David Peterson is travelling the province in a 4)us decked in red Liberal banners as he campaigns for a third term as premier in Ontario’s Sépt. 6 election. Last week, as a speechwriter near the front of the bus worked on comments for his use in this week’s televised leaders’ debate, a relaxed Peterson talked to Ottawa Bureau Staff Correspondent Nancy Y/ood and Associate Editor Paul Kaihla about his campaign and the issues facing Ontario voters. Excerpts:
Maclean’s: What is the main theme of your campaign?
Peterson: The theme is how we keep this economy strong, given all the pressures that we have in this country—economic and political. Ontario has been the engine of this country. It is fundamental to have a clear understanding of the realities of a changing world and a changing country.
Maclean’s: Do you think voters are more cynical now and that they resent the $40-million cost of an election after only three years of your five-year mandate?
Peterson: There is lots of cynicism about politics. There always has been and there always will be. I don’t think •it’s more pronounced. It would cost $45 million for an election next year. If the economy is worse, you could use that argument next year and say you sliouldn’t have it then either. Democracy costs money. People realize that. Maclean’s: The country is entering a new stage in constitutional debate, with Quebec saying that it will negotiate directly with the federal government and the Western provinces uniting to speak with one voice. How do you see the future of Canada?
Peterson: I’m a great defender of Canada. Starting next spring probably, we’re going to go into some very, very tough negotiations. The question is how to keep federal powers intact and keep this country together. Ontario is going to have to use its influence and its financial muscle to make sure that our interests are protected. It’s both an economic and a political issue. Ontario has been the most generous one in Confederation. We’ve spent $16.5 billion on equalization payments in the last five years. Should Ontario pay for the breakup of the country if other people want to break it up? Maclean’s: You were seen as one of Quebec’s greatest allies during the Meech Lake negotia-
tions. Are you now backing away from that position?
Peterson: It’s not me that’s changed, the situation has changed. There was not a sovereigntist agenda in Quebec prior to the collapse of Meech. It’s sad, but that is the past. Nobody has the power to unilaterally or bilaterally
change the Constitution. A unilateral declaration of independence is another kettle of fish, but as long as Quebec wants any of the benefits of Confederation, then they have to adjust to those rules.
Maclean’s: Are you still close to Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa?
Peterson: I haven’t talked to him recently. I’m fairly close to all the premiers. I talk to all of them if there’s an issue at hand.
Maclean’s: Would Ontario consider negotiating directly with Quebec for constitutional change?
Peterson: No. There’s no way that Quebec and Ontario can bilaterally change the Consti-
tution, any more than the federal government and Quebec can change it.
Maclean’s: Both opposition parties say that your government is taxing people too heavily. Do you think Ontario residents pay too much tax?
Peterson: Nobody likes paying taxes. I don’t like paying taxes. The dilemma is everybody wants more service but they don’t want taxes. The question is the balance. I think we have struck a remarkably healthy balance. Our tax position relative to other jurisdictions is completely in line. It is cheaper for new manufacturing to invest in Ontario than it is in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania or Quebec. We have raised some taxes, there’s no question about it, but we’ve also cut some taxes. There were no general tax increases in the last budget. Maclean’s: How will you protect Ontario from the effects of a recession? Peterson: No province can protect itself from high interest rates or the Goods and Services Tax or trade or the high dollar. But we are going to be creating more jobs this 2j year than we did last year, and we are still in positive 2 growth—it is slower than last I year, but it’s still positive. We y have flexibility. We balanced f the budget for the first time in 20 years. We actually paid down $430 million in debt for
the first time in—hang on to
your hat—43 years. Ontario is very well positioned to face any possible downturn. Maclean’s: In your term, there have been reports about Liberal fund raisers and their relationships with developers. Do you think certain developers have attempted to influence your government?
Peterson: Absolutely not. They couldn’t do it. The files have been searched. There is absolutely no case of special favor for anybody that I am aware of. Just because somebody donates to a party, they don’t expect anything. I think that is too cynical a motive. Corporations aren’t that stupid. They give because they believe in the democratic process. □
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.