| Feb 09, 2006

Feature Article - February 9, 2006

Feature Article

February 9, 2006

Plus change

Editorial by JeffGreen


Last week, the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (EOWC) hailed the election of the new Harper Conservative government as good news for Eastern Ontario. They may have begun cheerleading a bit too soon. The caucus is a group of 13 county wardens that have been lobbying the federal and provincial governments in recent years for help in dealing with the infrastructure deficit and fiscal plight that rural eastern Ontario counties are facing.This situation, the wardens claim, resulted from actions of the provincial government, specifically the downloading of responsibility for roads, bridges, and social programs.The wardens base their optimism mainly on the commitment Steven Harper has made to increase funding to the provinces, and hope this will translate into a better deal from the province of Ontario for rural municipalities. In a press release entitled “Wardens see the federal result as ‘light at the end of the tunnel for rural areas’”, Warden Caucus Chair Bob Sweet from Renfrew County said, “Stephen Harper has clearly stated his willingness to deal with the fiscal imbalance between the federal government and the provinces. Cuts in federal funding to Ontario in the 1990s were part of the reason that provincial services got downloaded onto municipalities. We urge the new government to act on the imbalance, and the province to take back responsibility for its services because our taxpayers can’t go on picking up the tab." Another cause for optimism among the wardens lay in the fact that the new government is heavily weighted towards rural Canada. In Ontario, almost all of the MPs elected come from rural ridings. But the EOWC might want to reconsider their optimism in light of the cabinet that was sworn in earlier this week. First of all, rural Eastern Ontario was shut out of the cabinet even though 1/3 of the cabinet members come from Ontario. The closest thing to a rural Eastern Ontario minister is Tony Clement from the Muskoka riding. But Tony Clement was a fly in candidate. He lives in Brampton. Clement was also a minister under the Harris Tories, as were the other two major cabinet selections from Ontario, Jim Flaherty Finance, and John Baird President of the Treasury Board. It was the Harris Tories that did the downloading for which the Eastern Ontario wardens are still seeking financial relief. The wardens are banking, as is the Ontario government, on a flow of money from Ottawa to Ontario to address the so-called ‘fiscal imbalance’. Although the wardens are unhappy with the McGuinty Liberals, and they have a long list of grievances, they seem to think that not only will more money flow from Ottawa to Toronto, but that it will continue to flow from Toronto to Eastern Ontario. In spite of Mr. Harper’s commitments to increase payments to Ontario, the first thing he plans on doing, according to what he said this week, is to implement his daycare policy, and in so doing eliminate a cost sharing agreement for a daycare policy that was negotiated in good faith with the provinces by the previous government. This will leave the Ontario government with less money in transfers from Ottawa. So, a government that campaigned on improving relations with the provinces cuts a cost-sharing program with the provinces within hours of taking power. Another aspect of Monday’s events should make the wardens wonder about Mr. Harper’s commitment to addressing the fiscal imbalance. How good is Stephen Harper’s word after Monday? The decision to offer a cabinet post to David Emerson, elected just two weeks ago as a Liberal in Vancouver Kingsway, certainly makes Stephen Harper’s respect for the democratic process suspect, as well as his much touted commitment to run an honest and transparent government. In Vancouver Kingsway, the Conservative Party’s candidate received 8,649 votes, or 18.8% of the vote. Running as a Liberal, David Emerson received 20,062, 43% of the votes cast. No one could reasonably claim that the people of Vancouver Kingsway were so enamored with David Emerson that they would have elected him if he were a Conservative. Emerson himself said this week that he remains a small ‘l’ Liberal. So, Stephen Harper is committed to addressing the fiscal imbalance. Does that commitment mean more than his commitment to honesty and integrity in government, his supposed number one priority? The Eastern Ontario wardens might well ask themselves this question. JG

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