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Make it so, Number One

The 21st century can be Ontario’s century. The Ontario we know is already an astonishing success. It is one of the richest, most peaceful, best educated and most productive regions in the world.
David Robinson, Economist, Laurentian University,

The 21st century can be Ontario’s century. The Ontario we know is already an astonishing success. It is one of the richest, most peaceful, best educated and most productive regions in the world. People from around the world line up to become Ontarians. In 2001, more than 45 per cent of Canadian immigrants selected the Toronto region alone. Three to five million new people are expected to arrive in southern Ontario over the next 20 years. The province is now home to 38 per cent of Canadians—more than half the population outside of Quebec!—and the share will actually increase over the next 20 years.

Ontario is Canada, though most Ontario politicians are too polite to say so. You may not be old enough to remember that before confederation most Canadians-to-be lived in what we now call the Windsor-Quebec corridor. And most of them lived in what we now call Ontario. It was still true when the rest of British North America joined the Canadas. It is still true now. Ontario is the industrial heartland of the country, with one of the most advanced economies in the world. It has an unbeatable trading location: the province sticks 741 km south into the heart of the richest economy in the world. And it has a free trade agreement with the Americans.
For purely political reasons, most of the candidates in our current election won’t admit that Ontario’s economic performance was surprisingly strong during the recent hard times. That’s despite a serious case of the Dutch disease brought on by a misguided federal government. Just last month, for example, Canada lost 31,000 full-time jobs, but the Province of Ontario gained 25,000 full-time jobs. And things will get better. The Canadian dollar is going to fall farther, improving Ontario’s trade balance and boosting manufacturing employment.

Just building on what we have, it is obvious Ontario can be great. We need vision, we have to be willing to invest in ourselves, and we need to elect a government that will make it happen.

We have to prepare for 3 million more people in Greater Toronto. We have to develop a 21st century transportation system to connect our people with their jobs and their jobs with the markets. We need to make the entire Windsor-Quebec corridor the best place in the world to live. We have to make sure we have the best education system in the world. None of these projects are technically difficult. They just take a government that wants to do what needs to be done.

But will the 21st century be Ontario’s century? Judging by the party platforms in this election, it won’t happen soon. Judging by the media coverage, no one even knows Ontario has a future. Have you seen one article that says any candidate is creative, ambitious, imaginative, let alone visionary? The parties are convinced we don’t want big ideas.

The fiasco around transit policy for the Toronto region shows that they may be right. All the parties and all the leaders know that Ontario’s beating heart, the GTA, needs big spending on transit. So what are they doing? The Liberal leader promises to invest but won’t say where the money will come from. The Conservative leader promises to invest but spend less on everything. The NDP leader promises not to make anyone pay for transit (or power or fuel). Green leader Mike Schreiner says that the NDP’s opposition to being honest about paying for transit actually pushed the government to deliver a “fairy dust budget.” Horwath and Hudak would have crucified her if she suggested anyone should pay.

What the campaign so far shows is that party strategists believe we voters can’t face the truth and aren’t willing to pay for what we need. It is downright embarrassing. The Greens may be an exception, by the way: they at least talk about land value capture, congestion and some fuel taxes. Maybe Green voters are smarter than Liberal Conservative and NDP voters. Maybe Green leaders haven’t learned to lie. It is hard to tell.

In any case, here is a message for whoever is premier at the end of this ugly race: This can be Ontario’s century. Make it so, Number One.