“Please don’t tell my mother I’m in politics. She thinks I’m still playing piano in a bordello.” – late Nova Scotia Senator Finlay MacDonald
Politicians, as a whole, do not rank high in the public’s esteem. Most polls bury them toward the bottom, perhaps a rung or two above bill collectors and telemarketers.
The chief rap against politicians is that they say one thing and do another, that they make promises and do not keep them.
In the vast majority of cases, however, that’s a bum rap. In my experience with politicians of all stripes, I’d say that 90-plus per cent of them are decent, honourable, well-motivated men and women who conscientiously do their best to serve the people who elect them. Whether their best is good enough is another issue entirely.
There can be legitimate reasons for politicians not to keep promises they have made in good faith. Changed circumstances – local, provincial, national or, these days, trans-border – may render a promise or policy unrealistic. New information that was not previously available may emerge to cause a prudent political practitioner to reconsider.
If the public understands such reasons, there’s a chance it will forgive.
It is the opportunistic politician – who makes promises with the sole aim of winning an election and who makes them with no intention of honouring them after the votes are counted – who gives the profession a dirty name.
We have one of those hypocritical opportunists in Ontario. His name is Doug Ford.
Let’s consider just one example. It’s the preservation of the Greenbelt, that broad swath of protected agricultural and forested land, lakes and rivers – two-million acres in all – that sweeps around the Greater Toronto Area. It was established by previous Liberal provincial governments as a means to contain urban sprawl by fending off developers who would like nothing better than to tear down trees and pave farmland for new subdivisions, condos, shopping centres, access roads and, inevitably, Joni Mitchell’s dreaded parking lots.
Ford is the Progressive Conservative leader who was caught on video in an unguarded moment earlier this year speculating about opening the Greenbelt for development. The reaction was so furious that he beat a hasty retreat. His party’s platform for last June’s provincial election specifically promised to “protect the Greenbelt in its entirely.”
That was then – when Ford was an opposition party leader; this is now – when he is premier and is enthusiastically implementing his true agenda: anti-green and pro-business.
Last week, his government introduced Bill 66, known as “Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act.” Among its targets is the “Greenbelt Act.” Bill 66 would allow municipalities to circumvent Greenbelt protections by enacting “open for business” bylaws under which they could approve factories and business parks within the Greenbelt. Smaller municipalities (under 250,000) would simply need to show the Ford government that their Greenbelt development would create 50 jobs. For larger cities, the requirement would be 100 jobs.
Related measures in Bill 66 would impower municipalities to exempt developers from rules designed to protect wildlife and municipal water supplies, including the Clean Water Act, which was enacted following the Walkerton water tragedy in 2000 when seven people died after drinking the town’s contaminated water.
With the Ontario Legislature in recess until February, there is time for opposition to Bill 66 to gather. Whether it would deter Ford is doubtful. He regards Bill 66 is an essential means to reduce red tape as he promotes his Open for Business agenda.
He has a majority at his beck and call in the Legislature. The Conservative caucus shows no inclination to challenge him on anything. In the end, he will get his way with the Greenbelt, even though he is doing precisely what he promised he would not do.
Is it any wonder so many people don’t trust their politicians? The ones who deliberately break faith with the electorate make politics a dirty game for all those who play it cleanly.