Provocative reaction condescending

McGuinty's big step backward
Toronto Star Feb 05, 2008   Jim Coyle

Premier Dalton McGuinty knows as well as anyone the price to be paid when politicians trade in contempt and invite discord.

He was at Queen's Park during the Harris years. He saw it all.

He saw the clashes on the legislature lawn during the province's shameful "whack 'em and stack 'em" era. He saw the labour disputes with teachers and public servants, and the long-term disruption in schools and institutions.

He heard the poor, natives, nurses, union members or whatever other scapegoat du jour had been selected – he will recall that school boards and trustees sometimes filled the bill – routinely diminished and demeaned.

In temperament and rhetoric, Ontario was an uncharacteristically hostile place.

To his credit, McGuinty has gone a long way since being elected in 2003 to changing that, lowering the temperature, restoring civility and relative harmony to Ontario's public affairs and debate.

To his shame, however, he took a big step backward last week with his provocative reaction to the Toronto District School Board vote approving a pilot project for a black-focused school.

"The good news for Torontonians is that they now have 18 months … to put a stop to this," he said.

He urged city residents to "speak up to their duly elected representatives and tell them how strongly they are opposed to this proposal."

He said those trustees who had supported the initiative had "leapt before they took a good look."

The premier's observations were an incendiary trifecta reminiscent of the bad old days – cavalier, contemptuous, condescending.

First, to suggest that this city – and especially the people to whom this project matters most – should have to fight this most draining of battles for another year and a half is to play with fire.

The project deals with children. It deals with race. It deals with need. It deals with fear. It doesn't get more emotional. As the premier knows, there were already reports of threats and verbal abuse in the wake of last week's vote.

To suggest a protracted period of dispute on this white-hot terrain and describe it as "good news" for the city is perverse.

Then, there is the premier's evident contempt for the democratic process and the players involved.

A vote was held, a decision made. It was a close one. It will always be a close one. That's the process.

What's the premier saying? That votes we don't like are merely the starter's pistol to let lobbying of elected representatives begin and are to be retaken until we get the result we want?

Finally, there is the cheesy insult of elected officials with whom the premier disagrees. The proponents leapt before they looked, he said.

This is unworthy. This debate has been agonizing. There are people of good conscience on either side who have been highly conflicted. It's impossible to imagine any trustee's vote was cast without huge amounts of consultation, reflection and soul-searching.

The premier can be certain that all who leapt last week looked long and hard and that the vote was taken after exhaustive debate.

In fact, he can be pretty sure they thought a good deal more about that vote than he did before uttering comments showing so little respect for the process or its participants, and so little concern about where the open-ended battle he recommends might lead.

Leaping before you look?

That didn't happen here.

That's when you promise a holiday with so many bugs, barely half your constituents can take it.

Jim Coyle