Mississauga votes came at a heavy price

By Pat Watson Wednesday July 25 2012 in Opinion
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Suppose you had to make a $180-million decision, one that would buy you the favour of a relatively small group but at a cost to a much larger one.


If you are not a politician it may be hard to accept the $180-$190-million in penalties that reportedly has to be paid for breaking the contract to build a gas power plant in Mississauga – an action taken by the Ontario Liberals to win votes as they campaigned to stay in power for a third mandate. The Liberals agreed to stop construction of the plant in Mississauga after residents near the construction made it known they did not want it there.


A similar cancellation of construction of a gas-fired generating station in Oakville that came after citizen protests is also expected to incur high cancellation penalties.


The province’s finance minister, Dwight Duncan, offers assurances that the cost will be borne by Ontario taxpayers and not hydro ratepayers.


The whole episode invites a number of questions and observations.


One question is why the government of the day would make a decision that was not welcomed by area residents who were against the plant in the first place. The people in Mississauga whose homes are near the proposed plant felt they would have been negatively affected; yet construction was already underway when the stop order went out from the Liberals.


When a party is in power it tends to move forward with its agenda, sometimes against the wishes of constituents, in this case the construction of gas power plants. The Liberals went against the expressed sentiments of a group of ‘taxpayers’ until the election was called and they became ‘voters’.


So here’s an observation: When you’re not voting and when political parties are not campaigning but are in power, you and I don’t get as much say. But come election time you can use your vote to make some headway.


Another observation is that all of us end up paying for the special interests of a few. The rejection by residents of these plants near their homes in Mississauga and Oakville will cost everyone else in Ontario while politicians do whatever they can to stay in power.


That is always the case as tax dollars go to cover all manner of services. In the aggregate it all serves the public good. But when we are on the hook to pay a penalty, the warm fuzzy feeling for the public good is distinctly absent.


Yet another observation is that politicians will play with words to distract or confuse. Perhaps, for example, the finance minister could elucidate on the real world difference between a taxpayer and a hydro ratepayer?


In all this is evidence that politicians will gamble to stay in power at any cost, even when farther down the road there will be anger at what they are doing to save themselves using public money.


Here’s a prediction that could be a year or four years in the making – depending on whether the Liberals manage to survive confidence votes before the next scheduled election or whether they win the by-election up for grabs in Conservative Elizabeth Witmer’s former Kitchener-Waterloo riding – one of the other two parties at Queen’s Park, the New Democrats or the Progressive Conservatives, will form the next government in Ontario.


But here’s a certainty, regardless of which one takes over, we will still be vexed by decisions they make to hold onto power and the decisions they make while in power.


The rest of us are left to wonder what becomes of the ideals and principles a person carries with him or her into politics.


The taste of power, ego, the system – they all blend together to alter the internal landscape of the person who went in just to ‘serve the people’. And it always ends up costing the rest of us, whether it’s to prop up banks and private companies that are ‘too big to fail’ (such a catchy phrase) or to pay penalties in the millions of dollars to cancel projects that are unpopular with particular groups of voters.


A note on problem solving…


What will be the Canadian-made solution to racism and poverty that is at the root of gang violence? When we hear imported catch phrases such as ‘tough on crime’ and ‘hug-a-thug’, we despair for our vulnerable youth. America’s gang problem is not ours. We need to find our own solutions.


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