Election time and hyperbole is in the air

The election talk in Ontario over “foreign workers” has reached a new level of “huh?”

Election time and hyperbole is in the air

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/CP

Every now and then the province of Ontario takes leave of its collective senses. Grown men jump at shadows. House cats are conjured into dragons. For a time it seems as if the only thought on anyone’s mind is the length of their own toenails. We call these periods “elections.”

Just now this province of 13 million souls is preoccupied with a vast and far-reaching proposal on the part of the governing Liberals to give every new job that comes up to a foreign worker. You read that right: if the Liberals are re-elected, they will make the province’s unemployed sit at home—I believe the slogan is “Ontarians need not apply”—presumably until the supply of foreign workers is exhausted. Indeed, so determined are the Liberals to see these itinerant labourers take over the province that they are actually paying employers to hire them: $10,000 a job.

Quite why the Liberals should wish to do this is unclear, but I have it on no less authority than the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. The party has been blanketing the province with advertisements to that effect, while its leader, Tim Hudak, hammers the point home at every opportunity.

Needless to say, nothing of the kind has been proposed. Or rather, something of the kind has, but it has been so distorted and blown out of proportion by the Conservatives that you’d have to use dental records to identify it. What the Liberals have actually proposed is so narrowly drawn that the safer accusation would be that it is largely irrelevant. While it would indeed provide a $10,000 tax credit to companies for each recent immigrant they hired—not foreign workers, but Canadian citizens—the provision applies only to a handful of skilled professions, and only to immigrants who have been here less than five years. Since it takes about 4½ years, on average, to become a citizen, that means the window of eligibility is about six months.

All told, the Liberals themselves estimate the program would apply to about 1,200 people, for a total cost of $12 million. Yet the first week of the campaign has been almost entirely consumed with it.

The program is hardly above criticism. While in some ways too narrowly drawn, it is too broad in others: if the intent was to help foreign-trained engineers and architects gain the Canadian work experience they need to be certified in Ontario, there are surely more focused remedies than crude hiring bonuses (such as scrapping the Canadian experience requirement). The Liberals give every sign of having designed the plan on the fly—recklessly so, given the obvious sensitivities surrounding any such preferential hiring policies. Unless, as some have suggested, the intent was to lure the Tories into denouncing it.

If so, the Tories have surely taken the bait. It isn’t that the Tories have opposed the policy: it’s the way they’ve opposed it that’s so objectionable. It isn’t only the false and inflammatory claim that the jobs would go to “foreign workers.” It’s the wildly disproportionate scale of the response: the obsessive focus, the alarmist tone, the endless repetition. Everything about the Tory campaign is designed to suggest that the program is not just a poorly designed but relatively minor part of the Liberal platform, but an onrushing calamity.

This is quite deliberate. Parties think long and hard about all these questions: tone, emphasis, wording. If the Tories have chosen to escalate this comparatively trivial subsidy scheme to Defcon 1, it is because they think the message will resonate—not with the voters at large, perhaps, but with a particular subset of voters they hope to reach. Those without jobs. Those who might be persuaded to blame the Liberals for their plight. Those who would be particularly upset, and as such would be all too prone to suspect that the government was giving “their” jobs to someone else, someone other, someone . . . foreign. That is the poisonous pool the Tories have been stirring.

Again, it is perfectly fair to suggest the government should not be preferring one group of workers to another. Among other objections, it’s zero-sum: the jobs that subsidy creates at one firm or one industry are only jobs diverted from every other. But that is true not only of programs for skilled workers from abroad, but of all such “job creation” or “industrial support” schemes, of a kind that all parties love to propose. Were the Tories to offer a principled objection to this part of the Liberal platform, they would have to dismantle much of their own.

Of course, the only thing more comical than Tory demagoguery on this point is the piety of the Liberals in response. It was just four years ago, you’ll recall, that the Liberals fought the entire election over a Conservative proposal to offer public funding to all religious schools, rather than reserving it to Catholics, as is now the case: a plan that would have brought a grand total of about 50,000 children under the public umbrella, but which the Liberals insinuated would fund the creation of Islamist terror academies. Again, there were legitimate grounds for criticizing the Tory plan. But legitimate criticism does not extend to anti-Muslim fear campaigns.

So it is not the Liberals we should weep for. It is for politics, and the possibilities of a rational public discourse. Instead of this madness.




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Election time and hyperbole is in the air

  1. The twitterverse is choc-a-bloc with party idiots posting “Gotcha!” info every 3 minutes. The Liberal TV ads aren’t bad, though boring, and the PC “Taxman’ ads are just plain annoying. The PC online “foreigner” ad made me think it was a satire until I realized it was an honest to goodness warroom video…

    You’ve got liberal candidates hammering the Premier’s messages, PC candidates spewing xenophobic paranoi about foreigners, and NDP candidates…doing whatever they’re doing. But we can’t hear them over the noise.

    I wonder why people don’t vote?

  2. Coyne has set the PC’s target too low. They aren’t just targeting the unemployed; they are targeting anyone with a racist streak. As for the Liberal strategy… well, the CPC has taken much of the immigrant vote away from the federal Liberals; Dalton & Co. are no doubt trying to keep that from happening provincially. I, like Coyne, thought it was an ill-conceived plan – but the way Hudak is chewing on it like a pit bull, unless the Rob Ford xenophobe contingent is bigger than I think, the PC take on it may well scare some swing votes back to the Libs.

  3. If the example Andrew provided in his article was the only case of Hudak stirring a poisonous pool some people might be able to get past it.  But Hudak followed up by basically suggesting he would legalize government sponsored witch hunts of convicted but paroled sex offenders; and he did it by using fake “concerned parents” to make an example of a specific individual who was hounded out of the area.  Judging by Christie Blatchford’s article exploring this in more detail, the sex offender in question did not pose significant danger to society and society likely would be better served through the use of social workers rather than tougher laws.  Generally Christie Blatchford errs on the conservative side of issues. 

    This reinforced the Tea Party image Hudak has developed.

  4. And if that weren’t enough, the only parts of Hudak’s platform that actually vary from McGuinty’s are the most ridiculous bits of nonsense I’ve ever seen.

    For example, Hudak wants to spend millions to get rid of the smart meters we spent millions putting in place during a time period where electricity demand is starting to outstrip supply.

    Seems to me that it’s only sensible that electricity should follow market forces, ie cheaper when demand is low and more expensive when demand is high, and one would think that a conservative of all people would be pro-market in terms of electricity, but surprisingly no.

    Hudak’s an idiot populist through and through, and frankly I can’t take anymore “truthiness” taking the place of real informed policies.

    When you see a man running for Premier suggesting a return to chain gangs and mob rule while proposing no positive vision for the future, you vote for whomever stands against him. Period.

  5. “ It was just four years ago, you’ll recall, that the Liberals fought the entire election over a Conservative proposal to offer public funding to all religious schools, rather than reserving it to Catholics, as is now the case: a plan that would have brought a grand total of about 50,000 children under the public umbrella, but which the Liberals insinuated would fund the creation of Islamist terror academies.”

    This is wildly exaggerated.  The Tory proposal blew up for a number of reasons.  One was, if you recall, that it was not clear for several days whether it would allow religuous schools to teach creationism.  And then when Mr. Tory announced that any school would have to follow the curriculum, those SoCons who thought the proposal would allow them to gay bash in class became upset. 

    Tory has already lost the election on this issue when the whole notion of “funding madrasses” came up.  It was hardly the centerpiece of the Lib campaign.

  6. Mr. Coyne, for your edification I must tell you that your claim that these are foreign workers is dead wrong. The target group this program is intended for are NEW CANADIANS – not foreign workers. There is a difference. If these people have jumped all the hoops to become Canadian citizens the least we can do is give them a good start so that they don’t become future welfare recipients. Let’s be fair, there are plenty of opportunities for the unemployed in this country to get help with education and skills development. Nobody should be left behind – even NEW CANADIANS. Think of it this way: these are the people who will paying taxes to fund your retirement and health care. It’s a good investment.

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