GOLDSTEIN: The hypocritical attack on Ford’s ‘populism’

To understand the blatant double standards at work in much of the political and media commentary on the 2018 Ontario election campaign, consider this.

Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford’s promise Wednesday to lower the price of gas by 10-cents-a-litre, at an annual cost to the government of $1.2 billion, was instantly and sneeringly dismissed by our liberal and left-wing chattering classes as “populism.”

But when Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne promised “free” full-day daycare for all children from the age of 2 1/2 until they enter kindergarten, at an annual cost of $930-million, it was considered progressive social policy.

Ditto NDP leader Andrea Horwath promising a $1.2-billion public dental plan, or converting post-secondary student loans into grants.

In reality, all of these promises, along with almost everything promised by the three party leaders in this campaign, are “populist” in that they are intended to appeal to and address the concerns of ordinary people.

That’s all “populism” means. There’s nothing sinister about it.

So why is Ford alone attacked for “populism”?

The real reason has nothing to do with Ford’s, Wynne’s or Horwath’s promises, but in their differing ideas about how to best help ordinary people.

Ford’s gas price cut is based on the idea of letting people keep more of their own money because they are best at deciding how to spend it to benefit themselves.

Wynne’s and Horwath’s daycare, dental and tuition promises are based on the idea people are better served by the government keeping their money and spending it on what is best for them.

Since the latter view is shared by the vast majority of our chattering classes, only Ford is criticized for things on which Wynne and Horwath get a free pass.

For example, they claim Ford’s promises are “simplistic” whereas Wynne’s and Horwath’s promises are not.

Or that Ford’s claim he can fund his promises in part through finding “efficiencies” is disingenuous, but Wynne’s entire fiscal platform, based on her March 27 budget that both the Ontario Auditor General and the Financial Accountability Office say is a work of fiscal fiction, is not.

Ditto Horwath’s claim she can turn Ontario into a workers’ paradise by, as her television ad puts it, asking “the very rich to pay a little more to make this happen”, ignoring the reality that when you raise corporate taxes the public pays in higher consumer prices and layoffs. 

Horwath implies in these ads she’ll only raise personal income taxes on those earning over $220,000 annually, when in fact she’ll also raise corporate taxes.

But, again, Horwath gets a free pass from the chattering classes.

I agree with Wynne and Horwath that Ford should release his full campaign platform and explain how he will pay for it.

But it’s hypocrisy for Wynne to suggest her platform has any fiscal credibility.

Ditto Horwath mocking Ford for saying he can find savings through efficiencies in government.

Horwath promised in her 2014 election campaign to find efficiencies by creating a “minister of public savings and accountability”, cutting eight cabinet ministers and their staffs, capping CEO salaries and consolidating “overlapping agencies” because, as she put it at the time: “There is a lot of waste in the system — I know that for sure.” 

Horwath also promised a $100 rebate to Ontario’s 4.4 million hydro customers at a cost of $440 million.

Which all sounds pretty “populist” to me.

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