Austerity is the Real Story at the OLP LDR Convention

Ontario Liberal Party Leadership 2013

Eric Hoskins | Gerard Kennedy Sandra Pupatello | Charles Sousa | Harinder Takhar | Kathleen Wynne

Slush filled sidewalks are tough enough to traverse first thing in the morning. They’re even more difficult when protesters form a narrow gauntlet to the entrance of Maple Leaf Gardens.

Omar Ha-Redeye speaking to protester1

Omar Ha-Redeye speaks to protesters.

Omar Ha-Redeye speaking to protester2

Omar Ha-Redeye speaks to protesters.

Teachers are in full force today, despite the cold and the snow. They’re protesting Bill 115, which unilaterally cut pay and benefits for some Ontario teachers. Meaningful collective bargaining, the protesters claim, have not been achieved in this process.

But Bill 115 has been repealed. Leadership candidates have indicated they’re willing to sit at the negotiation table. So why are the protesters still here at the convention?

They’ve lost trust in the process, they say. They don’t trust the government to deal with them in a fair manner. Some are obviously partisan, and would only consider an NDP government. But others here are more principled and identify the issues, not the party as the problem.

The Liberal measures obviously come from financial pressures. Nobody wants to penalize teachers or hurt our education system. In fact Premier McGuinty prided himself on the support of teachers for him, and conversely his emphasis of the education system as a priority. But these are tough times.

The financial crisis though, it should be remembered, did not originate in Ontario. It was a product of subprime mortgages and deregulation of derivatives in the U.S. markets, creating global instability. Canada sheltered this storm better than most because we keep a closer eye on our markets.

What the financial crisis also resulted in was the decline of the Friedman / Chicago School of Economics. The markets do not necessarily correct themselves, and do require governmental intervention. Failure to do so results in greater income inequality, societal instability, and implications well outside state borders.

The alternative has been a return to Keynesian economic theory, requiring active public intervention to correct for variations caused by the private sector. This mixed economy approach actually requires more governmental spending during recessionary periods, and less during surpluses. The rationale is that the economy requires greater public support when it is failing. And one of the biggest investments we can make is in our education system, for the next generation.

Fiscal responsibility is a bedrock of good governance. We don’t want to burden our future generations with the debt of our government’s excesses. “Our generation must be a generation of givers, not takers,” said David Peterson today at the convention.

But we also don’t want to burden the next generation with implications of a substandard or inferior education. That is absolutely the worst economic decision we can make.

Whoever ends up winning the Ontario Liberal Party leadership let’s hope they make these very difficult decisions in conjunction and cooperation with our teachers, who work so hard to ensure our children receive one of the best educations in the world. A quality education is realistically priceless, but there must be ways we can find to efficiently manage the costs within education as well. This is not as simple as just slashing funding, and may require innovative ideas and management strategies to make our great education system even better.

If we’re able to do that we may just be able to bring these protesting teachers into the building as party members next time we have an Ontario Liberal Party convention.