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Results win the votes, not intent

Dalton McGuinty is a genuinely nice man – the Pat Boone of politics. Dean Martin’s quip about the evangelical singer – that when you shake his hand, your entire right side sobers up – could equally be applied to Ontario’s premier.

He is also a man of good intentions – he genuinely believes in the power of government as a force for good.

Unfortunately for him, voters tend to judge their leaders by results, rather than intentions.

The Liberal leader believes his tax credit for businesses that give skilled new Canadians work experience will improve the ratio of foreign educated immigrants gaining Ontario certification (currently only one in four work in the field in which they trained).

Mr. McGuinty also has a vision for Ontario, where the province replicates its success as North America’s biggest auto producer by becoming the continent’s largest manufacturer of renewable energy equipment. In the McGuinty universe, this is achieved not by market forces but by government fiat. The problem is things don’t happen just because politicians want them to – ask Michael Ignatieff, who wanted to become prime minister.

Both Liberal policies are well-intentioned but are not proving to be vote-winners. On the tax credit, Tim Hudak, the Progressive Conservative leader, has been shameless in his repeated reference to “foreign workers” who will come over here and steal our jobs. In fact, the credit will be available only to Canadian citizens. But there’s no doubt it is an affirmative action program that will distort the labour market, making a nonsense of Mr. McGuinty’s defence that “a Canadian citizen is a Canadian citizen is a Canadian citizen.” Clearly, some Canadian citizens are more equal than others. The PCs must be getting a good response to their “foreign workers” line, or they’d have dropped it by now. It’s apparent Mr. McGuinty is uncomfortable whenever he is forced to defend the program. “We have all kinds of different programs to meet the needs of all kinds of citizens,” he said Thursday.

The tax credit snafu may not have the legs to influence the outcome of the election but the green energy file almost certainly does.

The Liberal leader was at the University of Western Ontario Thursday to announce that Samsung Renewable Energy plans to build a new manufacturing plant in London that will employ 200 people to make solar modules. This is the fourth plant Samsung has announced as part of its $7-billion agreement with the Ontario government that will allegedly create 16,000 jobs. In return, the government has signed 20-year supply contracts that guarantee it will buy renewable energy from Samsung at generous rates.

Both the Tories and NDP have said they will cancel a sweetheart deal that was signed without a competitive process, but that sounds like bluster. The lawyers are probably touring the Porsche lots already, as they contemplate the lengthy litigation that would follow the unilateral cancellation of a legally binding contract. The remoteness of the prospect didn’t stop Mr. McGuinty from raising it in London. “I invite Mr. Hudak to come to London … meet the workers, shake their hands, look them in the eyes and tell them he is going to kill their jobs, kill their future,” he said.

The Green Energy Act sounds wholesome – who could object to more wind and solar energy, the golden retriever puppies of power generation? The answer is, just about everyone, bar the most ardent of environmentalists. For one thing, renewables account for less than 5% of Ontario Power Generation’s production and when the wind doesn’t blow, or sun doesn’t shine, the grid relies on greenhouse gas-producing natural gas for back-up. The province has shut down 7,500 MW of coal-generated power but added 6,500 MW of natural gas-fired production, which means the environmental benefits are not all the Liberals crack them up to be.

But by far the biggest objection of most Ontario voters has been the cost. When Mr. McGuinty was elected in 2003, electricity cost 4.3¢ per kilowatt hour; it’s currently around 10.7¢ kw/h at peak hours and is set to rise to 14-15¢ in the next few years, largely because of the politically motivated mix of green energy and gas. Under the Liberals’ green energy plan, the system operator is obliged to buy wind and solar (which costs 44-80¢ per kw/h) before it can purchase cheaper power. The Samsung announcement in London proves real jobs are being created by the Green Energy Act – although the Tories say it’s nowhere near the 20,000 claimed by the Liberals – but at what cost?

A Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters study suggested residential monthly hydro bills will rise from $141 this year to $191 in four years time. That’s a lot of money to siphon from an already stuttering economy. Centuries of disastrous government interventionism suggest Thomas Jefferson had it right when he said that, were it left to Washington to dictate when to sow and when to reap, the people would soon be short of bread. Mr. McGuinty may only be acting on good intentions but they may pave his exit route from government.