Political Lessons in Lesser Evils

I, like many others have no interest in participating in a façade. However, when it comes to politics, facades are often the rule, not the exception. But that’s exactly what Premier Dalton McGuinty created last week.

The Premier spent months assuring Ontarians there was no need for a mandatory wage freeze for the broader public service, including teachers. He even went so far as to suggest it would be illegal and unconstitutional.

But as the summer came to a close, Dalton’s priorities changed. As students prepared to head back to school, the Premier announced that by-elections for the ridings of Vaughan and Kitchener-Waterloo would take place the first week back.

And then came his crisis.

The ‘Education Premier’ warned that the teachers and their unions were preparing to disrupt the school year by refusing to collectively bargain. Thus the Premier acted accordingly and recalled an emergency session of the Ontario Legislature to implement a legislated wage freeze for teachers. We all want kids back in school after all.

The legislation was drafted, the press conferences were held and the burgeoning crisis would be avoided.

If this burgeoning crisis were so real, why have teachers’ unions – the same ones that elected McGuinty - stated publicly since the spring that they would not disrupt the school year?

Evidently this invented crisis was so important and so real that we had to address other bills first. Instead of using the return of the spring session to pass the Putting Students First Act like McGuinty gave as the reason for the recall of the Legislature, we have used time to debate three other Government Bills, one Government motion and six private members bills and motions.

These included a so-called “development fund” for south-western Ontario, a tax credit for seniors - both of which passed committee in the spring and should be law by now - and a meaningless motion on all-day kindergarten; a program which is already in law.

In politics, we often have to choose between the lesser of two evils. Doing it under the façade of a crisis is in particularly poor taste.

The first of the evils would be to support his so-called ‘wage freeze’ and place some measure of frugality on the public purse. In doing so we strip our local school boards and principals of their authority over how our schools operate, and in turn, directly affecting how our children are taught and what teachers are hired.

Opposing the legislation is the second evil. By voting against the legislation we would be respecting our local school boards and the role of principals, parents and students. Nevertheless, it comes at the cost of increasing the financial debt and deficit for the province.

Legislators are being forced to choose fiscal restraint or local, decentralized democracy but not both. Under the Premier’s zero sum game, democracy and fiscal restraint are mutually exclusive.

We know that Ontario’s fiscal situation is disastrous. We know there never really was a teacher crisis. We know that choosing an evil is bad no matter which way you look at it.

Is it cynicism or objectivity to believe that the Premier made this fake crisis with a false solution in mind?

Is there any wonder why people become disillusioned with politics or is it more of a surprise that 49% of people still found value voting in Ontario’s last election.