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Woe is me, Ontario

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Ontario Legislative Building. Image: DXR/Wikimedia Commons

Shed a tear with me for my poor old Ontario. You'd think, with 14 million people -- nearly 40 per cent of all Canadians -- some honourable and talented women or men would emerge as political leaders. But look at what we have instead. Have our political rulers ever been quite as pathetic and disappointing as they are now?

Begin with a Toronto City Council that hasn't built a serious subway line since Moses was a baby. That doesn't stop the premier of the province, the mayor of the city or many elected councillors from supporting a Scarborough line -- a political favourite -- at the expense of the transit lines that are really desperately needed. Meanwhile, there are not enough shelters for the homeless as one deadly cold night follows another.

Still, so low did former mayor Rob Ford reduce expectations that John Tory often seems refreshing. In fact, Mr. Tory has made the concept of "uninspiring" his main goal. Mr. Tory can't distinguish between moderation and mediocrity, so Toronto too often ends up reflecting the second. On October 22, expect to welcome mayor Doug Ford.

Move to the provincial scene, where history is being made before our eyes. Back in the day, the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party was legendary as the fearsome Big Blue Machine, keeping power longer than Stalin. But that was ancient history, like the Boer War. Today, we watch as the BBM rots in full public view. Try not to giggle when Patrick Brown is re-elected party leader but is banned from his own caucus.

Not since the federal Conservative leadership race have we seen a more nondescript collection of leadership aspirants. Anonymity seems the most desired quality for Conservatives at both the federal and provincial levels, a goal fully achieved in Ottawa and now sought at Queen's Park (Doug Ford aside). It's a good bet that not one of them knows the difference between a carbon tax and cap and trade, but they know what they can't abide.

All excel at hocus pocus, guaranteeing to find a non-existent $4-billion from "waste" in government to compensate for lost carbon-tax revenues. They shame anyone who believes politics is about integrity, an honourable profession that can make life better for most of our citizens.

The provincial NDP, which has just lost its leader's chief of staff, barely registers on most citizen's consciousness. Andrea Horwath has been leader going on a decade, yet there can hardly be more than a dozen Ontarians who know a single thing about her -- including this one. Nine years as leader, opportunities to drive a truck through, and still invisible -- is this not a record?

The new federal NDP leader, on the other hand, is a fascinating, eye-catching specimen, yet so far largely unknown. An Ontario resident, Jagmeet Singh's speech to the recent NDP policy convention, much of it in very good French, hit all the right NDP notes related to income inequality and a rigged economic system. It was a good NDP speech, but left the media yawning. Soon, very soon, he must begin relating to the majority who don't know him.

Looking down upon all this hullabaloo is our vastly mistrusted Premier. I knew Kathleen Wynne when she first began climbing the greasy ladder of success, and I must say how disappointed I've been ever since she became premier. Once a crusader for social justice, she soon became as hyper-partisan and large-P political a figure as any in our history. Thank heaven we're having a provincial election on June 7, or we'd be blessed by no progressive measures from her government whatsoever. Still, as of the moment, the election is hers to lose. She may well not.

Which leaves Justin Trudeau, whose public allure has yet to fade -- he feels like an Ontario boy -- notwithstanding the world of banalities and rehashing that gushes forth when you press his "on" button. Listening to him makes you feel déjà vu all over again all the time. What must Indigenous folk think about the speech on guilt, reconciliation and commitments that he repeats every time he stands up to speak? And how long can he get away with it? Yet he too, as of now, has re-election in his back pocket.

Poor old Ontario. Resented by so many fellow Canadians, yet in reality deserving their pity and compassion.

Gerald Caplan is a former New Democratic Party national director.

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail.

Image: DXR/Wikimedia Commons

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