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OPINION: Promises, promises

Know what you want, what you can afford, and don’t get distracted by the oversized pink gorilla on the roof.
Charles Cirtwill, president and CEO, Northern Policy Institute

Well, it’s here: election year. Platforms, pontificating and politicians by the passel. What is an innocent vote-toting Ontario citizen to do in such times?

First, and this may come as a shock, don’t expect the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. From anyone. Errors, omissions, oversimplifications and generalizations will occur. So, stay skeptical, everyone. There is a flood of door-to-door salespeople coming your way, and they are all sure you need their deluxe model and that the other guy/gal’s brand will spoil your carpet.

Second, ask questions. If anyone tells you they are going to create a grand new program, ask them how they are going to pay for it. If someone tells you they are going to reduce your taxes, ask them what services you have to give up to make that happen. If they tell you they can increase your services and lower your taxes, ask them who the losers are, since clearly you are one of the winners. Make them show their math, though; don’t just take their word for it.

If anyone tells you that they can increase everyone’s services while lowering everyone’s taxes, stop listening and shut the door. This is a fundamental point that every voter should understand. Taxes are the price we all pay for the services government delivers. What the various parties are offering is simply different blends of fees and services – there is no free ride. Your job is to select what combination strikes your fancy the most. But remember, no matter who wins, they won’t be doing everything they say they will; no one ever does.

But there will be promises, lots of them. Everyone, for example, will promise to support the Ring of Fire – so get specifics. How will they do this? What infrastructure investment are they proposing? Will they use government subsidies and, if so, directed at whom? Will they invest in training and skills development?  How much, to whom and by when? What makes their plan different than the competition? What evidence do they have that what they propose actually works? Has anyone tried it before elsewhere?

Indigenous peoples will also get a lot of attention. We will hear about reconciliation and partnerships and new beginnings. Your questions should focus on who actually makes the final decisions – are we talking about power sharing or consultation? Who bears the risks and shares the rewards of investment and development? Are we talking one-off arrangements or permanent structures? Where is the money coming from to cover this transition and how much money are we talking about? Will government report on the impact (good and bad) of the money they spend and the rules they create? When and how?

The same applies for other major Northern issues: mass transit, poverty, income inequality, economic diversification, resource development, demographic change. All of the parties will say something about each one. Your job will be to dig out their assumptions. If they have a provincial mass transit plan, ask them how the funding model for a Toronto subway applies to an intercity bus route from Dryden to Sioux Lookout.

For those of you more interested in simple, yes/no style quizzes, here are some short snappers to try on your local doorknockers:

Does the candidate support a standing committee of the Ontario Legislature to consider the Northern Ontario perspective and the unique impacts on Northern Ontario of all provincial legislation?

Will the candidate work to get a regional immigrant nominee program in place for Northern Ontario?

Does the candidate support the creation of a set of “provincial accounts” for Northern Ontario so that we can know as much about Northern Ontario as we currently know about the province as a whole?

For me, my vote will require a yes on all three of these questions – your standards may, of course, be different. The key, however, to a successful election (for you, not for them) is the same as in every major purchasing decision. Know what you want, what you can afford, and don’t get distracted by the oversized pink gorilla on the roof.