Governing in the 21st Century: the Mike Harris Government and Lessons from Ontario
Publication
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 30 Mar 2000, p. 329-343
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Clement, The Hon. Tony, Speaker
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Text
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Speeches
Description
Headings used in this speech: Introduction; Changes Due to Common Sense Revolution; Future Policy Challenges; Reducing Role of Government; Increasing Choices for Individuals; Choices in Education; Choices in Health Care; Choices in the Environment; Role of Direct Democracy; Conclusion. Revolutionary change. The need for politics to change and public policy to change. Ontario public policy at a crossroads. The speaker's goal to provoke discussion and thought about what path Ontario should consider. Providing more choice for individuals in how they conduct their lives. Discussion continues under the headings as set out above. Concluding remarks recall Ontario at a crossroads. Putting Ontario back into the game through slaying the deficit dragon, cutting taxes to competitive levels and redesigning some basic elements of government to deliver services in a sustainable manner. Beginning the next phase. Looking to provide Ontarians with the tools to fashion the future for themselves, their families and their wider community. What political leaders need to do.
Date of Original
30 Mar 2000
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English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text

The Hon. Tony Clement Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing for the Government of Ontario GOVERNING IN THE 21ST CENTURY: THE MIKE HARRIS GOVERNMENT AND LESSONS FROM ONTARIO Chairman: Robert J. Dechert President, The Empire Club of Canada

Head Table Guests

John C. Koopman, Principal, Heidrick & Struggles and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Reverend Kim Beard, Rector, Christ Church, Brampton and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Sandra Rodrigues, Grade 12 Student, Bloor Collegiate Institute and Executive Member, Environment Club; John Ibbitson, Queen's Park Columnist, The Globe and Mail; Ron Daniels, Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto; Lynne Golding, Partner, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin and Spouse of The Hon. Tony Clement; David J. McFadden, QC, Partner, Smith Lyons and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Dr. Charles McMillan, Professor, International Business, York University; Kenneth Whyte, Editor-in-Chief, The National Post; Professor Robert Prichard, President, University of Toronto; and Geoffrey C. Mitchinson, Vice-President, Public Affairs, Glaxo Wellcome Inc.

Introduction by Robert J. Dechert

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a very special privilege for me to introduce The Honourable Tony Clement to you today.

It is special for me because I have had the privilege of knowing Tony Clement for close to 20 years-and for all of those years I have known him to be a person of prodigious intelligence, skill and integrity.

As an undergraduate student and law student at the University of Toronto, Tony combined his pursuit of knowledge with a leadership role in student politics. Even then he served his constituents-and took principled stands on important issues-often in the face of considerable pressure and competition from special interest groups with narrow interests.

Following his graduation from the Faculty of Law in 1986, Tony again blazed a trail by working in Central and Eastern Europe as a consultant to western companies and local governments seeking counsel on privatisation and economic restructuring.

Tony's leadership qualities were again demonstrated in his term as President of the PC Party of Ontario from 1990 to 1992 where he laid the organisational foundations for the Common Sense Revolution plan.

In 1992, he was appointed as the Assistant Principal Secretary to Mike Harris.

Tony was first elected as the Member of Provincial Parliament for Brampton South in June 1995. He was reelected in June 1999 to represent the new riding of Brampton West-Mississauga.

Once in government, Tony quickly assumed leadership roles including chairing the government's "who does what implementation committee" and taking responsibility for referendum legislation.

He served as Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier and was appointed as the Minister of Transportation in October of 1997. Following his reelection in June of 1999, he was appointed as the Minister of Environment.

Tony's tremendous abilities and enormous capacity were recognised by the Premier when he was given the additional responsibility of Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in October 1999. He continued to serve in these dual roles until earlier this month.

Tony's leadership talents have not been limited to Brampton West-Mississauga and the Province of Ontario. As you know Tony has taken a central role in the federal United Alternative process to ensure that Canadians will have a new federal government after the next election to bring common sense government to all Canadians.

Tony has continued his stalwart commitment to this cause as Copresident of the Canadian Alliance.

Tony is Chair of the Brampton Salvation Army Red Shield Appeal campaign.

He and Lynne have three children.

Community and political leaders such as Tony Clement are a rare commodity indeed. Ladies and gentlemen it gives me great pleasure to welcome The Honourable Tony Clement to the podium of The Empire Club of Canada.

Tony Clement

Introduction

To appear before the Empire Club is certainly an honour; many worthy people have preceded me, including more than a few parliamentarians. But, while we politicians come and go, more accurately rise and fall, the Empire Club never goes out of style: it is always a worthwhile forum for the free exchange of ideas, and for the advancement of solutions to the problems of the day.

Despite the loftiness of my predecessors at this platform, my goal is somewhat more limited. I feel a bit like Churchill's adversary, whom the great prime minister described as "a modest man-with much to be modest about!"

Yet, there is nothing modest about the times in which we live, and the degree of change that we all see in our working lives, our communities and our wider world. Hardly a day goes by without more evidence of change, of the new economy overtaking the old. We have dot-coms creating wireless wealth, side by side with revolutionary changes in the way in which we produce goods, extract resources and finance our enterprise.

All of this is happening so quickly that revolutionary change is now commonplace. To think that these changes, and the rate of change itself, would have no impact on public policy would be not only wrong but also dangerous. Politics must change as well, or practitioners of public policy will find that they will become irrelevant at best, hurtful to the broader public good at worst. Personally, I believe Ontario public policy is at a crossroads. With many of our fiscal challenges under control, political representatives must begin to think about the next set of initiatives that will both meet the hopes and aspirations of the citizenry and keep the virtuous circle of tax relief, productivity gains, innovation and wealth creation going. While it might be tempting for some to follow Yogi Berra's advice-"When you reach a fork in the road, take it!"-in reality we have no such luxuries.

That is why my goal today is to provoke discussion and thought about one path Ontario should consider. Specifically, how we can provide more choice for individuals in how they conduct their lives.

Changes Due to Common Sense Revolution

It has been almost six years since the creation and unveiling of Mike Harris's Common Sense Revolution. In this time, Ontario and our politics have changed irrevocably. In May of 1994 Ontario needed a bold and clear vision that would show the way to lower taxes, fewer barriers to growth, prudent fiscal management and welfare reform.

As a (younger) staffer in Mike Harris's office in the early 90s, I remember accompanying this leader of the third party from school gymnasium to town hall to church basement, as we learned together just how far out of touch the political and media elites were with the hopes and aspirations of Ontarians. The people knew that the tax-and-spend status quo was not working for them or their families. Only real change, at a fundamental level, could get the province back on track.

Mike Harris listened to what the people of Ontario had to say, and came up with a plan that was based on common sense. While the main priority of that plan was to get Ontario's fiscal house in order, it was also about decreasing government, making it work better, and being more accountable to the people.

Key elements included:

- Lower taxes to create jobs. Result: over 670,000 new jobs in under five years.

- Reduce government. Results: 21-per-cent reduction in the number of MPPs. Amalgamation of local governments, with 571 now as compared to 815 in 1995, resulting in almost 25-per-cent fewer municipal politicians.

- Cut red tape and bureaucracy to make it easier to do business in Ontario. Result: today, over 1,300 fewer regulations.

- And ultimately, a government that would do what it said it would do, and would not strive to be all things to all people.

I think it's fair to say this government has followed through on its commitments.

It has been over four years of difficult but necessary decisions. Interests wedded to the status quo objected often and loudly. But the results are in. Ontario is more competitive, more prosperous and more able to sustain both wealth creation and social investments. I'm proud to be a member of the Harris team that was able to accomplish all of this and more.

Future Policy Challenges

And today, in the early days of the new century, we continue to need that common-sense approach to government that we initiated in 1995.

It's just that now we need to develop policy options for the future, rather than concentrating on fixing the problems created in the past. We must move beyond undoing the damage of the tax-and-spend years to an entirely new phase: that of meeting tomorrow's challenges with the right mix of private prosperity and collective responsibility. That is all easy to say. But the real question that must be answered is: how do we get there?

I believe we must provide individuals with more choice about how they live their own lives and, in those areas where government will still ultimately make the decision, give people more direct participation.

Because today, people are finding it harder to achieve their goals. Important goals like independence from want, education and opportunity and well-being. All of these goals are important. But let me step back for a moment. These challenges, and more, have been around for a very long time, probably since the time wandering humanity decided to settle in communities. What strikes me about today is the growing feeling of alienation and frustration ordinary people feel in trying to make the right decisions to meet these challenges, and the growing lack of credibility that government has to contribute meaningful solutions. People do not believe, despite our unprecedented technology, our wealth, and our resources, that they can get to these goals exclusively through government initiative.

Let me state the other side of this coin. In an ideal world, people want to choose the solutions that will work for them. Don't get me wrong. Choice is all around us. We live in the cyberworld of unlimited information, megaplex cinemas and e-commerce sites with millions of selections at a keystroke. Yet, we also live in a world where banks are still struggling to cater to the small businessperson's entrepreneurial needs, and where consumer choices about everything from air travel to phone service does not always, shall I say, live up to choice and market competition ideals.

While my constituents are not marching on the streets about these examples, the frustration is real. The feeling of impotence is real. And it carries over to the lack of choice in important public services. I saw it with one of my constituents, whose 10-year-old child is getting a mediocre education compared to what she was receiving before moving to Canada. Surely she deserves better choices through a better education. I also have seen it with the convenience store owner, just down the road from my home, who sees in her store the sons and daughters of welfare dependents, and who worries about the cycle they seem destined to repeat. Surely they deserve better choices for the future, too.

People with more control over life's important decisions, with more ability to decide what is important for themselves and their families, generally are happier and more self-fulfilled. At its most basic level, choice encompasses financial independence, personal security, political freedom, personal fulfillment and wellness. It is crucially connected to any decent definition of a good life. We already know that choice in the marketplace brings prosperity. But the ability to make choices in public goods ultimately advances civil society and is the very hallmark of a properly functioning democracy.

Focusing on how to put even more choice into people's lives is a logical next step for Ontario conservatives, because choice was already a key element in our election campaign five years ago and in the plan we promoted. Indeed, in 1995 we offered the people of Ontario a real choice in the type of government they would receive.

Most importantly, we offered the choice of an economic policy that would provide tax cuts, allowing individuals to decide how to spend more of their own money.

Reducing Role of Government

How, then, can government create more choice in people's everyday lives? And how can the role that government plays in providing services be reduced? In essence, we must be looking for ways to restore government to its proper role and scope.

Over the last few decades, government has quietly assumed more and more responsibility-taken it away from the individual and indeed away from the community. This trend has had two dangerous effects. First, government taxes away earnings and savings and then misspends the money. Second, it destroys the innate ability of human beings to look after themselves and their families. By trying to do too much, governments have consistently undermined individual potential and created a dependency-a "government will take care of it" attitude.

I saw this in the extreme while working in Eastern Europe as a businessperson, as the communist regimes were crashing down under the weight of their own internal contradictions. The previous years had resulted in untold damage to the economic foundations of the countries in which I did business. But this economic damage was matched, indeed exceeded, by the psychological damage to the individual.

As the governments became less intrusive people had to learn how to make decisions for themselves again. They had to learn how to conduct business fairlyindeed how to conduct all manner of social relations in a civilised way-and how not to exploit one another. .

We in Ontario have luckily never been in such an extreme situation. But we have had governments over past decades that have believed that the best solution to every social problem is more government intervention. Their priorities were to tax and spend their way out of any problem and to establish another government agency or programme.

Do you know that right now, in Canada, there are more than 900 different government programmes that will provide grants and loans to businesses, spending $90 billion last year? Can all of this be necessary? In many cases, all we are doing is providing money to companies who are smart enough to access it, but don't really need it. Yet with this wasteful spending, governments are able to be more involved and more in control of the country's businesses, distorting competition in the marketplace in the process.

This increased involvement of government, in social services as well as business, has meant we have simultaneously been delivering shoddy services at great expense, while cutting out the great numbers of volunteers, churches, temples and charities that in the past provided many social services with great quality and little expense. Surely we can devise better, more inclusive solutions?

One option must be to consider how to encourage community organisations to provide more services. We need to make it easier for them to organise and ensure there is a minimum of red tape with which they have to deal. Perhaps we need to remove the tax disincentives for those who sponsor or support these types of organisations. And finally, we need to make these non-governmental organisations a valued part of Ontario and show them- and their volunteers that the work they do is respected. We've lost much of the volunteer spirit that used to exist in this province, and we have to find it again.

Another option, and a path Ontario has begun taking, is to implement further municipal reforms. While still involving a level of government, allowing local governments even more responsibility for local decisions and the choice to provide services in the best way for their communities will, by definition, make those choices more reflective of the community.

We will soon be taking the next step: to change the Municipal Act to give local governments more responsibility to make decisions without continually having to ask for permission from the provincial government. I am looking forward to spearheading this truly historic development.

Increasing Choices for Individuals

However, I want to see the principle of personal choice across a much wider spectrum of activities-in education, in health care, in so many areas where creativity and initiative can improve the lives of all Ontarians, especially the disadvantaged and the less well off.

Choices in Education

Consider the example of education. In the new world of the Internet and lifetime learning, the knowledge revolution is turning conventional wisdom on its head. We are all students now. A quarter of Ford's assembly line workers have university and graduate degrees. Farming is as much about science and genetics as it is about tilling the soil. Toyota invests up to 50 days training per employee per year. The U.S.A. alone has over 2,000 corporate universities to train the workers, develop new ideas, and learn from their operations in different parts of the world.

Many in Ontario have argued for increased choice in our education system. Whether more choice is helpful, or indeed is feasible, is an important discussion to have. Suffice to say that choice must work hand in hand with accountability in the system: accountability to the parent, to the student and to the taxpayer.

We are seeing the beginnings of accountability and choice with the new student-based funding formula and with the evolution of school councils into a workable forum for local school accountability. With fair and equal funding for students in the public system, and an expanded process of testing, all members of a community will be better able to measure how well a school is achieving its goals and whether it is taking steps to improve.

Parents across the province are becoming more involved in the education system, with school councils being an important recent addition. These councils have started to make a real difference in many schools.

Now they are asking for greater involvement and influence in important decisions, such as when a new principal is chosen for their school. Parents should have direct involvement in this process, and be directly involved in setting the tone for the whole school.

Many jurisdictions have gone further, and we should look to them to see what the different options are and what might work for us. For example, in parts of the United States, not only has student testing been introduced in certain grades, but high school exit examinations which students have to pass before graduation are being established.

Additionally, the U.S. is beginning a system of establishing standards and holding states and school districts accountable for progress, rewarding jurisdictions for good results. They are embracing a very simple formula: high standards, increased accountability and extra help so children who need it can reach those standards. Will these types of measures work for us? We won't know unless we at least start discussing alternatives.

For our colleges and universities, the old models of yesteryear no longer work in the new millennium. An exciting break in the post-secondary education monopoly that would give students more choice involves the opening of degree-granting status to qualified community college programmes and, indeed, to private university providers. I say free the students to demand meaningful accountability, and to be able to vote with their feet, their computers, and their pocketbooks.

For as long as programmes and institutions meet certain standards, increased choice for students wanting post-secondary education will be healthy for Ontario. It will create a greater number of more highly educated people able to play important roles in Ontario's economy.

Choices in Health Care

Of course, one cannot talk about increasing choices for individuals without mentioning the challenges in the health-care system. This is easily the most serious public policy issue we, and all other governments, are facing today. While to do it justice would mean another Empire Club speech, permit me to at least say this.

It is clear that people are looking for more health-care alternatives. But it is also very clear that the public will only support quality health care that is accessible to everyone.

Given that reality, I believe we must be looking for ways to increase choice within these parameters and judge, at least in part, any proposed reforms by the following questions.

First, do the reforms add choices for the consumer or do they diminish them?

Second, if the reforms merely seek to ration health care more efficiently, are the rationing decisions based upon the choices of consumers or are they merely the result of government or provider convenience?

An answer to the latter question was sought in Oregon by the refreshingly honest method of putting the proposed priorities of public health care on the ballot for the citizens to choose. Why not let the people ration, if rationing is the best that public delivery of health care can manage?

Choices in the Environment

And then, there is the environment. The market's historic inability to correctly value environmental sustainability has created the need for a governmental regulatory framework designed to protect the common good. But, even in this important area, must government intervention always be done in a way that excludes market solutions?

Most recently I, as then-Environment Minister, announced an emission reduction trading system as part of our initiative to improve air quality. This system rewards reductions in smog-causing emissions anywhere in Ontario's airshed by creating a tradable credit. It allows the market to decide, or choose, how it can best achieve the air quality targets set by government, rather than being told how to do it. We need to continue to look for ways for the market to produce better environmental solutions, while severely punishing polluters who break the rules.

Role of Direct Democracy

These examples illustrate that there is ample opportunity to allow for individual choices in areas where government previously would dictate. But, is there a way to ensure that collective decisions by government are also more accountable and connected with citizens' hopes and aspirations? In other words, can the government monopoly of decision making be broken?

The answer must be that there can be a role for increased direct democracy-allowing all citizens direct input into key decisions.

As many of you may know, I have been a supporter of more direct democracy for many years. In 1998, I spearheaded an initiative to allow the citizens of Ontario a greater role in their government's decisions. During the province-wide consultations, it became clear that many people did want greater accountability, and that the judicious use of referendums had widespread acceptance.

The Harris government has made a good start in this direction with the recently enacted Taxpayer Protection Act. With it in place, there can be no new taxes, or increases in current taxes, without the approval of the voters in a referendum. Mike Harris has also committed to referendums in a number of other areas that could have a direct influence on individuals' lives, such as meaningful changes to the Constitution of Canada, or the introduction of any new Vegas-style casinos outside the current host-cities.

The next step in creating meaningful choice would be to advance referendums by allowing citizens' initiatives. After thresholds are reached in petitions, citizens could initiate a referendum question, and results, fairly arrived at, would be binding on the government.

Citizens' initiatives have been employed by Switzerland for centuries and in many U.S. states for decades. Still, this type of meagre advance in individual choice is fiercely resisted by many political elites on the grounds that-gasp!-people might decide things the wrong way, or for the wrong reasons.

While this complaint is, by extension, hostile to general elections as well, it also ignores most modern experiences with citizen initiatives. Usually, citizens have been far more thoughtful than politicians give them credit for and have generally used the referendum powers more sensibly than many legislatures use their legislative powers. Direct democracy is a powerful tool for choice and accountability whose time has come in Ontario and in Canada.

Conclusion

Let me conclude by repeating that Ontario is at a crossroads. After slaying the deficit dragon, cutting taxes to competitive levels and redesigning some basic elements of government to deliver services in a sustainable manner, we have managed merely to put Ontario back into the game.

The next phase must now begin and, perhaps, it will never end. Indeed, the challenges may never have been greater, but the possibilities were never more clear. And, with the decisive leadership that Mike Harris has provided in the past and offers for the future, Ontarians can approach the challenges with confidence. But, we must all look to provide 4ntarians with the tools to fashion the future for themselves, their families and their wider community.

Political leaders need to be taking steps that will generate a debate in the province about how we can best tackle many of these issues. This is not meant to be a partisan debate, but rather a discussion about how we can best provide choices to people to ensure their hopes and aspirations are met.

I believe we need to return to those school gymnasiums, town halls and church basements and keep listening to what people have to say about how we can make government more responsible and how to provide them with choices that count.

As part of the Mike Harris team, I relish this challenge and the opportunity it represents.

Thank you.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by David J. McFadden, Q.C., Partner, Smith Lyons and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

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Governing in the 21st Century: the Mike Harris Government and Lessons from Ontario


Headings used in this speech: Introduction; Changes Due to Common Sense Revolution; Future Policy Challenges; Reducing Role of Government; Increasing Choices for Individuals; Choices in Education; Choices in Health Care; Choices in the Environment; Role of Direct Democracy; Conclusion. Revolutionary change. The need for politics to change and public policy to change. Ontario public policy at a crossroads. The speaker's goal to provoke discussion and thought about what path Ontario should consider. Providing more choice for individuals in how they conduct their lives. Discussion continues under the headings as set out above. Concluding remarks recall Ontario at a crossroads. Putting Ontario back into the game through slaying the deficit dragon, cutting taxes to competitive levels and redesigning some basic elements of government to deliver services in a sustainable manner. Beginning the next phase. Looking to provide Ontarians with the tools to fashion the future for themselves, their families and their wider community. What political leaders need to do.