"Or what? You'll release the dogs or the bees? Or the dogs with bees in their mouths and when they bark they shoot bees at you?"
-- Homer Simpson

A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies

Ontario Superior Court judge Paul Rouleau has apparently absolved Dalton McGuinty of any responsibility to keep his election promises. In response to a request from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation to kill the new Ontario Health Premium, the Honourable Mr. Justice Rouleau responded by saying that anyone who believes a campaign promise is naive about the democratic system.

I’m on the hunt for the text of the ruling, as I don’t want to just take the media’s spin on this ruling as fact. However, I can’t seem to find it in CanLII, and I don’t have access to QuickLaw. I’ll let you know if I manage to get hold of it.

Now don’t get me wrong — I didn’t buy into McGuinty’s shopping list of election promises back in 2003 myself. He was promising everything to everyone, but was quick to state that they might have to reconsider their commitments if they found that the state of the provincial finances was not as expected once they got into power. Translation: they needed a get-out-of-jail-free card, and doing it this way would also make the provincial Tories look bad. Kamelot can attest to my having predicted exactly what came to pass (i.e. McGuinty breaking most if not all of his election promises), seeing as she was living with me at the time and was privy to almost-daily vitriolic diatribes about the way people were falling for McGuinty’s manipulations.

Now, we have a Superior Court judge telling us that we’d be naive to expect anything less. This particular broken commitment wasn’t something said in a meet-and-greet, baby-kissing stop on the campaign trail — no, this was a major component of the Liberal platform in the 2003 election. They worked with the CTF to draw up a contract committing to respect the Taxpayer Protection Act, which states that new taxes shall not be introduced without a referendum approving that tax. To get around this contract, McGuinty’s administration has modified the TPA to exempt the Ontario Health Premium.

(As a side note, the Liberal election platform from the 2003 provincial election is no longer available anywhere online — it has conveniently been removed from distribution. However, here’s where being a pack rat comes in handy; I happen to still have a copy of their document, and have made it available to you. Pages 15 and 166 are of particular relevance.)

Mr. Justice Rouleau, I disagree with your ruling. I believe it is incumbent upon all elected representatives to live up to the commitments they make during their campaigns, for what is a campaign other than an outline of how the candidate will behave if chosen by the electorate? If we cannot trust that the candidates are acting in good faith, on what criteria shall we base our voting decisions? I understand that practicality must be respected, but we must set some standard of honour for our leaders.

In the immortal words of Fox Mulder, we must not tolerate those who have conspired to deceive, inveigle, and obfuscate.

31 Responses to “A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies”

  1. The ruling will be linked to from this page on CanLII before too long.

  2. Actually, the ruling itself was made in December — it only came to my attention this late because of the story in the Globe. I looked at the December rulings, and there is one listed for Canadian Taxpayers Federation v. Ontario (Minister of Finance), but it doesn’t contain the actual ruling, which is why I couldn’t find it through the search engine. Publication of the ruling has apparently been “temporarily suspended until further analysis of a potential legal restriction prohibiting its publication has been done.”

    Smells like a cover-up to me!

  3. I’m not really sure why you’re so bent out of shape about this. McGuinty is certainly not the first candidate to fail to deliever election promises, and won’t be the last. I didn’t even believe him when he said he wouldn’t raise taxes, because taxes in my opinion had been dropped to low, health care and education had been gutted by the tories and in the last year of tory leadership Legal Aid employees hadn’t had a raise in 11 years. Guess what? I didn’t believe him, and I voted for him anyway. A health care premium is no skin off my nose in the grand scheme of things – although my perspective as the partner of someone who must access our health care system monthly, I may be tad biased.

    Think about the precedent it sets; if Rouleau ruled differently, then we could conceivably take every single leader to task. Personally, I believe that once you take office, you become privy to the once-hidden reality of the condition of the country/province/land unit you get to govern, and reality must temper your promises. If I knew I would be held to my election promises even though I found out after my election that it was going to be impossible, there is no way I would ever run for office.

    Would you?

  4. I agree with Homewrecker. Kav, your rant seems to assume that McGuinty was elected on the basis of his promises. Personally I think he still would have been elected if his campaign mantra was simply “We’re not the Conservatives…’nuff said” (a tactic employed in reverse fashion, but unsuccessfully, the following year by Stephen Harper). So he’s an idiot for making unkeepable promises, but I agree with the judge for saying anyone who believed him should get a reality cheque.

  5. Sigh…OK, I disagree with almost everything you said, Homewrecker, but that’s not the point of my post. I’m not trying to put McGuinty’s leadership on trial (not now, at least). My concern rests with the nature of the ruling. To begin with, the judge stated that anyone who believes an election promise is naive–this, to me, just reinforces everyone’s cynicism about our political system. Boyo confirmed that with his comments…the problem is that if no one can ever trust a politician, then we end up with what we have had for the last few decades: a system where no one votes a party or a leader into power, we only vote them out of power. And that’s been working soooo well for us…

    I’m not trying to say that Rouleau should have completely spanked McGuinty, but I think there should have been some recognition that he signed a contract (i.e. this wasn’t just an off-the-cuff ‘promise’, it was a considered commitment). He’s basically saying that politicians are exempt from the same standard of legal obligation by which the rest of the populace must abide.

  6. Point taken. Be comforted in the knowledge that the ‘voting *out* of power’ thing doesn’t work out all the time, like for Harper (snicker). I think McGuinty felt he had a blank campaign cheque because he knew everyone hated the Conservatives and that he could go back on his promises when he ‘finally saw the books’ and blame it all on his predecessor (write two letters…). You can place equal blame on the media for the success of that tactic.

  7. ummm.. what kavi said. I mean, if they don’t have to even try to fulfill promises then we can’t vote based on promises so what’s left to vote on? Who’s haircut sucks the least? McGuinty still wouldn’t win my vote…

    Oh, and you ppl are idiots and kavi did see this all coming.
    Cheers.

  8. OK I haven’t seen the ruling (so maybe I’m just talking out of my butt) but I fail to see how Rouleau is saying that “politicians are exempt from the same standard of legal obligation by which the rest of the populace must abide”. What do you mean by this? At no point am I ever under any legal obligation for any promise I make. I do not believe that by making a campaign promise McGuinty signed a contract of any sort.

    However, you do bring up an interesting point about the problems with our system and the inability to trust our politicians. I know that again I am straying from the nature of your original post, but I am curious; can you name a politician that you consider trustworthy?

  9. Well, first of all, I don’t speak for Kavi nor am I trying to answer a question that was posed to someone else, I’m just reacting here. Anyway…
    I don’t really equate campaign platform promises to something like my new years resolution to lose weight, ie. I don’t think I should be legally obliged to stop eating this cake, mostly because I didn’t make it widely known and I wasn’t given a position of power because of such a promise, but also because I like cake. However, I think you, like McGuinty, should know that you *are* under legal obligation for promises (or “oral contracts“) that you make. And since this is my brothers site, I’ll even refrain from making dirty jokes about the term ‘oral contract’…

  10. Actually, Homewrecker, that was the point I made somewhere in the middle of my post–McGuinty *did* sign a contract for this particular promise. This is the basis of being able to even bring the issue before a judge at all.

    As Kamelot says (thankfully without the humourous references that would scar me for life), even if he hadn’t signed the contract, a verbal promise is still binding. However, I’m not enough of a law-talking-guy to know just how binding it is.

    As for whether or not I can name a politician I trust: Mike Harris. You may not like what he did, but he told everyone what he would do, and then kept those promises. I firmly believe that the primary reason the Conservatives lost the 2003 election is that Ernie Eves tried to go a little more populist, and was painted as not having the same strength of conviction that Harris had.

    As for current politicians, there is nary a one that I trust–that’s why I chose to abstain from the most recent federal election. I don’t buy into the ‘best of all evils’ method of voting that most Canadians go along with.

  11. Hmmm. I still do not agree that “promise” = “verbal contract”, but I do not have the background to back it up so I must leave off.

    Kaveman, I suppose your choice of Mike Harris as a politician to trust kind of illustrates why I’m so blase about the keeping of campaign promises. You’re right, he did everything he said he would, and you’re right, I didn’t agree with most of it. I guess when it comes to evaluating my candidates, the actual details of the promise are not as important as what those promises tell me about the direction a candidate will take; I would be much, much, much more outraged had McGuinty gotten elected and then proceeded with Harris-style cutbacks and tax cutting (or, for that matter, Bob Rae type utter fiscal irresponsibility) than I am about him introducing a health care premium.

  12. Kav, there are more than two parties you know. Support a fringe party that needs it instead of abstaining.

    What’s left to vote on if you can’t trust the politicos? The past few decades have shown that you can’t evaluate candidates based on what they say, becayse they’ll say anything. So dig a little deeper for your information.

  13. I think Kavi tends to go a little research heavy on the politics, so if he abstained, Boyo, it was because *none* of the parties appeased him. Fringe parties can have horrible leadership too and ideals you don’t beleive in too… Also ‘appease’ might be the wrong wording there, more like ‘failed to keep him from eye twitching frustration’… really, I was there…

  14. See, that’s because you’re a left-wing pinko… :-)

    Harris didn’t cut any money to health care…what he did was stop the hemorrhaging of taxpayer dollars that we call a health care system. He reduced the rate of increase on our health care spending, and the whole province went apeshit. In 2004, Ontario spent over $30 billion on health care (almost half the program spending, and over a third of the total budget), and that’s just direct budgetary spending–the CIHI forecasts that in actual dollars, it was more like $52 billion.

    Throughout the 70′s and 80′s Ontario’s health care spending has consistently risen at something over 5 times the rate of population increase. Until 1990, the rate of increase of health care spending was in the double-digits (peaking at 17.3% in 1982), while the rate of population increase has never even reached 2%. In the 90′s, Bob Rae reduced the rate of increase out of necessity (he ran out of money), and then Harris brought it down even further to match the rate of population increase (at its lowest).

    I know there are other factors involved (such as the demographic makeup of the population, and the fact that health care itself is getting more expensive), but our spending on health care is not sustainable. We need to explore alternative ways of restructuring our system (and I’m *not* suggesting private) to accommodate the ever-increasing needs. Throwing more money at it at a continually climbing rate isn’t going to solve anything.

  15. Oops, my comments were in response to Homewrecker’s comment above…don’t worry, Kam, I wasn’t calling you a left-wing pinko… :-)

    And Boyo, there may be more than two parties, but I’m not going to support a party unless I can align myself with their principles and their conduct. That being said, I need to do more research on the Green Party, because I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about them…

  16. That’s ok man, I still have my pinko commie bastard moments. You should hear me talk about welfare…

  17. …but….but… I HATE pink… :)

    You call me a pinko, the Zimbabweans called me a greenie, I wonder what other colours I can rack up? Soon I’m gonna be a rainbow! (Now, how do I get called a bluey?)

  18. Yeah, the rainbow would mean something entirely different… :-)

    You got me ranting about health care spending, which kinda detracted from the original point, I think…you say that you view election promises as a window into the direction a candidate will take, so let’s look at that. McGuinty promised to essentially turn back the clock on much of what the Tories had done, focusing primarily (like the media whore he is) on those ‘hot-button’ items that had garnered the most public attention. A few examples are: the private school tax exemption, the fact that the 2003 provincial budget was presented outside the legislature, and ‘private’ MRI clinics. Since many people were annoyed at these gaffes made by the Eves government, he won a lot of votes by basically saying (as Boyo described) “we’re not them!”

    I agree that you should look at a direction the candidate is taking–so what was the direction McGuinty set himself on? He made endless promises…his campaign platform document is 237 pages of promises in bright red, which is fitting, seeing as he had very little mention of how he would pay for all his promises. In fact, what little he does say about the economy is a repeated commitment to not raise taxes, to present balanced budgets, and to reduce the debt. Um…miss, miss, and miss!

    Now that he’s in power, we can see how he intends to operate–it’s back to the Liberal playbook for another few rounds of tax-and-spend. This is the problem I have with many Liberal regimes…it’s all love and joy on the social side, with some kind of assumption that there’s no way to pay for it all other than raise taxes. Just like the comment I made on health care spending, neither is this sustainable. If you’re going to continually increase program spending (which is the reality in the long term), you need to have an infrastructure that supports that steady increase without putting the burden on the already over-taxed populace. I’m not an economist, but the only way I can think of to increase tax revenues without increasing tax rates is to increase the number of taxpayers. This is something the Harris government did exceedingly well from 1995 to 2000, and while Eves didn’t have quite the same level of success (due to some waffling policies), McGuinty is now sounding warnings about an economic slowdown.

    So you tell me, what direction is he taking?

  19. OK, this is a little long…. bear with me? :)

    Kaveman, you have a very detailed outline above, and I simply cannot compete with it. And I cannot do the research to counter your arguments. You’ve moved into an area that I don’t know much about. Despite this, I think I can explain what I meant by a candidate’s direction, which for me is something far less detailed than what you have above. McGuinty won because “he’s not one of them”. That really is the direction I’m talking about. So far, he still isn’t, so I do not feel much betrayal. I will fully confess that McGuinty really has nothing else about him that is of any brilliance whatsoever, he’s just not “them”. I realise that this is not enough for you. But as a direction for a candidate, it was enough for me.

    You’ve given us some figures on Tory accomplishments and Liberal lack of accomplishment, and like I said, I cannot counter them because it would involve a degree of research that I cannot undertake any time soon. But there is the qualitative aspect, and this is where I tend to focus. These are the events that made it clear what the Harris direction was, and why it was so important to me to have someone who wasn’t “them”. First, the Harris years saw my taxpayers dollars used for vindictive and in some cases downright lying ad campaigns levelled against Ontario’s teachers. (Remember them? “Teachers only work 4 hours a day. We’re just asking them to work 25 minutes longer”. There isn’t a full time teacher in the entire country that works those kinds of hours if you account for lesson plan and correction.) There was the year that all the Environmental Youth Core grants got cut in half – “You’d like to hire 2 students for 16 weeks? No, you can hire 4 students for 8 weeks each, and you can’t use 2 of them for the same student”. All so the government could say they doubled the number of students that were hired, and because of the learning curve for these jobs, the resulting work did suffer. The following year, the funding just disappeared. U. of Guelph got funding to build a new lab, and then the funding was clawed back after the building was actually BUILT. Ottawa was amalgamated with its suburbs despite the fact that it’s not thrilled with it (again, a soupçon of vindictiveness against a predominantly Liberal town) and then when it’s all over, the province tries to take the $80 million or so away that they were supposed to kick in. So much for the good faith you are seeking, Kaveman. Furthermore, OMYA, a Swiss-based multi-national, whines about wanting to take 4.5 million litres of water from the Tay river per day, and when the nearby municipality protests, the CEO whines about how if he doesn’t get his permit, he’s going to tell all his buddies in Europe that Canada is anti-business. Eventually, OMYA managed to bypass the usual committee and gets their permit from the top, despite the fact that certain reports indicated that 4.5 litres of water per day may be more than the entire river’s discharge. You’re looking for a standard of honour for our leaders? I see none here so far. And this is just what I can remember off the top of my head. From this perspective, the Harris direction appears here to be save money before all, industry comes first and damn the consequences, and hints that it’s OK to abuse power to dish out some payback. And this was so appalling to me that I did vote for a nothing candidate just to end his legacy.

    I hear you on health care, that you can’t simply throw money at a problem, you have to fix the infrastructure. But fixing infrastructure takes money. In the meantime, our nurses were kept part time as much as possible so that no benefits had to be paid to them, and of course there was great incentive for them to leave. MRI’s were running at night and paid for by insurance companies – but why doesn’t the province just run them all night? If I needed an MRI, I don’t think I’d quibble about having to be there at 3 am. (Hey, Dalton, there’s an idea for you!) McGuinty may not be fixing health care, but the Tories didn’t really seem to have any particular brilliance in that department either. (And Gaby’s reports of homeless people cutting themselves to get into hospital because cut funds to shelters means they have no where else to go doesn’t help to save taxpayer $$ in the long run.) In the meantime, the system HAS to keep chugging along, and if that requires more money in the short term, I can accept that.

    Dalton McGuinty hasn’t done much, but one thing did stand out; his government recognised that permits to extract groundwater in Ontario were being issued without any kind of notion of what kind of groundwater resources the province actually were, and stopped issuing new permits until such an assessment can be made. It’s a start. And what does this tell me about this government’s direction? That they at least have some concept of sustainability, and understand that industry (and the economy) fundamentally rely on a healthy environment. This was absent from the Tory government that preceded it, and is a big step in the right direction.

    Yes, the provincial liberals are the lesser of two “evils”, and I agree that this is not a good thing. But holding McGuinty to a campaign promise he cannot keep is not, in my opinion, going to solve this.

    So Kaveman, to help solve this problem, I think you should run for office. Yes, yes, I’m a pinko and you’re not, but I know you have integrity, and you tend to listen to reason. And you know far more about the process and the details than I do. :)

  20. See, Green Party, now you’re talking.

    Most people like to parrot the notion that a vote for anyone other than the eventual winner, or at least a contender, is a wasted vote. The opposite is in fact true.

    I voted for the Green party in the last two federal elections, and not because I was hoping to miraculously hoist them to power. In fact I haven’t decided if I would want them in power, but fortunately I don’t need to decide that anytime soon. The reason I voted for them was because they need support (or at least need to know that they have support) and the political climate needs a stronger voice to fill a gaping void in certain areas of the ideological spectrum. It’s not about granting power, it’s about improving the public discourse. Y’know, democracy.

  21. btw, tax-and-spend is better than cut-tax-and-spend

  22. Well, I can’t argue with the problems you had with the Harris government…I wasn’t exactly thrilled with everything they did either, and yes, I agree that a change was needed (especially when Eves took over). I just would have preferred if the change was handled internally within the Tories, rather than needing to remove them and put McGuinty into power. Despite the problems the Tories caused, I believed (and still believe) that they had more integrity in their leadership than McGuinty would (and does).

    A big part of the problem was that the Tories came in when the provincial finances were a disaster. They cut a lot of services, and cut them pretty deeply, and reduced the increases on many others, all in the name of balancing the budget. I believe the intent was to cut to a sustainable point, and then rebuild infrastructure so that they wouldn’t land in the same position again–but the follow-through was barely even started when Harris left, and Eves did a *very* poor job of carrying that vision through.

    I think it remains to be seen if the Liberals are the lesser of two evils. Don’t forget that it was many years of Liberal rule followed by one term of NDP rule that put the province in such dire straits in the first place…but then we’re back to my ‘nary a one’ issue… :-)

    And Boyo, why is ‘cut-tax-and-spend’ worse than ‘tax-and-spend’ when the ‘cut-tax’ phase results in higher tax revenues (lower taxes = more consumer spending ~= more jobs = more tax revenues)? I’m not talking theory, this is exactly what happened in the first Tory term.

  23. Oh, and I could never run for office…I think I’d do ok at the leadership thing, but all that “being nice to people” would kill me… :-)

  24. We’ll hire you some good PR folks. You’ll do fine! :)

  25. Kav, you can’t be serious. Trickle-down economics is bulls#!t. Have you seen the size of the US deficit? You think that’s a good thing? Oh, tax cuts are good for the economy all right…the Swiss economy.

  26. The size of the US deficit has nothing to do lower taxes, and everything to do with their military budget.

  27. Y’know, usually I get breakfast with this discussion…

  28. And actually, Boyo, it depends what you mean by ‘trickle-down’ economics…there are a few too many definitions floating around, but the most common one is that tax cuts for the rich and for big business trickles down to the ‘common folk’. Well, that’s not what the Harris government did. They cut taxes for *everyone*, most especially the middle-class. By doing this, he freed up money for a lot of people, and a lot of them started spending more, which in turn put a lot more money into the hands of business (small, medium or large). More jobs were created, and tax revenues actually went up, even though the tax rates themselves have been dropped.

    I’m not just dreaming this all up, the data’s available for anyone to see: employment trends for the 1995-2000 period provide part of the picture. The rate of growth in real GDP quadrupled from 1995-2000, compared with the previous five years. The CTF did a good summary of what I’m talking about back in 2000 (with more data than I have).

    It’s not rocket science–people tend to spend money when they have it, so let them.

  29. No, no, no, sorry, the Harris tax cuts were NOT for everyone; I remember you gloating about your change in net income years ago when the first tax cuts came through, and I tore a strip out of you for it. At the time, my take home was something like $900 a month, and I saw NO CHANGE from before to after.

    I guess when you’re poor, and the economy needs stimulating, your purchasing power is so small you can be safely ignored.

    (OK, that’s really weird, me complaining about being poor… WOW that was a long time ago!)

  30. The US deficit has everything to do with lowered taxes…because they received much less tax revenue (two rounds of cuts) at a time when expenditures were increasing dramatically. My initial comment was a rebuke at righties who hate tax and spend as though current conservative regimes don’t spend themselves. It’s as though Republicans don’t mind huge government spending as long as it’s not being spent on more government (ie. As long as it’s going directly into private coffers, like military contractors).

    As for the stats you provide the correlation is arguable at best. I believe your employer had some good years in that period, to give one example, and it sure had nothing to do with the personal income tax rate. When a middle-class family gets a refund that is $500 larger than expected, they don’t buy fibre-optic network switches, they go to Red Lobster and half the money ends up in the States.

    By the way, tax cuts for the rich are always disguised as tax cuts for everyone, or else they wouldn’t happen. And remember, tax revenue that stays with government and doesn’t get cut isn’t money that goes up in smoke…raises for teachers and money for medical equipment and salaries for bureaucrats stimulates the economy just as well.

  31. BTW, I’ve given up on this because Kamelot’s right…this has just turned into the same discussion we used to have every week over breakfast. I do have arguments for everything just said, but I have a feeling we’re not gonna settle this here… :-)

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