Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Expelling Toronto from Ontario: What Passes for a Progressive Conservative Solution to Rural Issues in Ontario

The Toronto Star reports that Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Bill Murdoch’s recent suggestion that the City of Toronto secede from Ontario and become its own Province. Murdoch suggests this because he believes that the rest of Ontario would be better off without Toronto, citing a "Toronto-centric" bias in provincial decision making which he believes is negatively impacting issues important to Rural Ontario. Of course, he doesn’t mention that getting rid of all of those red and orange MPP’s Toronto typically sends to Queens Park would greatly assist his bunch of blues in forming government.

Taking Toronto out of Ontario makes about as much sense as suggesting that providing family planning and contraception to women living in poverty won’t help save lives. Oh, wait a moment. That was some other Conservative nob.

Does Murdoch really believe that this sort of nonsense represents a viable solution for addressing rural issues in this province? Is this his answer, the best that he can come up with? Let’s get rid of Toronto and everything will be all right?

Through the use of Murdoch’s logic, if you remove Toronto from the decision-making equation, presto-change-o, the rest of the Province can convince itself that Toronto doesn’t exist and get on with its own, more important business.

Look, I know first hand that there are tensions within the provincial system based on geography. It’s hard not to appreciate those dynamics as a Northern Ontarian. But wanting to expel the main economic engine of our Province, the heartland to our hinterland, just so that there can be more of a focus on rural issues? Sounds to me like a bone-headed desire to try to take the "easy way out", rather than working within the existing structure for the betterment of all. Of course, that’s also the Conservative way: they’ll always try to do what’s best for their core constituents, and screw anybody else who might stand in their way. If others benefit as a result, well, great, but it was purely happenstance. Or a vote-buying exercise.

In the case of expelling Toronto from Ontario, others will not benefit. Due to Murdoch’s idiotic musing the other day, we’ve already seen all sorts of numbers being bandied about with regards to how much Toronto contributes to the Province (and to the feds) in terms of real dollars, and how little it gets back. I’m not going to explore those numbers, because they are quite volatile and dependent on who put them together (and for what reason), but most agree that Toronto is a net contributor to provincial wealth. So Murdoch wants to go and open up the Constitution of Canada in order to...impoverish the rest of the province? I guess he’s not yet satisfied with Ontario’s "have-not" status within confederation, and would like to see us plunge even further down that list.

Of course, it’s no real secret that Murdoch is musing out loud here in an attempt to gain political points in his riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound. Murdoch, who was thrown out of Queen’s Park during the last session of provincial parliament, along with fellow Conservative (I just can’t bring myself to refer to him as a "Progressive" Conservative) Randy Hillier, over their contempt for parliament’s democratic processes, needs to start raising his profile again before the 2011 election. Greens will recall that it was GPO candidate Shane Jolley who gave Murdoch a run for his money in 2007, and no doubt Murdoch believes that he’ll face stiff competition from the provincial Greens again, who appear to be shifting somewhat to the right politically, potentially undercutting his support.

Bashing Toronto makes sense just about everywhere in Canada, if the goal is to gain political points. It’s easy, it doesn’t cost anything, and it can get your name in the papers as Murdoch has shown. Heck, Toronto-bashing is almost considered a national past-time, part of our Canadian identity. Despite the bit of fun we might have in poking Toronto in the eye, everyone knows that Murdoch’s "big idea" isn’t going to go anywhere. What should be a non-issue, or joke-issue at best, provides a great deal of personal publicity for the maverick Murdoch, who clearly subscribes to Oscar Wilde’s assertion that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

Murdoch is popular in BGOS. He embodies the kind of no-nonsense, speak your mind attitude that appeals to many of his rural constituents, who no doubt share his views that Toronto-centrism has negatively impacted their rural way of life. Many in BGOS might also go so far as to suggest that they would be better off without Toronto in Ontario, until they stop and think about how our rural and urban economies are inextricably linked to one another.

Really, though, Murdoch represents nothing but populist clap-trap. He knows full well that Toronto won’t be leaving the province any time soon, given the Constitutional amendment that would be required, yet he puts this "idea" (a term I use loosely here) forward to the people as a solution to the needs of Rural Ontario.

Far better solutions for many of the issues facing Rural Ontario are offered by the Green Party, Murdoch’s chief competition in BGOS. Greens want to ensure that family farmers have all of the resources they need to carry out their jobs while earning a healthy living. Greens acknowledge that an agricultural lifestyle has been a very difficult one to sustain, despite its preeminent importance to all Ontarians. Greens have come up with many solutions for the betterment of Rural Ontario, in which they’ve actually invested a lot of time and critical thinking, unlike Murdoch and his asinine proposal.

No doubt, Murdoch, Hillier and other Conservatives will continue to appeal to Rural Ontarians, many of whom do feel threatened by the changes we all we have to face up to very soon, due to climate change, peak oil, and global recession. Policies of Liberals, Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats which favour the factory farm over the family farm, haven’t helped instill a lot of confidence that governments are looking out for the interests of rural communities. I sincerely hope that rural voters explore the excellent policies of the Green Party and vote to send Greens to Queens Park in the next election. Green representation from Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound will be of significant benefit to rural residents, and not just because they’d be getting ridding of Bill Murdoch in process.

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