Ford vs. Wynne—what’s the difference?

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Appeared in the Toronto Sun, March 14, 2018

Recently, Ontario politics has focused largely on personalities. And of course, personal characteristics matter. Voters have a responsibility to vet potential leaders and attempt to choose people of decency and integrity.

However, with the dust settled after the Ontario PC Party leadership race, and former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford’s candidacy confirmed, it’s worth pivoting away from personalities to think more deeply about governance. Specifically, we should ask what a Premier Ford’s policy approach would look like.

Premier Kathleen Wynne reacted to Ford’s victory by stating voters will face a “stark” choice come election day. However, it’s not clear if that is true.

As noted in this column space before, the Ontario PC platform prior to former leader Patrick Brown’s resignation reflected an approach to policy remarkably similar to the current Wynne government. On key issues such as the minimum wage, tax policy or the size of government, there were differences between the PCs and the Liberals—but you had to squint to see them.

So the question now becomes, will Ford (pictured above) offer an approach to government “starkly” different from the sitting government, as Premier Wynne predicts?

So far, the only sign this may happen is Ford’s often-repeated promise to scrap Wynne’s cap-and-trade program and not replace it with a carbon tax, as Brown planned to do. Ford’s promise to fight carbon-pricing in Ontario is indeed a stark difference from Premier Wynne’s approach. But he needs to flesh his policy out.

Currently, federal law requires all provinces to price carbon, and if they refuse, Ottawa can impose the tax on the province itself and return the revenue to the provincial government. In short, the federal rule tells the provinces “if you don’t impose a price, we will.”

Ford must a) explain why allowing the federal government to exercise this option is preferable to the status quo and Brown’s plan or b) explain exactly how he intends to fight against the federal law and why he thinks he will win. Simply assuming away the federal law is refusing to engage with reality.

Nevertheless, however Ford articulates his position on this issue, the issue of carbon-pricing alone is not enough to present a “stark” differentiation in overall policy approaches. If Ford intends to offer Ontarians a meaningful alternative, he must go beyond the now-defunct “People’s Guarantee” in several areas.

On tax policy, he could differentiate himself through tax reform aimed at making Ontario’s personal income tax system, with its punishing 53.5 per cent top rate, less burdensome and more competitive with peer jurisdictions.

He could also proceed with the corporate tax relief the Liberals promised years ago but never delivered. Lowering the corporate income tax from 11.5 per cent to 10 per cent (as the Liberals once promised) would boost Ontario’s attractiveness for investment and partially respond to the recent tax cuts in the United States, which are a clear competitive challenge to the province. And given that evidence shows corporate tax reductions significantly boost economic growth and wages, going further and reducing the rate to 8 per cent would be even better.

Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford has proven his gift for crafting effective slogans. Now it’s time for wannabe-premier Ford to go many steps further, layout a vision for governance, and show Ontarians how it will lead to a more prosperous Ontario.

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