Yes, I’m speculating big time, but watching Wynne have to respond to questions about the $1.1 billion and the gas plants with only the same manicured line of apology, you could see the pain that she buried in not being able to speak freely.
Why not speak freely? It would have been political suicide to make any other comment than what she did. (Many will say that it was anyway, but that’s beside the point.)
There is no question that something was rotten in the Liberal party around the time of the last election. For McGuinty to up and resign after winning an election indicates that. There must have been some serious unrest and disagreement in the party. I’m going to bet that at least part of that revolved around the gas plant decision.
Hudak and Horvath kept asking, “Why did you sign the paper and not stand up for the people of Ontario?” It’s not hard to understand why. If there was a battle about it and the power struggle resulted in the closures, to dissent publicly at the time would be political suicide and would insure the election loss. That’s a pretty heavy consequence, although many would say that it would be the right thing to do. To say now that she opposed the decision, but was overruled, during this election, would be equally devastating to her party’s chances and would make her leadership look weak, when in fact she may very well be the force that pushed out McGuinty and is trying to clean up the mess. I personally think that when this all has receded sufficiently into the past, there are going to be some interesting memoirs here.
Furthermore, at the time the decision was made about moving the plants, the full implication was probably less obvious. A lot of that $1.1 billion is that creative accounting that politicians like to do when they need to emphasize a point. Almost half of it relates to the additional costs they will have to pay to the companies involved in order to offset increased transportation costs for the power (both in building new hydro wires and in transporting the gas to the plant). These are costs that exist, not because the plant was cancelled, but because of the new location, -a location that the other two parties say they would have chosen in the first place-, and so those costs would just have been bundled into the construction costs from the very beginning, rendering them invisible. Pegging those costs on the Liberal “mistakes” is a little hypocritical.
I am not saying here that the Liberals didn’t make a mistake. Their biggest one was the timing of the decision, pushing it through in a way that resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties that could have been avoided, in order help secure two seats. It was a dumb move, and obviously had its consequences within the party. But it was a move that any of the other parties would likely have done, and any of the party leaders placed in that kind of difficult decision of supporting something they don’t necessarily agree with, would have done the same thing. Let’s not fool ourselves and attribute any kind of false integrity to either of the other leaders or parties. Both Horvath and Hudak have demonstrated without any ambiguity their own ability to compromise integrity. And we see many examples in the actions of the Federal Conservatives as well.
Instead, though, the other leaders polish up their plastic halos and pretend to be morally superior. Furthermore they opportunistically rake through the garbage of the incumbent party looking for any dirt they can find, and if what they find isn’t damning enough, then twisting it a little to put it in a more negative light is easy to do. Take the MaRS real estate “scandal” where that creative accounting that I spoke of earlier is actually trying to bundle in $440 million in amortization costs for the next 40 years. Really? Why not also include the demolition cost? There was likely a mistake here (-although whether it was a Liberal or PC mistake is uncertain, as the MaRS deal was initiated under the Harris government-) but the exaggeration of the mistake to get political mileage out of it is unconscionable. The opposition parties know that few people are going to look at the situation with enough analysis to see their exaggerations, and, especially in light of the gas plant fiasco, will just take the accusations at face value. They just have to keep repeating the same partial truths, occasionally straightening their plastic halos.
Kathleen Wynne is probably trying to fix some real problems within her party. This is a supposition on my part, but that seems obvious from some of the actions she’s taken. However it is more opportunistic for her opponents to brand her as guilty by association with Dalton McGuinty and vilifying her. It put her in an impossible situation during the debate, and I’m sure she knew it going in. She knew she’d have to endure the accusations, paying for past mistakes like a child paying for the mistakes of the parent. Her only chance was to look convincingly contrite and pushing through it.
A Liberal party that is trying to mend its mistakes does not instill that much confidence. However, compared the campaign promises of the PCs and Hudak, it is clearly a desirable alternative. (To think that the NDP would be able to win the election is not realistic.) The argument for voting PC rests squarely on a rejection of the Liberal party. Their campaign promises are so weak that Hudak has to resort to a hollow guarantee, that he will resign if he doesn’t live up to them, in order to achieve any credibility. His economic math is so anemic that it would be the laughing stock of real economists, were the potential consequences of his winning not so dire. We find ourselves in a position where, more so than at most times, we are not faced with the best choices for this election.
Given that, I think I would rather go with the Liberals, who seem to be trying to improve themselves, than with the PCs, who seem to be in some kind of Tea Party death spiral. When I look at “potential moving forward”, which is one of the only bright spots in this election, the choice is more clear.