Taking care of business

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Time never stands still. The only constant in life is change. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. So many ways of thinking about things these days. All around the world, there’s a process of change with which we haven’t really come to terms yet. Some call it a move to the Right, others a move back to sanity. Whatever it is, the prevailing ideology that has characterised society since the 1960’s – a liberal, socially inclusive approach to issues such as class, wealth, equality and toleration – has been questioned more and more by those who believe society has only become more unfair, unequal and intolerant of dissent from those liberal views.

The rise of the Right in Europe, the triumph of nationalists in the U.K. in pushing through a plan for Brexit, and, most obviously, the rise of Donald Trump, has raised questions about what democracy means in a context where the majority, perhaps, no longer supports social assumptions and structures. As I say, some welcome this change, others fear for its implications.

We have our own fascinating version of this in Ontario since the election of the Ford government. There has been a determined effort by the Tories to market themselves as a new “brand” of politics. No press release or announcement is without the phrase “Government for the people”, and there is a clear intention to portray the government as the friend of the average person, the opposite of the intellectual elites, the outsiders who are challenging the Establishment and doing things differently.

This has expressed itself in the “return to basics” approach to education, the idea that oppressive red tape is being done away with and bureaucracy is being forced to loosen its grip on the lives of everyday Ontarians. Less regulation, less red tape, more emphasis on what is really important to “the people”. This may be a sincere and genuine move to open government and make it clear that Ontario is, to use that rather hackneyed phrase, Open for Business.

There is no doubt that many people like this direction, while others are upset that the accepted norms and social concepts are being questioned. The latter point to what they see as a backward shift in education, in an increasing lack of support for the arts, the CBC, libraries, etc. People question why the Interlibrary Loan Delivery Service is being cancelled, while the government is proudly announcing its new design for vehicle licence plates. Quietly, in the middle of all this rethinking and rejigging of the provincial government’s role in society, has come the news that the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) is being reviewed by the government. The Fund provides financial payments to municipalities in Ontario to help with operating and capital costs, and is an attempt to ease the burden of the many services downloaded to municipalities by the province.

Now, the government is claiming that these transfer payments are “key contributors to the province’s mounting debt”, which has now reached the astonishing level of a third of a trillion dollars in net debt. Vic Fedeli, Minister of Finance, stated that “will be looking to you, our municipal partners, to help us with the challenge that lies ahead as we look to drive efficiencies and value-for-money in all of our transfer payments, including the OMPF. While we all will be operating within a smaller funding envelope, we want to work with you to return the program to what it was initially intended to do: support the Northern and rural municipalities that need it the most.”

There is a deep and fundamental change taking place in our society, and part of that change might well be an increase in the tax burden we will have to carry if we want to continue enjoying basic service in our community. Municipalities like ours, and our neighbours in Merrickville-Wolford, are very concerned about what this could mean for our municipal budgets in the future. [See the article in the Merrickville-Wolford section]. We need to be aware of this. It is not a matter of which party you support.

There are at least two very different streams in the Ontario Conservatives these days: rather like the old Red Tories versus the Mike Harris sector. Representatives like our MPP, Steve Clark, have not been known as ideologues in the style of Rob Ford, and there must be some strain in that relationship, especially as Steve is Minister for Municipal Affairs, but it was Vic Fedeli who made the announcement about the OMPF.

Politics will be interesting, as we watch Ontario go from being “Yours To Discover”, to being just “Open for Business”.

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