June 15, 2014 1:37 pm

Transcript: Episode 41, June 15

THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 41, Season 3

Sunday, June 15, 2014

 

Story continues below

Host: Tom Clark

Guest Interviews: Don Drummond, Adam Radwanski, Alan Carter, Jennifer Keesmaat

Location: Toronto, ON

 

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On this Sunday morning, a sweeping victory for Ontario’s Liberal party, is Canada’s biggest province to say no to small government and fiscal conservatism?

And federal parties will be fighting hard to win over the vote rich province so who was put on notice by last week’s provincial election?

Plus, the latest instalment of The Big Idea, Canada’s top city planner weighs in on the big fix for our city.

It is Sunday, June the 15th.  I’m Tom Clark and as you can see behind me, we are coming to you from downtown Toronto with a very special edition of The West Block.

Well Thursday’s stunning victory by the Ontario Liberals under Kathleen Wynne sent shockwaves through Conservative Ontario.  Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and his team, many of whom came from the federal ranks, were fairly certain that they would do well in this campaign.  They didn’t.  Instead, he resigned and Kathleen Wynne became the Leader of a majority government, promising to make good on the tax and spend agenda that she campaigned on.

 

Kathleen Wynne:

The people of Ontario want us to get on with creating good, well-paying jobs.   They want us to get on with building the transit and transportation infrastructure that we know we need.  They want us to get on with making sure that full day kindergarten is available to every four and five year old; every one.

 

Tom Clark:

That promise was radically different from the slash and burn agenda that the Tories put forward.  So did big government and even bigger spending win over fiscal restraint?

Don Drummond literally wrote the book about Ontario’s financial future.  The Drummond Commission Report was published just two years ago.  Don Drummond joins me now from Ottawa.  Mr. Drummond good to have you back on the show again.  What did you take away from Thursday’s results, was it really a victory for big government and big spending?

 

Don Drummond:

Oh I’m not sure there were so many different currents going on. Certainly it was an objection to the portrayal of targeting a certain and a large number of civil servants but I’m not sure you’d flip to the other side and say it’s a mandate to increase it.  I think most Ontarians are quite concerned about the fiscal deficit and the debt and I would say woe betide certainly over the years any government that ignored that.

 

Tom Clark:

In your report two years ago, you said that Ontario had some really tough, hard choices to make about its financial future.  Kathleen Wynne is re-introducing a budget that is going to have a deficit of $12 billion dollars.  How much does that concern you?

 

Don Drummond:

Well one of the surprising things about my commission’s report which I say is two plus a few months out now, the government actually has done a lot of it. The government has claimed 80 per cent.  I’ve actually seen a spreadsheet that has a detailed accounting of each of the recommendations and what’s been done with them or not done with them in some cases.  And I actually think that 80 per cent number is credible, I just of wonder why the government hasn’t published that.  If I were them, I would have put hundreds of copies of that out in the media lockup because most people say to me well they’ve hardly done anything that you’ve recommended.  That’s not quite true.  In aggregate, the spending numbers that they have had in their last couple of budgets have actually been similar to what I was calling to.  They don’t yet have a lot of the details that backs up how you get that minimalist amount of spending and particularly how that adds up with some new initiatives they have in mind.

 

Tom Clark:

During this election campaign, there were some people who were warning Ontario voters that if we keep going down this deficit path that the credit rating of the province is going to be downgraded by outfits like Moody’s.  How concerned should we be about that?

 

Don Drummond:

I’m not sure.  The surprising thing about these fiscal downgrades, until you get to get a rating as low as say BBB, and Ontario is a long way away from that, they don’t actually make a lot of difference in the markets.  They may raise your cost of raising money 5, 10 basis points so it might go from 2.6 per cent to 2.7 per cent.  It’s more of a political event than it is a policy event.  Obviously you don’t want to have it but if it happens, it’s not the end of the world.  I think that just as the public would want…that would not want to see the government miss the mark of returning to a balanced budget, 2017-18, the credit rating agencies and the markets wouldn’t want to see any slipping from that commitment.  And the Liberals are not going to, I don’t think, drop that commitment.  It’s a question, do they have a credible plan to get there.  And it’s not just about numbers, do you have a credible plan to get there but still delivering efficient public services, not squeezing out.  We don’t want worse health care; we just want efficient health care that cost doesn’t keep going up as much.

 

Tom Clark:

Well that brings up a very good question because can you get there without trimming the public service and containing your costs?

 

Don Drummond:

Well here, I think there’s a particular way about going about it, and I must say, I guess an election is over, I can say this.  But I was kind of troubled by the Conservatives focus on 100,000 jobs.  There’s…in life, there’s outputs and inputs.  And you focus on your outputs, not the outputs; the number of civil servants as an input.  You gotta look at what public services you want to deliver, then what’s the most efficient way of providing them and it may be through the public sector, it may be through the private sector.  You pick which one is more efficient.  You don’t arbitrarily constrain it to a certain outcome.  Yes there are certain things that are provided now in the public service that go for private sector, not from an ideological perspective, just whether they make more sense to deliver it that way.  But if you start getting arbitrary on it, then I think it gets stuck.  And you know it is interesting too, the Conservatives were going to not have any of the cutbacks in education, except for they kept referring to the classroom size etc.  But over the first 10 years of the Liberal government, they added 10,000 employees in the education sector who are not in the classroom.  That kind of thing needs to be looked at as well.

 

Tom Clark:

If you could give Kathleen Wynne just one piece of advice for the next four years, what would it be?

 

Don Drummond:

I think it’s to do the tough reforms which increase the efficiency of government.  To relentlessly focus on that efficiency.  Yes, you do have to produce a very minimalist overall increase in spending but you don’t want that to cut the public services to the citizens of Ontario, so you want to increase the efficiency of everything you do in health care, training, how you deliver welfare to people.  I mean that was the focus of the commission.  Business subsidy is the perfect example.  There is a proposal in the budget to add yet another business subsidy but when we reviewed them for the commission we found almost all of them didn’t work very well as it was.  They were largely a waste of money.  Fix that.  That will reduce the budget but more importantly, it will be using taxpayers in a more efficient way.

 

Tom Clark:

Don Drummond thanks very much for your time, I appreciate it.

 

Don Drummond:

Thank you Tom, bye.

 

Tom Clark:

Coming up, after federal ministers spent much of the campaign picking fights with Kathleen Wynne, they’ve suddenly gone radio silent.  Just how worried should federal Tories or federal Liberals be about the Ontario election?  Stay with us.

 

 

Break

 

 

Tony Clement:

I don’t want them to be re-elected.  I’m going to be voting for the Tim Hudak candidate in my riding.  She is proposing a massive tax hike for Ontario workers and small businesses on top of the massive hike in hydro bills, about 40 per cent and this has an impact on the Ontario economy.

 

Peter Van Loan:

I congratulate Kathleen Wynne and I hope that the Ontario government will take very seriously the fiscal challenges they face.

 

Tom Clark:

Welcome back to the special edition of The West Block coming to you from Toronto.  Well as you’ve just heard, there were a few federal Conservative cabinet ministers who had no qualms about picking sides in the recent Ontario election, but as you also heard when the results were known, those partisan jibes turned into muted mumbles after a while.  And as of this morning, not a single one of those cabinet ministers wants to talk about the Ontario election.  But we will because there is a federal election coming up next year and so as all the federal parties take a look at the results of what happened here in Ontario, what are they looking for and what does it portend for 2015?  To delve into that, I am joined by Adam Radwanski, a columnist with the Globe and Mail, and our own Alan Carter from Global News, Queens Park bureau chief.  Welcome to you both.

Let me start with a general question, and Adam let me start with you.  The results from Thursday night, what does that tell us about the hearts and minds of the Ontario voter?  Did anything substantially change here?

 

Adam Radwanski:

I don’t think much changed.  I think what’s interesting is that there definitely is some concern about change.  I mean change in terms of whether people want change or not.  I think there was a strong desire for it, any poll would tell you that, and yet they almost doubled down on the incumbent government.  I think that’s because they looked at the alternative and said this is too risky, particularly what Tim Hudak was offering and I think that proved him more strong.  So I think does tell us that particularly with the state of the economy in Ontario, with a general sense of sort of fragility, I don’t think there is a strong desire to take big risks. That being said, the other thing I think is, people are unpredictable and I think it’s worth noting that here.  I think the Conservative strategy in particular hinged largely on trying to pinpoint little segments of the electorate and so on and yet they actually wound up moving kind of on mass.  I think that’s really important to keep in mind because you really can’t just assume these things and assume that you can micro target the way the Conservatives tried to do.

 

Tom Clark:

Is Ontario when you look at it though, was it that incumbents will win, in which case that would be good news for the federal Conservatives or is this a province that likes the idea of big government Liberalism?

 

Alan Carter:

I think that there is a fear or change.  I think Adam has that.  And I think also, I think inherently Ontario voters are wary of too big of a swing. I think obviously the Harris election would be something that would buck that trend, but Kathleen Wynne remember, was very effective in being able to present herself as an agent of change, even though she’s leading the government that’s been in power for more than a decade.  And you couple that with the right wing, you know some people would argue whether or not Tim Hudak really did move that far to the right, but certainly the perception was that he was way off to the right.  And I think that the people of Ontario decided well we don’t want to move too much from the centre, and we have a new leader who’s promising that there is change even though it’s the same party and we’ll go with her.

 

Tom Clark;

You know this sounds like the Ontario of Bill Lewis in the 1970’s.  Bland works and it looks as if maybe that that’s the conclusion, but let’s take a look at the Conservatives because the federal Conservatives have got to be concerned about the showing of their cousin party and how that happened.  The provincial Conservatives are now a party in search of their own soul.  They’re in search of a new leader.  The hard Conservative messaging didn’t work.  Is that a lesson for the federal Conservatives?

 

Adam Radwanski:

Well in fairness, the federal Conservatives haven’t really run on a as hard messaging as the provincial ones did this time and in one way, I think this point has been made elsewhere too, there is some benefit maybe for the federal Tories, and if Tim Hudak had gotten elected, he would have been doing an awful lot of hard stuff in the first year, and that might have actually made it more difficult next year in the federal election.  That being said, I do think there are a couple of things.  One, I think you’re right, it is a little more the Ontario Bill Davis and I think we need to remember that maybe 1985 was a bit of an aberration because most subsequent elections has suggested that.  The other thing is that any of the Liberals branded Ontario is maybe a little stronger than the federal Conservatives would probably like.  I think there might have been hope between what happened last time federally between the unpopularity of Dalton McGuinty before he left office that Liberals just might be messier.  That doesn’t seem to be the case, an awful lot of people still seem to be quite comfortable with that and maybe even more so than they were a couple of years ago.

 

Alan Carter:

The one thing that struck me is, I mean this election was a fight over ghosts of premiers past in this province, and it turns out that the ghost of Mike Harris is scarier than the ghost of Dalton McGuinty.  And that…and even scarier still of course is the ghost of Bob Rae but you know, you saw the Harris advertisements in Ontario, the third party advertising would say, Tim Hudak is just like Mr. Harris and I think that was more effective than the Conservative ad saying oh here is Kathleen Wynne, arms held in triumph with Dalton McGuinty. 

 

Adam Radwanski:

Possibly because it rang truer though as well, I mean one of the things is that Kathleen Wynne is so different from Dalton McGuinty.  I know in one way she is much closer to him than Tim Hudak was to Mike Harris and those ads showed that, but everything about here and the way she presented herself was quite different, whereas Tim Hudak was trying to run with a lot of people around him who were around Mike Harris in the 90’s, and I think there was some attempt to refight that election on their part which in retrospect may have played right into the Liberal hands on that as well.

 

Tom Clark:

Well let’s go right to the heart of it then.  If you are Justin Trudeau this morning and going through these results, should you be encouraged or is there something to be worried about?

 

Alan Carter:

Well I think that you know next year what’s going to happen is, is when we see the 2015 budget in Ontario, that I think it going to be a great boon for Stephen Harper because we know what the 2014 budget’s going to be because they just won on that.  And you know it promises a unicorn for pretty much everybody.  I mean it’s everything to everyone.  And in 2015, either they’re going to have to say forget about the deficit targets, we’re going to throw those out the window or a serious ratcheting down in spending, and more detail about how they’re going to get to balance.  That I think would help Stephen Harper in the fall.

 

Tom Clark:

Because the electorate is unhappy…

 

Alan Carter:

Well because they’re going to say wait a minute we voted for the unicorns and now we’re going to get this.

 

Adam Radwanski:

Yeah I think that’s right.  I mean if there is a point at which this government in Ontario is going to do tough things, that budget next year is probably it because they can’t do it right away.  They have to re-introduce the budget that they gave us before the election, but around next spring is when they would do that.  And they have back loaded a lot of what seems to be an austerity plan, although they haven’t given a lot of details into 2015, 2016, 2017.  So it could be a bit rough in that sense.  I guess if you’re the Liberals what you would be happy about is the party’s infrastructure in Ontario is a little bit better than they might have thought it was.  I think there was some concern that basically they were falling apart here.  They’ve been wiped off the map largely federally.  There was a big changeover behind the scenes provincially in terms of a different campaign team coming in and all that, and I think there was some concern probably with the Liberals that they may just not be able to compete on the ground the way they used to organizationally and so on.  I guess they don’t have to worry so much about that as they might have feared.

 

Tom Clark:

Well I guess what it means is that Ontario, as always, being the keys to 24 Sussex Drive cannot be taken for granted by any party.  And that Ontario today is much the way that Ontario was a year ago, two years ago.  Alan Carter of Global News and Adam Radwanski of the Globe and Mail, thanks very much for unpacking this for us, I appreciate your time.

Coming up next, what do Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, in fact all Canadian cities have in common?  Well it is traffic nightmares.  What’s the fix?  We have The Big Idea coming up next.

 

 

Break

 

 

Tom Clark:

Welcome back to this special edition of The West Block from downtown Toronto, the city that everyone loves to hate but for people who live here, they say they never want to leave. Jennifer Keesmaat is one of our foremost city planners.  She’s taken her expertise from Halifax to Mississauga, from Saskatoon to Winnipeg.  She is now the chief city planner for the City of Toronto and she is here with the next installment of The Big Idea.

Jennifer Keesmaat great to have you on the show.

 

Jennifer Keesmaat:

It’s great to be here.

 

Tom Clark:

Let’s start off with the Big Idea.  What is the one thing that this country can do collectively in the next 10 years, that is going to make a substantial difference?

 

Jennifer Keesmaat:

Well. I believe passionately, that we could embrace an urban agenda, recognising that our cities are critical international players.  Our cities drive economic growth and our cities are critical to the integration of new immigrants which is a key part to our culture as a country.  Now this is different from saying cities and communities and every little nook and cranny needs to be treated to the same.  An urban agenda is about recognizing that our largest cities add the most value and have a critical role to play in the success of the country moving forward.

 

Tom Clark:

Okay, let’s unpack this idea a little bit.  An urban agenda, what exactly is an urban agenda?  If I was to open it to page one, what would I find?

 

Jennifer Keesmaat:

Well on page one of your urban agenda I think you would find something about transit because right now we do not have a national transit strategy.  So an urban agenda would recognize that in our largest cities that we need to be investing in a substantive way.  You know we’re decades behind in every single one of our municipalities in Canada, and in part, that’s because of the period of time over which we matured.  It was not a period of large infrastructure projects for transit.  It was really a road building period, but the reality is we know great cities of the world that are rapid redensifying, and Toronto’s actually in that category, but the gap is we’re not investing in transit, and in part because there isn’t a substantive federal role.  That’s a problem.

 

Tom Clark:

So you’re saying create a substantive federal role to curing the problems of gridlock in a place like Toronto.

 

Jennifer Keesmaat:

Correct.

 

Tom Clark:

And that’s a question of money so what you’re talking about is getting the feds, whatever political stripe they might happen to be, to put in a lot of money into figuring out gridlock.  Is that essentially it? 

 

Jennifer Keesmaat:

Well absolutely, and it’s not just about gridlock, it’s about housing and affordable housing because we know for example, City of Toronto we’re adding approximately 30,000 people a year.  We’re adding 100,000 people in the region on a year and we know housing affordability is a critical part of making the whole machine work.  People need to be able to live close to where they work in complete communities, if in fact they’re going to have a really liveable quality of life.  And you know we’ve got this terrible badge of honour in Toronto.  We have the worst traffic congestion in North America.

 

Tom Clark:

Oh it’s unbelievable.

 

Jennifer Keesmaat:

It’s unbelievable.  It’s mind blowing.  Well that’s a failure I believe of a national policy.  And if you look south of the border, you look at what they’ve done in the US, you’ve got HUD, which has played a substantive role in redevelopment at the federal level.

 

Tom Clark:

HUD by the way is Housing and Urban Development.

 

Jennifer Keesmaat:

That’s right, Housing and Urban Development and you’ve really over the past 20 years there has been a substantive federal role in investing in transit.  That’s why you see all this light rail transit being built all over the US.  Those aren’t local dollars.  They’re coming at the national level.

 

Tom Clark:

Now there’s a lot of privatising of the transit solution in the United States as well.  Is there room in your Big Idea for a private element in this or do you see it strictly as being the feds having to come in with bags of money?

 

Jennifer Keesmaat:

Well I think there is a really important role for us in establishing this recognition, if you will, the special role that cities play in this country, and we don’t do this right now.  We have the Build Canada Fund.  The Build Canada Fund gives the same amount of money to PEI as it gives to Toronto.  On a per capita basis, it makes no sense.  It’s an absurdity.  So this is about first aligning and recognising the role that our major cities play and then strengthening them because they’re so critical to the future of the country.  To get back to the privatization question, the way that gets delivered, well there’s lots of different ways of doing it, and right now, we typically have a system that involves matching funds.  You’ve got provincial; you’ve got municipal and federal funds that are matched.  The problem is it’s just not nearly enough money.

 

Tom Clark:

Take me to page two of the Big Idea.

 

Jennifer Keesmaat:

Well page two of the Big Idea, we’ve talked a lot about transit, is really about housing affordability.  One of the things that we did profoundly well a generation ago was integrate newcomers, ensuring that newcomers within one generation could be a part of the middle class in Canada.  And the risk to this today is housing affordability, and ensuring that people can come into the city, can live affordability, can get a foot hold, can attain post-secondary education and can become a fully contributing member of Canadian society.  So in our largest cities where more of those immigrants are coming, you know it is not a good thing, it is not a badge of honour that we have taxi drivers with PhD’s in the City of Toronto, and we do.  And in part, that’s a failure of our ability to integrate newcomers to fully utilize all of the assets and talents that they bring into Canadian society.  So immigration, federal policy, but the reality is, it’s really is up to local large cities to be integrating new immigrants and we need to do a better job of that.

 

Tom Clark:

So, in conclusion, let me try and put a bow around this.  If I understand your Big Idea, it’s in the next 10 years, develop an urban agenda in this country whereby Canadian cities would be world leaders in terms of expertise and developing best practices for the future and export that knowledge around the world.  Is that essentially your Big Idea?

 

Jennifer Keesmaat:

Well absolutely and in part, the really critical part here is that we already are leaders in liveability, safety, quality of life in our large cities.  If you look at Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, Edmonton we consistently rank very high in international indices.  So we already are doing something right but the risk that I see today is that we’re drawing on a legacy of a generation ago and the traffic congestion you see in the city like Toronto is a reflection of that.  We continue to grow but we haven’t built the infrastructure and we need an urban agenda that recognizes how critical that is to the future of the country.

 

Tom Clark:

Jennifer Keesmaat awfully good to have you here with your Big Idea.  Thanks very much for your time.

 

Jennifer Keesmaat:

My pleasure.

 

Tom Clark:

And that is our special edition of The West Block from downtown Toronto.  Thanks very much for joining us.

Well next week is the final week for the House of Commons to get down to business before MP’s head back to their ridings and go on the barbeque circuit.

And tomorrow, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and possible presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses a crowd here in Toronto.  We’ll have all the details of that.   

So join us next Sunday from our home base in Ottawa as we wrap up this political season.  I’m Tom Clark.  We’ll see you then.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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