-public service point ofview but it was all a function of the economy doing well," Mr. Evanssaid. "Well, the economy is no longer doing well."
jcowan@nationalpost.com
© 2008 The National Post Company. All rights reserved.
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