Two Cents on Tory


I met John Tory once, when he came to the OC for an ed board meeting during the 2007 election. He struck me, as he seems to strike everyone, as a thoroughly decent, intelligent, and thoughtful man. My impression then is that he would have made a much better premier of Ontario than Dalton McGuinty. Forget about his supposedly “disastrous” policy on schools; at least his was honest, unlike McGuinty’s.

My main concern now is not what will happen to John Tory, or to the Tory party. It is what is going to happen to Ontario. At his press conference today Tory gave a warning to the media, saying that there remains a need to keep the McGuinty government’s feet to the fire. But here’s the thing: we’re not the opposition, the Tories are. A big reason why the province is in such a fix is because Ontario has not had a credible opposition for the past six years. And with Tory losing the by-election and stepping down, it will remain so for probably the remainder of the current mandate. It’s a terrible situation for the province.

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Two Cents on Tory

  1. “A big reason why the province is in such a fix is because Ontario has not had a credible opposition for the past six years.”

    What “fix” is that exactly? The economic downturn isn’t 6 years old so which issue are you referring to?

    • You kid, right?

  2. Looking at the bigger picture, the longer the Liberals are in power in Ontario, the longer we can have a Conservative government in Ottawa.

    • And when do you anticipate the arrival of a conservative government in Ottawa?

      • And when do you anticipate the arrival of a conservative government in Ottawa?

        As soon as Harper wins his coveted majority, which is another way of saying never.

        • Harper has already fallen off the wagon, I fear. He could be officially declared King of Canada Forevah, and I don’t think his behaviour would change much at all.

      • Good point.

  3. There is a fairly stupid commentary by J.C. Bourque, reworking some good rules from Dalton Camp.
    In essence, for a good leader the party comes first.

    Actually it goes further than that: Dalton Camp, Mitchell Sharp and others understood that a strong governing party should want a functioning opposition. This is simply a practical view; a strong opposition keeps a government focused, forces it to retreat from mistakes and leads to an engaged public. Mike Harris’s aggressive tactics left the Conservatives virtually unelectable in Ontario for a decade. John Tory gave it a good shot for a while by channeling Bill Davis and looked like he might shorten the cycle. Ultimately he grabbed the wrong bit of policy from his mentor and it cost him.

    • Unelectable? The Tories would have won the last time if it wasn’t for Tory’s foolish schools promise.

      • John Tory gave it a good shot by being very different in style and policy from Harris and yes I agree he had a chance to win before his mistake.

  4. AP,

    While I don’t think McGuinty has been a stellar Premier, I’m not sure he’s done all that badly. I’d like you to expand a bit on how you hang so many of Ontario’s woes upon him. I seem to recall a rather large deficit being handed to him (after being hidden). The decline of the manufacturing sector was hardly centred in Ontario, and the rise of the dollar had a lot to do with it too (again, rather beyond provincial control), Add to all of that a federal government that has been occasionally antagonistic and petty, and I think we’re doing no worse than could be expected.

    But that’s just my take, and I’d honestly like to hear the reasons behind your position.

    • Just compare Ontario to everywhere else.

      An 18 billion dollar deficit goes far beyond anything that was handed to him.

      Mcguinty continues to suck in every last cent for schools and hospitals, while schools and hospitals continue to deteriorate, the deficit goes ballistic and the economy goes into the crapper.

      Try comparing Ontario’s auto sector with that of the southern states. Don’t just stick to Michigan, where Granholm is a McGunity twin.

      How about the fact that Ontario is a have-not province under McGuinty.

      Compare Ontario with other jurisdictions and it’s quite obvious McGuinty is a failure.

    • hosertohoosier explains it far better than I can, below.

    • No, and I agree with you, but then again we aren’t doing BETTER than expected. And I blame a lack of opposition for that.

      McGuinty is doing okay, but with a strong opposition to keep his feet to the fire, I think he could improve things rather than just coast along.

      I always felt John Tory listened to the wrong people. But then, I didn’t realize he was the mastermind behind the Chretien ad, so maybe he is the wrong person he was listening to.

      As I said elsewhere, I think it is important for the PC party to distance themselves both from Harper and Harris (please don’t install a leader whose name starts with H) and who can show that middle of the road doesn’t have to be McGuinty’s driving. As anyone who has ever travelled down a familiar road with someone else at the wheel can attest, the driver often makes all the difference. So, if having better education and health care is important to Ontarians (and it is) perhaps throwing money at it as well as some great ideas might do better than the money by itself. In any case, having a legitmate contender in opposition can only help. And I believe legitimate means someone who could actually get elected, not someone peddling extreme views.

      • Why didn’t that work in 2003 or 2007?

        Tory won 31.64% of the vote in ’07. A year later, Stephen Harper won 39% of the vote and a near-majority of Ontario’s seats. Both of those results are worse than Harris’.

        The strategy you are advocating is the same bad strategy that the federal PC’s adopted for most of their history – presenting themselves as a competent alternative to the Liberals. Hence they produced a lot of leaders that were “best prime ministers we never had”. Indeed the two main successes of the PC party took place with Dief and Mulroney, both of whom offered a clear contrast with the Liberals.

        Here is the problem: in order to present the image of being a competent alternative, you need a united party. The kind of centrist leaders the MSM craves are spectacularly bad at appeasing the base, hence they breed disunity and an image of incompetence. I certainly think you can go too far to the right (Flaherty would have tanked in ’03) but party unity matters. You can’t win over centrists if you have no party organization, no fundraising and have to spend half of your time appeasing party dissidents. Moreover, if electability is the sole basis for the loyalty of the more extreme members, they tend to abandon the leader at the first sign of a bad poll. I’m not saying the Ontario PC’s should elect Atilla the Hun, only that they need to trade off concerns about party unity, and ability to win over centrist swing voters. They need Attila the consensus-builder.

        • You’re kidding, right? 2003 was Ernie Eves, a dithering Mike Harris. I don’t believe he could have won against anyone, including Attila the Hun in that election. 2007 was actually going quite well for Tory, until the wedge issue. Those two examples rather prove my point, I think.

          “Tory won 31.64% of the vote in ‘07. A year later, Stephen Harper won 39% of the vote and a near-majority of Ontario’s seats. Both of those results are worse than Harris’.”

          I’m not sure what you’re trying to tell me here. I’m sometimes slow, so if you could explain it more?

          “Hence they produced a lot of leaders that were “best prime ministers we never had””. They also produced some pretty good Prime Ministers, too. Some, like Joe Clark, weren’t appreciated by most, but he is my favourite Prime Minister.

          I agree you can’t win over centrists if you have no organization and fundraising, but I put it to you that the ‘base’ of successful leaders should ought to be the electorate, not some fringe group or one-issue extremists. I don’t agree that a central party has trouble with unity, and notwithstanding the Federal Liberal example, I don’t think the centrist nature is the cause of the organizational and fundraising woes. The thing is that a leader, as opposed to a dictator, will have people expressing their own views, sometimes forcefully. Just because people speak up doesn’t make them less united–it makes them more real. Families argue all the time, for example, but the love is still there. I have trouble with building consensus when nobody has had a chance to express their opinion.

          All that said, there is both room and need for an alternative party to present a different view of the centre.

  5. “A big reason why the province is in such a fix is because Ontario has not had a credible opposition for the past six years.”

    Sorry – I’m from Alberta… The idea of even having some vague, distant memory of a credible opposition party brings me to tears of envy. Try going almost 40 years – or, if you want to be accurate, over 100 – without some sort of check on majority power in the provincial legislature.

  6. On the bright side, he could give the mayoralty another shot in Toronto. Miller could use a credible right-wing alternative. He could even do some good as a councillor, by not being a cartoonish idiot like Rob Ford.

  7. John Tory can’t be elected dog catcher so move on!

  8. Oh, like, the world economic crisis and manufacturing crisis in Canada and the US is McGuinty’s fault.

    John Tory drove me crazy. Everytime something was going on he’d be running from between downtown buildings like Superman…..moaning and groaning to the media – you know, he’s everywhere, he’s everywhere.

    • Yes, it’s true that we cannot blame McGunity for the economic crisis.

      But we can certainly blame him for Ontario doing so much worse than everywhere else.

      An 18 billion deficit? Madness.

      The auto industry? It’s flourishing in the southern states when compared to Ontario and Michigan.

      McGunitonomics has been putting the Ontario economy in the crapper long before this economic crisis.

  9. I too think John Tory is a good man – in Christmas 2003, actually, I ran into him in the Eaton’s Center and gave him my best wishes. I still think he would have been an excellent premier (or mayor of Toronto).

    His problem as a politician, however, was that he was too risk-averse. He ran on a campaign that was essentially indistinguishable from McGuinty’s, save for one tiny item that has to remind one of the issue that ended 40 years of excellent PC government in Ontario. Mike Harris offered voters a clear alternative in 1995 and 1999. Yes, many of his proposals were unpopular, but the same sorts that were afraid of education cuts were also afraid of tax cuts and so on. Moreover, Tory’s by-election results demonstrate that he is not loved at all by the base.

    The PC party needs a leader that can get back the base, while posing a clear alternative to McGuinty (but not an unelectable one). The party also needs to rehabilitate Mike Harris. I know that is apostasy to the media and others, who think of the Harris legacy as “Walkerton”. Most of those same people then cheer the wonderful economic leadership of Chretien (I credit all of the above, for the record). Funny how an economic golden age in Ontario gets credited to the PM who slashed transfers, while the cuts get attributed to the premier. Mike Harris’ legacy was dramatically lower unemployment, and growth that outpaced the national average each year. For all the talk of “cuts” health care and education spending per capita were higher than in 1995 when Harris left office – with drastically lower taxes and a budget in balance (Eves’ spending ulitmately created a very small deficit, which McGuinty needlessly dragged out so he could pretend he was slaying a monster, although the 2003 deficit was peanuts next to where it had been in 1995). Ontario schools did not suffer, and you can check all kinds of international comparisons to verify that.

    Ontario’s main industry is obsolete. With provincial finances in tatters, Ontario becomes a have-not province – something that has major implications for the rest of our Ontario-hating confederation. I mean nobody minds equalization payments that much when the beneficiaries are quaint fishermen. Sending cheques to Ontario… not so much. If there is a time for pragmatic and cautious leadership, now probably isn’t it – we need Beethoven, not muzak.

    Building windmills is not an alternative to the auto industry. Yet it is precisely the sort of dumb, inoffensive crap we can expect from Dalto. How many windmills can you export each year (indeed one of the problems with wind power is that the power is collected in remote areas)? Moreover, switching to expensive first-generation alternative energy will further harm Ontario’s economy by increasing the price of electricity. Infrastructure is supposed to have positive long-term effects – reducing emissions is nice (though the plan involves biofuels, which are not as friendly as that giant talking corn mascot would have you believe), but why build windmills when the technology is insufficiently developed? That goes double when you are paying for the whole deal with a deficit almost as large as the federal one (more than double, as a % of GDP – and that doesn’t account for the coming demographic budget crisis). I don’t mean to go paraphrase Flaherty here but… if a place offered expensive energy and likely high taxes in the future, I’d say it was probably not a good place to invest. I really do hope the PC’s elect the right alternative – and I hope even more that whoever wins doesn’t have to sell their souls to that nutcase Hillier.

    • I think you are mistaking the fringe for the base. The PCs have long been the natural governing party of the province, but they didn’t do it by catering to the crazies.

      • The PC haven’t been the natural governing party of Ontario since the early 80’s.

        Their only period of electoral dominance in the last 30 years was under Harris when they were “catering to the crazies”.

    • If Harris were to return, just exactly what do you think his approach to the current crisis would be? If not Harris but, say, Hudak — what would the party under his leadership do to solve our structural problem?

      • I think you would have tax cuts (to the top marginal rates, plus corporate taxes), cuts/a freeze to social programs and more infrastructure spending, paid for by privatization (of the LCBO, for instance). That approach would mean a few things.

        Firstly, it is industry neutral. Governments are horrible when it comes to picking winners. At the end of the day we don’t know how productive windmills (relative to other power sources) will be in the future – we don’t know the limits of the technology. Ontario needs a transformation of what its basic industries are, but the best way to do that is by creating conditions conducive to investment and flexibility, rather than throwing money at one industry that may not pay off in the long-run – particularly when Ontario doesn’t seem to have any special advantage in that industry (the windy west or sunny south is much better positioned than us on wind and solar).

        Secondly, it has a much longer term focus than say, ramping up social spending, as the US is doing in its horrible budget. The problem with social spending is that it almost never gets cut, and so harms the credibility of the government with respect to deficits. Cuts, even small ones, show investors the government is serious about eliminating the deficit in the long run, making it a better place to invest. Infrastructure and tax cuts also ramp up the deficit, but the former is short-term spending (with long-term benefits), while the latter has a greater long-term positive impact than social spending. In other words, Ontario doesn’t need to think about how to get back to the world of 2006. We were still failing fast in 2006. Ontario needs an economic transformation like the one that turned a province of coureurs de bois into Canada’s economic heartland. Some short-term stimulus is politically necessary, but shielding failing industries from an economic transformation will only consign the province to a permanent crisis.

        Thirdly, the strategy McGuinty talked about is being done by a lot of people. In other words Ontario is throwing a lot of money into what will be a pretty saturated market (where we know we have a disadvantage vis-a-vis many competitors). Almost nowhere in North America is a strategy of fiscal austerity plus tax cuts. There are at least some firms that would benefit from that approach, which will see Ontario as offering considerable opportunity. Of the most comparable economies to Ontario (Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio), Indiana has outperformed the others by taking that essential approach (and by personally courting businesses).

  10. Although I have been living in Japan for the past 3 1/2 months, I own a house in McGuinty’s riding and voted in the last election. .

    The McGuinty Government’s health and eduction policies have been a complete and utter disaster for the province. He has poured enormous sums of money into both sectors, but without focus and with no sense of how to manage the long-term needs of the province without bankrupting it first. He is a true spend and tax liberal who never saw a taxpayer dollar that he didn’t consider his own. The only positve thing about Dalton McGuinty is that he is a much less abrasive person than his brother David.

    John Tory was a failure in getting himself elected but I have no doubt that he would have been a far more effective manager of the provincial government had he ever succeeded in winning the next election.

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