The scene — Toronto’s waterfront — was familiar enough. The timing — two days before a federal election was called — was exactly the same. Even the script had changed only slightly. Only the actors, the dollar amounts and the artist’s conception drawings had changed.

In October 2000, Jean Chrétien announced $500 million as the federal share of the redevelopment of the Toronto waterfront. “Now, we can begin to anticipate real changes to the waterfront: more open land, more green space, a cleaner and more welcoming waterfront for all of Toronto,” said Chrétien. One assumes that Toronto voters must have expected the Liberals to deliver. After all, they returned a solid 22 out of 22 Liberals on Election Day. Since that time, however, just $10 million of the promised money has actually been spent.

Liberals must think voters are pretty stupid. Two days before the onset of the current election campaign, Paul Martin walked in Jean Chrétien’s footsteps and made the same announcement. This time, however, the money totalled just $80 million. There was no word on what had happened to the outstanding balance of $490 million promised in 2000. To make matters worse, the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario were not even consulted on a plan that MP Dennis Mills said he had “written in his head” before he was even appointed to the make-work position of “Backbencher in charge of saving the waterfront (and his seat).”

It’s not just waterfront issues on which the Liberals have a history of over-promising and under-delivering. Cynics might suggest that doing so gives them the freedom to recycle the same promises come the next election campaign. If they actually started keeping them, they might have to come up with new ones.

On health care, the Liberals have consistently portrayed themselves as the protectors of our public medicare system, by pointing to the scary Reform/Alliance/Conservative plans to privatize and downsize this vital public service. The Liberals appear to have nothing better to offer than “We’re not as bad as the other guys.”

But, if Canadians need the Liberals to protect health care from “the evil Conservative Alliance,” then who will protect the health care system from the Liberals? After all, it’s the Liberals who have consistently failed to provide adequate federal funding for health care. It’s the Liberals who have allowed privatization to occur at will. And, most importantly, it’s the Liberals who have repeatedly promised expanded homecare and pharmacare programs that have never materialized.

The Liberals requisitioned the Romanow report on health care and promised to deliver on its recommendations. So far, they’ve delivered on none of them. In 2000, they promised $680 million over five years to build new affordable housing. So far, less than $90 million of that has been delivered.

Martin’s leadership campaign was also full of promises, from his commitment to deal with the “democratic deficit” to his plan for “a new deal for cities.” Given the overwhelming nature of his victory in that leadership race, he should have had a clear mandate to proceed with all these promises. Instead, the democratic deficit has only been exacerbated by Martin’s own dictatorial tactics, while all the proposals that were supposed to eliminate it remain on the shelf.

Meanwhile, instead of keeping his promises to municipalities, Martin has merely repeated them. A Liberal government would commit five cents a litre from the gas tax, at least $2 billion a year, to communities. In other words, “We haven’t kept this promise, but we will if you re-elect us.” Wouldn’t it make more sense to actually keep the promise, and then go to the voters based on that record of achievement? Wouldn’t that be a little more believable?

NDP Leader Jack Layton thinks that Canadians may finally be getting wise to the Liberal promise tricksters. “Election after election, Mr. Martin promises the moon. I expect that’s coming down next week. And in majority after majority, he comes down with amnesia right after the election.”

Layton points to declining support for the Ontario Liberals, who have just delivered what he calls a “Grade A textbook Fiberal budget, complete with regressive health premiums.” (It now turns out that Martin was tipped off in advance by Dalton McGuinty about the negative budget that was planned.) The answer, in Layton’s view, is simple. “We think that the Liberals of all levels need to be sent a message in this election. Otherwise, they’re going to believe after a fourth blank cheque, they can go on breaking promises until the cows come home.”


Scott Piatkowski

Scott Piatkowski is a former columnist for He wrote a weekly column for 13 years that appeared in the Waterloo Chronicle, the Woolwich Observer and ECHO Weekly. He has also written for Straight...