Flaherty Scary but Eves Dangerous

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This might sound a little crazy, but I love Jim Flaherty. I love him for speaking his mind and I love him for sticking to his ill-advised principles. Every time he opens his mouth I feel a thrill of anticipation. What could it possibly be now? I wonder, how far can one man go?

But even after announcing plans to ban teachers’ strikes, throw homeless people in prison, lay off civil servants, kick people off welfare after two years, halt the expansion of abortion clinics, sell off TVO, curb the political power of unions and cut taxes despite a looming deficit of $3-billion to $5-billion, Jim Flaherty hasn’t disappointed me yet.

At a time when all political wisdom suggests making nice and straddling the fence, Flaherty has decided to distinguish himself as the most right of the five candidates vying for provincial leadership.

There is nothing indirect or subtle about the man. If he’s elected, expect tax cuts and reduced spending; expect all the draconian and anti-democratic policies he’s been all too happy to discuss.

Expect him to sell off the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), a misguided quick-fix solution to the deficit that would only serve to eliminate a profitable revenue source for the province.

Expect more of what he’s already accomplished in his political career to date: As attorney general he instituted anti-squeegee legislation and as finance minister he offered tax credits for private schools while slashing funding for public education.

Flaherty’s supporters are single-issue voters, anti-abortion activists, the religious right and proponents of private education. He’s a little too fringe to be broadly palatable in Ontario and that’s why I love Jim Flaherty the most — because if he wins the Conservative leadership race, the Tories are unlikely to win the next provincial election.

And it could happen. Though Flaherty isn’t favoured in the polls, the leader will be decided in a one-member, one-vote race. If he manages to rally enough members with a private education/anti-abortion/anti-homeless/anti-everything axe to grind, he has a real shot at leadership.

By contrast, opponent Ernie Eves, the former finance minister who is widely considered the front-runner, appears positively reasonable, if plenty vague, in his vision and platform. Flaherty has called Eves “a pale pink imitation of (Liberal Leader) Dalton McGuinty,” (this despite Eves’ all-season George Hamilton tan).

Eves and his handlers certainly are cultivating Eves’ image as a more centrist, gentler Conservative, and his “winnability” in the provincial election in a year and a half is widely acknowledged.

He’s the Progressive Conservative Party’s dream come true. He’s Mike Harris in a better suit and, more importantly, he’s Mike Harris without the baggage of labour unrest, teacher strikes, Walkerton and Dudley George. And when Mike Harris leaves, the party doesn’t have to change, because Harris will take much of that baggage along with him.

Eves has called himself “Dalton McGuinty’s worst nightmare” and he probably is. The popular Eves could draw small-c conservative Liberal voters to the PC party in the next election, giving the already battered province its third consecutive Conservative government. And that definitely makes Eves the province’s worst nightmare, because while he might not be Mike Harris, neither is he a radical departure.

While in office, Eves was involved in key decisions to cut taxes in order to balance the budget. The short-term “success” of this strategy has had long-term disastrous results in the form of a huge deficit and a revenue crisis.

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, almost seven years of “tax cuts (in Ontario) have reduced annual personal income tax revenue by $9.5-billion. Corporate tax cuts have cost the revenue base an additional $2.6-billion. And thanks to the fact that the first four years of tax cuts were delivered while the province was running a deficit, the cost of carrying the debt incurred to finance the tax cuts now exceeds $800-million a year.”

While finance minister, Eves also set up an MPP pension plan (which gave him $810,000) only to have it revealed early this year that the plan contravenes federal regulations, an error that will cost taxpayers $10-million.

Then, early in his campaign, Eves initially came out in favour of a two-tier health-care system that would allow the rich to get faster, better care, only to disingenuously backtrack a few days later. Like Flaherty, Eves also supports further tax cuts.

Jim Flaherty is one scary candidate, but Ernie Eves, a tax-cutting, Common Sense Revolutionary passing himself off as a red Tory, is even more dangerous.

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