On­tario Tories still suf­fer­ing from iden­tity cri­sis

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - DAVID REEVELY dreevely@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/davidreevely

The On­tario Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives look as though they’ll fin­ish nearly two years of de­cid­ing what they stand for with­out much more idea than they had go­ing in.

Next month they’ll study 139 pol­icy res­o­lu­tions at a ma­jor con­ven­tion in Toronto, lay­ing ground­work for the 2018 elec­tion cam­paign. They re­leased the list Wed­nes­day night. They’re not pol­icy yet, and party pol­icy is not a cam­paign plat­form. The Tories started this at an Ottawa con­ven­tion in late win­ter 2016, where leader Pa­trick Brown promised one of the most mem­ber-driven pol­icy pro­cesses in his­tory.

It’s nor­mal for some res­o­lu­tions on such list to be po­lit­i­cally sui­ci­dal, con­tra­dic­tory, goofy or all of the above. But these res­o­lu­tions do give a sense of where a party’s col­lec­tive head is at, what virtues it wants to sig­nal.

In April, On­tario’s New Democrats looked at res­o­lu­tions to fight cli­mate change and re­move car­bon taxes from res­i­den­tial nat­u­ral gas and in­volve poor peo­ple in en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy and make it easy to sue fos­sil-fuel com­pa­nies and stand by the an­tip­ipeline protest in Stand­ing Rock in the United States, to re­move po­lice from gay pride pa­rades, and to ex­per­i­ment with “demo­cratic man­age­ment” in the civil ser­vice.

Res­o­lu­tions like these aren’t bind­ing: un­der Tim Hu­dak in 2014, the Tory plat­form was no­to­ri­ously di­vorced from the party’s pol­icy process and the Mil­lion Jobs Plan that was cen­tral to the cam­paign landed on can­di­dates and ac­tivists like a cin­der block. Brown has sworn up and down not to re­peat that.

So this list of res­o­lu­tions maybe mat­ters more than most. It’s not ideal that it’s more a list of vi­sion state­ments than a set of plans for how to achieve them.

For in­stance, one thing the Tories will still lack af­ter their pol­icy con­ven­tion is a cli­mat­e­change pol­icy. Brown is in favour of pric­ing car­bon pol­lu­tion through a rev­enue-neu­tral car­bon tax (a “per­ma­nent tax on every­thing,” as Con­ser­va­tives once called it), which he de­clared at the be­gin­ning of this whole process. That still leaves a lot of ques­tions.

What would the On­tario Tories tax? Would they fo­cus on industry or in­clude gaso­line and nat­u­ral gas? How much would the tax be? Enough to make a dif­fer­ence or just for show?

The list of res­o­lu­tions has zero ideas about any of this, prob­a­bly be­cause there’s no Tory con­sen­sus that cli­mate change is even a prob­lem. Any de­bate about what to do about it will be a don­ny­brook that ends with blood on the floor. Pos­si­bly Pa­trick Brown’s.

The list in­cludes a cou­ple of en­tirely neg­a­tive res­o­lu­tions. One would make it Tory pol­icy to dis­man­tle the cap-and-trade sys­tem the Lib­er­als have built, bail out of our agree­ments with Que­bec and Cal­i­for­nia, “can­cel the Lib­eral slush fund known as the Cli­mate Change Ac­tion Plan,” and do every­thing in the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment’s power to nul­lify the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s work on car­bon pric­ing.

An­other would “re­peal the Green En­ergy Act (more ap­pro­pri­ately known as the Bad Con­tracts Act),” be­cause when you’re for­mu­lat­ing a gov­ern­ing plan, above all don’t re­sist drive-by cheap shots.

There are pol­icy pro­pos­als about “im­prov(ing) the en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tory process so that it is less bur­den­some,” mak­ing it eas­ier for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to block re­new­able en­ergy projects, get­ting a ma­jor new high­way built in west Toronto, study­ing the bad things about wind­mills.

The clos­est thing to an un­am­bigu­ously pro-en­vi­ron­ment pol­icy is a vague one about pro­tect­ing the Great Lakes.

Also miss­ing: ideas to re­duce the price of elec­tric­ity, be­yond not sign­ing new gen­er­a­tion con­tracts and elim­i­nat­ing a charge for smart-me­ter equip­ment from hy­dro bills (which is less than $1 a month). They’ve been whal­ing on the Lib­er­als for this for years and have no so­lu­tions of their own.

Per­haps you’d like some in­sight into Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive health care pol­icy. “PC Party pol­icy is to en­sure bet­ter care for de­men­tia pa­tients.” Again with the vi­sion state­ments.

“PC Party pol­icy is to re­duce over­crowd­ing in our hospi­tals and elim­i­nate hall­way health care by pro­vid­ing On­tar­i­ans with pre­ven­tion pro­grams, more ef­fec­tive ac­cess to timely care and bet­ter use of our health care providers.” It might end up be­ing Tory pol­icy to cre­ate world-class men­tal health and home care sys­tems, too. How? Er ...

There’s noth­ing about pre­car­i­ous jobs, the “shar­ing econ­omy,” pen­sions and re­tire­ment.

Cli­mate change, elec­tric­ity prices, health care and the fu­ture of work are some of the cen­tral prob­lems any gov­ern­ment in On­tario will ei­ther have to tackle or make a con­scious de­ci­sion not to. A big messy pol­icy con­ven­tion should be the time to hash these things out, not in mid-cam­paign.

Con­ser­va­tives are sup­posed to be the tough but smart ones, the party of hard truths faced valiantly, in con­trast to the Lib­er­als’ well-mean­ing, loose-pursed in­com­pe­tence.

Time’s start­ing to run out here.

Pa­trick Brown

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