By Liam Dynes
Originally published on Nov. 4, 2003, in The Brock Press
First off, let me introduce you all to the burlap sack.
The Burlap Sack is a more or less regular feature at one of our sister Canadian University Press newspapers from the fair province of Alberta, The Gateway. Each week an offending person, place or thing is places into the Burlap Sack and, as is natural, beaten senseless (metaphorically of course). It’s a fine feature, so I’ve decided to ‘borrow’ it, and I’m sure my Albertan brethren won’t mind, as into the Sack I am placing former Ontario premier Ernie Eves.
Over the weekend, it was revealed that since 2001, after taking over as premier from Mike Harris, Eves essentially dismantled the system of government here in Ontario. Granted, Eves could be joined in the Sack by Harris himself, but I’m feeling like a more focused attack.
Eves did inherit a mangled province and cabinet from Harris, but he expended zero effort in an attempt to fix it.
When Mike Harris stepped down, he left a legislative group who had been mishandled and alienated for years. Cabinet was only consulted on minor decisions, and debate was kept to a minimum – what sayeth Mike be law.
So how does Eves respond to a jaded legislature? Does he try to repair a situation described as Tories themselves as “appalling?” Of course not. Decisions were made behind closed doors by Eves and a small cabal of advisors, when decisions were made at all, and the cabinet itself was never called together during Eves’ entire tenure as premier. As one disgruntled Tory told the Toronto Star, “[Eves] preferred making these decisions with one or two close advisors over steak at Bigliardi’s.”
And now to the recent “revelation” (wink, wink) that Ontario is actually facing a $5.6 billion deficit – a fact that Tory figures now claim they all knew about since last summer, and which Eves would refer to as a “gap number,” but which was kept hidden from the public in budgetary documents, and outright lied about during the election campaign.
But I’m sure Eves would have his explanations. Mike Harris passed legislation banning both tax increases and deficit budgets, both of which are sometimes necessary when running a government. Eves’ “gap number” was never in question, but the modes of filling said gap always were.
In independent auditor Erik Peters’ recent financial report, more than $2.2 billion in “unspecified asset sales” were still unaccounted for, and there were no plans as to what precisely could be sold to make up that kind of shortfall. Possible solutions, like the entirety of Hydro One, or future revenues from the LCBO, were bandied about, but both of these would have created more long term problems than they were worth, so they were scrapped. And not only can we examine potential moves and problems, but we can look back at the last four balanced budgets with skepticism. How do we know what financial shape the province was in when budgets are tainted with huge numbers from places like federal transfer payments or the sale of Highway 407? There’s no way. The last four financial years (at least) in Ontario are all smoke and mirrors. The Tories were wowing us all with fancy flourishes of the left hand while the right hid all the cards up its sleeve.
Congratulations Ernie, you had a big hand in taking a billion-dollar economy and plunging it into the toilet, from which it will take a decent chunk of time to recover, and not only hid these facts, but outright lied to try and get yourself re-elected.
Enjoy your new burlap home.