Canada

BATTERED LEGACY

Ontario’s Tory leadership hopefuls are busy stomping on Mike Harris’s record

ROBERT SHEPPARD March 4 2002
Canada

BATTERED LEGACY

Ontario’s Tory leadership hopefuls are busy stomping on Mike Harris’s record

ROBERT SHEPPARD March 4 2002

BATTERED LEGACY

Canada

Ontario’s Tory leadership hopefuls are busy stomping on Mike Harris’s record

ROBERT SHEPPARD

For much of the past seven years, Mike Harris has been the bull moose of Ontario politics: big-hoofing his way through all the issues no one else dared touch, a giant rack of anders lowered at anyone in his path. No longer.

To continue the woodland analogy, he is now—and has been for some months—the lamest of ducks with his premiership expiring in a matter of weeks, his Tories trailing in the polls and his attempt to reconcile with his wife Janet (his given reason for leaving politics) sadly in disarray. Bad enough that Ottawa ignores his health-care braying as just more wind in the night.

Worse still is the ritualized trampling of the Harris legacy by those seeking his job.

In case you missed it, Ontario has reached that rare stage where opposition criticism seems strangely muted beside that of the insiders seeking the premiers job on March 23. Front-runner and former treasurer Ernie Eves, emerging from a cushy retirement on Bay Street, is trying to schmooze his way to the centre of the spectrum, in the process hoping no one will notice he doesn’t much care for the way the province’s hospitals and classrooms have (not) been funded recently. Perhaps he forgot he played a part in those cuts a few years back. But he’s certainly not alone in chomping on the hand that returned the Tories to power.

Environment Minister Elizabeth Witmer, who has a serious shot at becoming Ontario’s first woman premier, has been almost dancing a jig on the grave of Harris’s once-

hallowed Common Sense Revolution.

Health Minister Tony Clement had the temerity to suggest that the current administration has been “just muddling through” since the 1999 election. And Treasurer Jim Flaherty—who has proposed jailing the homeless to keep them off the streets—has complained that the Harris government has outspent even its profligate predecessor, the NDP. Ouch.

This is how even self-described revolutions end. Not with a bang or a whimper but in a flurry of finger pointing. Maybe it’s to be expected. Harris came in, after all, picking strategic fights with teachers’

unions, civil servants, welfare recipients. The list goes on. It must gall him now that his would-be successors (save Flaherty) want to put his revolution on Valium and make peace. With everyone, that is, except themselves.

Not to be outdone by the leadership shenanigans of the federal Liberals and Canadian Alliance, the Ontario Conservatives have made their race an equally desperate affair. Maybe that is the nature of leadership contests these days. Or maybe it’s another brick in the Harris legacy. Remember, his is not the dynastic Tories who seemed to run Ontario like an old boys’ club from 1943 to 1985. By the time Mike Harris took over in 1990, the vaunted Big Blue Machine had long decamped for Ottawa. Part of his revolution was a new generation of no§■ holds-barred partisan keen| ers, some of whom even tried I to steal the Canadian Alliance leadership the last time out. With their feet in the different camps, these are the partisans fuelling the infighting and also ensuring there won’t be any snap election flowing from this contest—too many wounds to heal. No candidate has been immune from personal attacks. But the avuncular, prone-to-drone Eves, once the lion of the tax cuts, has been the main target. Flaherty even unveiled a wheel of Fortune with Eves’s face on every point of the compass to mock him as a man of no convictions. It’s the kind of stunt that Harris used so successfully to take down his opponents. But he was in opposition then, and he never used it against the folks he had to march into battle with. EH