Well, they can’t call Patrick Brown “the man with no plan” anymore.
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party leader has heard that taunt endlessly from various members of the Liberal government, because until this past weekend, Patrick Brown was essentially running on: “I’m not her” — referring, of course, to Premier Kathleen Wynne.
You will no doubt read and hear a lot about the “People’s Guarantee” between now and election day, next June 7. And almost all the focus will be on Brown’s commitments to cut taxes, lower electricity prices, make child care more affordable, invest heavily in mental-health services, and bring in new accountability measures.
And all the parties will have a great debate about those promises.
But for me, perhaps the most interesting line in the entire 80-page document doesn’t come until page 79.
“The fiscal estimates underlying the Ontario PC platform have been deemed reasonable by the non-partisan Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy, University of Ottawa.”
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That may not be the sexiest line in the plan, but it might be the most important, because it’s a thumbs-up from one of the most respected economic analysts in the country.
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Kevin Page, president and CEO of the institute, burnished his reputation as the first parliamentary budget officer for Canada from 2008 to 2013. Despite constant attempts to undermine his authority and his integrity from the Conservative government of the day (and by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in particular), Page could never be moved. While the Harper government frequently played politics with its prognostications, Page did his best imitation of Sgt. Joe Friday from TV’s Dragnet (“Just the facts, ma’am”) and stuck to the empirically provable numbers which ultimately turned out to be far more trustworthy than the government’s.
Page never worried about the politics of the day. He never fussed over the ton of bricks he constantly invited to come crashing down on his head. He simply led a team that did its analysis without fear or favour, and in doing so, became one of the country’s most trusted sources for economic truth.
So, when Kevin Page says the Ontario Tory platform is based on reasonable economic assumptions, that’s seriously worth noting.
It gives the PC plan a kind of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that the other parties (at the moment) simply don’t have.
In fact, the governing Liberals appear to be far behind when it comes to whose numbers you can trust the most. They have frequently run afoul of the auditor general of Ontario, who insists, despite the government’s protestations to the contrary, that the books of Ontario Inc. are not balanced. In fact, Bonnie Lysyk has accused the government of moving billions of dollars of debt it’s responsible for to the books of Ontario Power Generation, in order to subsidize the lowering of electricity prices and maintain the appearance of a balanced budget at the same time.
The New Democrats haven’t submitted a detailed fiscal plan yet and therefore can’t be similarly judged, although Page indicated he’d be delighted to offer his institute’s services free of charge to any and all comers.
Because of the way politics works, the Tories are going to run into a buzz saw of criticism over the next six months. The Liberals are likely going to allege that Brown’s plans will require massive program cuts and job losses. In fact, Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca attended the PCs’ policy conference to begin the onslaught.
“This is a “Say Anything” platform,” Del Duca said. “Patrick Brown will say anything to anyone to get a vote, just like we’ve seen him do in the past. But we know that if it sounds too good to be true, then it’s not true.”
Except Kevin Page says the financial assumptions behind the plan are reasonable. And for the last decade, that has tended to end all arguments.
Brown’s unveiling of the People’s Guarantee went well. He looked on top of his brief. It was good theatre. And Page says it’s reasonable.
All of which means the Liberals are going to have to find something more persuasive to say over the next six months than this is a “Say Anything” platform.
Full disclosure: my wife is a volunteer for the Ontario PC Party. She co-chaired the health care policy development process, some of whose planks are in the PC platform.