It was 10 years ago today that the Ontario electorate closed the door on 10 years of Liberal/NDP gluttony and government expansion, and took a chance on an 11-toed golf pro from North Bay wielding a driver in one hand and a Common Sense Revolution booklet in the other.
I was lucky enough to be working at PC campaign headquarters, and the day after the election volunteered to help out on the switchboard, which was surprisingly busy. Most of the calls were from regular folks calling to say congratulations or remind us to do what we promised. At one point a scruffy young fellow dashed into the reception area, snatched a small stack of CSRs from a desk, and rushed back onto the elevator before Tony Quirk or I could inquire as to where he got those wicked tattoos, or could he spare a spliff?
I thought nothing of the incident until I saw the same dirtbag and his comrades on the TV news that night, setting fire to their liberated platforms. Many people scoffed at Mike Harris when he talked about the “vested interests” who opposed change. Whenever they did, I would think back to our rude visitors who unwittingly set the tone for the years to come by setting fire to the CSR, doubtless without reading it, and before the government was even sworn in.
Anyhow, the intransigence of the vested interests was demonstrated soon enough. On many issues the revolutionaries prevailed, but I found it remarkable that on Mike Harris’ retirement, he observed that he wished he had moved more quickly on more fronts when he was first elected. I hope our next conservative premier will keep that in mind, because as we soon found out, the vested interests are focussed on government 24/7, while taxpayers are lucky to find an hour a week to be informed or engaged.
Margaret Thatcher once said that the test of her record would not be its effect on the conservative party, but its effect on their opponents. In that respect, the CSR has had some success: though presenting themselves as the antithesis of the Harris regime, the McGuinty Liberals had to present a clear platform and appear to be fiscally responsible – including a promise not to raise personal taxes – in both the 1999 and 2003 elections. Several times as opposition leader, McGuinty called the balanced budget and taxpayer protection laws “the price of admission” for any party seeking government, and even attempted to rewrite history by boasting that the Liberals had supported the concept in 1995 – which they had not (only four Liberal candidates signed the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation pledge in 1995).
Though in office the McGuinty fiscal plan and no-tax-hike promise quickly collapsed, on other issues the Fiberals have quietly affirmed the wisdom of several Harris-era policies, such as per pupil funding and health care restructuring. Yet while the concept of respecting the taxpayer and his dollars has become entrenched among mainstream parties – even the NDP – Mike Harris’ dictum that “there is only one taxpayer” seems to have lost some currency lately. Witness our dear premier’s discovery of a “gap” between taxes paid by Ontarians to the federal government, and the largesse doled out directly from the federal government to the provincial government. This is now blowing back on Dalton, as David Miller has discovered a parallel “gap” vis a vis Toronto taxpayers and the provincial government. Enjoy the whirlwind you have reaped, Dalton!
As unbelievable as it may seem, after all this time there is at least one test remaining for the revolution: is keeping promises still important to voters? Will voters punish the Fiberals for their many broken promises, or be anaesthetized by the quiet in the schools? As Kent Brockman would say: only TIME will tell.
No matter what happens, those of us who had a seat at the revolution can say that we made many long-overdue changes for the better, and “did what we said we would do.”
Vive la revolucion.