Kathleen Wynne is a "social justice" liberal. That doesn’t mean she can’t sound as intelligent as "business" Liberals when talking about Ontario’s economic challenges. Indeed, she has plenty of room to do better.
Not being one of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s high-profile economic ministers with her own record of expensive business initiatives, in fact, should be an asset.
Ontario "business" Liberals are essentially 1970’s modernizers, fine-tuners of the more than Ottawa-protectionism, less than Quebec-interventionism hybrid that was put in place by postwar Ontario red-Tories. Their catechism insists: innovation needs constant government leadership and involvement; business, labor, and government are partners; and Ontario’s future is in trade diversification. It supports activist Federal Government, but complains that Ontario never gets its fair share; it resents the "high" Canadian petro-dollar, but it agrees that our half of North America must secure its future trading in Asia.
Like progressives in office in California, British Columbia, and Washington, Wynne’s first problem is to stay the course in fixing the books. That said, repairing frayed relations with teachers is not more important than showing people a credible and fresh way to restore Ontario’s economy.
Ontario’s Conservatives are putting together a tough-minded economic plan that would make Ontario more like US Republican states. New Democrats can be counted on to say nothing needs to change, if only Harper and the Neo Cons would drive down the Canadian dollar in order to protect our more civilized workplace.
Wynne ought to consider a tough-minded strategy as well: one that would push for lowering Canada-US trade barriers rather than lowering Ontario’s labor and social protections, or lowering our standard of living by lowering the value of the Canadian dollar.
Ontario Grits were brave free traders once before—because it would be good for the little guy. They were right in the 19th century, and can be again.
Wynne could say that after a decade of whining and denial, it's time Ontario embraced the benefits of a stable, par dollar. It enhances business incentives to invest and protects the purchasing power of workers. A lower dollar, on the other hand, only leads to unearned gains for a fortunate few, in return for less prosperity generally.
Wynne can argue that Conservative policy is stuck in neutral. They accept a high Canadian dollar but won’t dare make it a cornerstone of their national or Ontario economic policies, and they won’t maximize the benefits of dollar parity by pushing for more than simply reducing red-tape at the border.
The end game for two high-wage market economies should be a currency, customs, and security union that eliminates physical borders. That’s what old men in Northern Europe accomplished. That shouldn’t be impossible for us.
New Premiers of Ontario are expected to speak in big picture terms—just like the Premiers of Alberta and Quebec, for instance. It would be refreshing to hear Kathleen Wynne say something fresh and honest about our greatest manufacturing, human and capital, energy, education, culture, innovation, and political relationship—the USA.