Opinion

Ontario's election is the cruellest game of 'Would you rather?' imaginable: Robyn Urback

The PCs were supposed to offer a common-sense alternative to the fairy-tale promises of the Liberals and New Democrats. But instead of fiscal conservatism, Doug Ford is running on a platform of populist nonsense.

Would you rather vote for the incompetent incumbent, the profligate wildcard, or the fake fiscal conservative?

The PCs were supposed to offer a common-sense alternative to the fairy-tale promises of the Liberals and New Democrats. But instead of fiscal conservatism, Doug Ford is running on a platform of populist nonsense. (Olivier Plante/CBC)

There's a party game called "Would you rather?" that forces participants to choose between two equally undesirable, ridiculous options:

Would you rather walk around with wet socks for the rest of your life or sweat out mayonnaise?

Would you rather have every song turn into a Hanson song halfway through, or not be able to tell the difference between a muffin and a baby?

Would you rather get punched in the face three times by Mike Tyson, or have to walk around with his face tattoo for a year?

It's a silly little game designed to break the ice and get people talking, and yet I can't help feeling like Ontario's election is the cruellest real-life version of "Would you rather?" imaginable.

Blank-cheque platforms

The options before Ontarians are three candidates running on blank-cheque platforms. The NDP and the Liberals are making massive spending promises financed by more borrowing, and the PCs are making massive spending promises financed by "finding efficiencies," which — absent further explanation, which the party has repeatedly declined to provide — everyone should understand to mean "more borrowing."

No candidate has been courageous enough to speak to the province's economic reality, instead doubling down on an unsustainable financial course for the sake of an easy-to-sell platform.

Many of us have come to expect that from the Liberals, who infamously spent more than $1 billion to scrap two gas plants and save a handful of seats in 2011, and who just might buy you that patio set you've been eyeing if you promise them your vote in June. We should also expect it from the NDP, who at least come by their nonchalance to the province's crippling debt honestly, as opposed to the Liberals with their charade of pretending to achieve balance for a year then abandoning it the next.

Ford, too, has decided to offer a platform based on make-believe. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

If there was a candidate who was going to at least pay heed to the fact that "I'll give you everything" is not a viable campaign promise, you'd think it would be the guy from the purportedly right-of-centre party. But instead, Doug Ford has also decided to offer a fairy-tale platform, making all sorts of expensive promises and pretending he has a way to pay for them.

Among them: $5 billion in new funds for subway construction; a 12 per cent reduction in hydro bills (estimated to cost the treasury $800 million); scrapping cap and trade (which brought in $1.9 billion in its first full year); middle-income and corporate tax cuts ($2.3 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively); and, as of Wednesday, ten cents a litre off the price of gas at the pump, which he will pay for, he says, by finding "efficiencies." Ford refuses to go into more detail, the PCs still haven't released a costed platform, and they won't confirm if they will do so before June 7.

This is not fiscal conservatism. This is populist stupidity.

Ford's other promises align with this nonsensical philosophy. He said this week he will maintain Ontario's new rent control measures imposed by the Liberal government, despite the fact rent control is one of the few issues on which most economists agree: it's a bad idea.

He has also said he will order an outside audit of Ontario's books, despite the fact we have an auditor general whose last annual report included 14 value-for-money audits. In other words, it's a promise to eliminate duplication and waste by wasting money on duplicating the work of the auditor general.

At this point, I'm sure some readers will question why I'm being so hard on Ford in particular, but the answer is simple (and goes far beyond the fact that I've already wasted too many hours decrying Liberal tactics): Ford is the one new face — the change candidate — but he's campaigning on the same sort of unsustainable spending promises.

Ontario politics analyst Robert Fisher speaks with CBC's Michael Serapio about week one of the provincial election campaign 7:35

The party's defenders will insist that Ford has to make these ridiculous promises in order to stay viable. Ontarians don't like to hear about cuts, after all, as former PC leader Tim Hudak well knows. That's certainly true, to an extent. But there are also many Ontarians who just want someone with a reasonably sensible, quasi-realistic and even marginally prudent platform for whom to vote.

Surely the many smart minds in the Tory war room can figure out a way to sell sober, costed campaign promises without announcing mass layoffs.

Or not. Perhaps this really is the best way for Ford to maintain his position in the polls: suspend any belief in responsible fiscal management and promise anything and everything that might sound good to a potential voter.

But for a voter who considers the thought of another four years of Liberal governance unconscionable — and who just can't vote for the NDP, a party that will plunge us even deeper into debt — that creates an impossible dilemma:

Would you rather vote for the incompetent incumbent, the profligate wildcard, or the fake conservative who refuses to show his work?

Honestly, I think I'd rather sweat mayonnaise.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Robyn Urback

Columnist

Robyn Urback is an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at:

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