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Ontario Votes 2003

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Election Day: Oct. 2, 2003   

Isn't that special...
by Don Wanagas - Sept. 5, 2003

When Premier Ernie Eves called Ontarians to the polls this week, he said voters would have a clear choice when they cast their ballots on Oct. 2: They can stick with him and a Progressive Conservative government that has worked hard the past eight years to protect people's interests. Or they can throw in their lots with free-spending Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty and "his special interest friends."

"You see, Dalton McGuinty doesn't share your beliefs, the beliefs of so many Ontarians," Eves said. "His choices are not your choices.

"He's against tax cuts," the premier said of a political rival whose party led the Tories by about 15 percentage points in public opinion polls when the election was called Tuesday.

"He's against income tax cuts. He's against property tax cuts for seniors. He's against every reform we've made to improve the education system in this province."

And so on, and so on, and so on.

How much electoral mileage Eves can get from his repeated personal attacks on the Grit boss remains to be seen. But the strategy is already wearing thin with many members of the premier's own party who argue it is the premier who is seen to be appealing to so-called "special interests" in a last gasp bid keep his grip on power.

"I don't like what's happening," said a prominent Toronto Tory, who has long had the ear of Conservative policy makers at Queen's Park. "I think all of this pandering to the squeaky wheels out there is going to backfire over the course of the campaign, because the premier is already seen to be doing what he accuses the opposition of doing."

In short order, this well-placed insider sites the $500-million private school tax credit and a property-tax rebate for seniors as scornful ploys to buy votes at a heavy cost to the public purse.

"The private school tax credit is clearly a desperate attempt to reel in a small vocal minority," this widely respected political operator insisted. "And, sure, seniors are no longer seeing the direct benefits of the money they contribute to the education system. But, by the same token, younger taxpayers are paying into a health-care system that elderly citizens make greater use of. There's a balance there now that this plan will upset."

McGuinty has already made it clear a Liberal government will deep-six both of the aforementioned proposals because they're unaffordable. Ditto for the premier's $700-million mortgage interest deductibility proposal.

"I'm rejecting cynical, superficial gimmicks that are being dangled before the people of Ontario by Ernie Eves," the Liberal leader said.

It would seem some Tories are quietly applauding him. And these same people are likely among the crowd who are wondering why the premier has been busy wading into sensitive issues over which the provincial government has no real jurisdiction, such as same-sex marriage, capital punishment and immigration.

During a tour of rural southwestern Ontario on Wednesday, Eves made it known that he supports the death penalty for "certain premeditated crimes" against children and law enforcement officers.

"The presiding judge and/or jury should have the ability to prescribe the death penalty when they see fit," he said. The premier's position was in sharp contrast to that of his predecessor, Mike Harris, who opposed capital punishment.

In many quarters (including some in his own party), it is seen as "another sign of desperation" that Eves – who sold himself as "a fiscal Conservative with a social conscience" to win the Tory leadership – now seems to be trying to move even further to the right than Harris. Last month, in a lead up to his election call, the premier responded to a provincial court ruling that legitimized same-sex nuptials by stating his personal opinion that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Meanwhile, Eves has been coming under increasing fire over a "made-in-Ontario" immigration system that was highlighted as something else McGuinty would oppose when the election writ was issued.

According to the Tory policy manual, the new provincial system would keep "criminal elements and potential terrorists out of the country."

As the premier predicted, the Liberal leader was quick to condemn the proposal as one that borders on racism, and an attempt to turn immigrants into "scapegoats" and "political punching bags."

There must be a special interest in there somewhere.



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