It didn't take long after the former Liberal government released the Fair Hydro Plan in 2017 for people to realize something wasn't right.
Perhaps the Liberals, struggling in the polls under intensely disliked Premier Kathleen Wynne, hoped people would just be happy hydro rates were dropping 25 per cent and wouldn't care what was going on behind the curtains.
But it quickly emerged that the way the province was doing it would maximize costs to taxpayers, while (they hoped) not affecting the Liberal's cherished plans to head into the 2018 election with balanced books. They parked the debt in the OPG Trust, keeping it off the balance sheet, but increasing borrowing costs by billions and billions.
That they abandoned even the pretense of balancing the books to promise a slew of new spending to inprove their election chances just makes the whole scenario all the more awful.
I tried to get Thibeault to explain the reasoning during our election interview, but I had no more luck than the province's Committee of Financial Transparency, which interviewed Thibeault last week.
First off, I really don't understand the mandate of the committee. Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk exposed the scheme while the Liberals were still in power. Everyone knows they made a clumsy and obviously political decision to try and help themselves at the ballot box, and it cost Ontarians big time.
But show trial or not, Thibeault's testimony showed the contrast between Liberal schtick (a polite way of saying “a steaming pile of ...”) and the schtick of the current government under Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford.
In short, the Liberals worked very hard to pretend their bad decisions were normal, that they got the best advice and what they were doing was in the interest of Ontarians, and not the Liberal Party.
Here's what Thibeault said when asked about Lysyk's conclusions about the Fair Hydro Plan:
“I don’t see the dispute that we have as necessarily a conflict. Ninety-nine per cent of the time, we work with the Auditor General on recommendations that we make and most of those are resolved. In this instance, the Auditor General disagreed with the accounting practices that were brought forward with the Fair Hydro Plan.”
And later in his testimony: “We don’t necessarily work with the Auditor General. We have our experts, which is the chief controller for the province of Ontario and the accountants who come with that department within government. We have our own senior bureaucrats who also talk about the accounting practices. In each instance, we were told that the accounting practices that were being brought forward were confirmed and also confirmed by other outside experts.”
Was the urgency driven by Liberal unpopularity, Thibeault was asked?
“For me, it wasn’t an electoral issue. Is it a political issue? Yes. I think all issues — let’s call a spade a spade on that. But ultimately, for me, this was a way to actually help reduce some of the burden that people were experiencing.”
There's the Liberal schtick in a nutshell – rehearsed, lots of positive-sounding language (Thibeault used the “90 per cent” line during our interview) that says very little. Clearly, Liberals were well trained to tow the official line, how to respond to questions and, above all, stay on message.
Contrast that with the (still early days) schtick the Ford government is adopting. Instead of verbal diarhhea that wears the questioner down, Ford used the clapping staffers stunt at media scrums to drown out questions from reporters.
The premier also said recently that his real opposition is the media, not other poltical parties, and is fond of the phrase “media party,” and other Donald Trump-like tactics.
Even more disturbing is the insidious 'Ontario News Now' propaganda the party is putting out, I guess because Sun TV, the Fox News equivalent in Canada, failed so spectacularly.
Ford is trying to undermine the credibility of anyone who criticizes him, and the media is first in line. Where the Liberals tried the 'give long answers to reporter's questions but don't actually say anything' approach, Ford is trying a 'punch you in the face' tactic.
With the media (an increasingly meaningless term, IMAO) less trusted than ever, it's an approach that can work for a while. But if he's willing to burn political capital to defend hiring his buddy as the new OPP commissioner, what will he say when he makes tough decisions about, you know, actually governing?
The decimated Liberals found out the hard way that eventually, people see through your schtick. It's still early days, and Ford has a talented cabinet who could do well for Ontarians. But Kathleen Wynne and Glenn Thibeault found out you can't fool people forever — and they spent billions essentially bribing voters (with our own money).
At some point, Ford will discover the blame-the-media schtick will lose its power the more he uses it — and likely boost online subscription sales for his 'enemy,' the Toronto Star.
Darren MacDonald covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com and Northern Life.