Ontario’s worst premier

By: Sandford BorinsIf journalism is the first draft of history, then commissions of inquiry and policy studies are the second. At this point, former Ontario Premier Mike Harris's evaluation is not looking good.The Walkerton Inquiry concluded that the Harris government's deregulation of water testing and cuts to the Ministry of Environment contributed to the fatal E. coli outbreak.The book If You Build It shows how the Harris government's haste to bring in revenue on the eve of the 1999 election led to privatizing Highway 407 in an agreement that sacrificed the public interest. Furthermore, during the campaign, Harris and his ministers misled the public about how little control the government would have over future tolls.Now the Ipperwash Inquiry concludes that Harris, despite his denial under oath, did indeed say, “I want the f**king Indians out of the park,” and thereby narrowed the options for resolving the Ipperwash occupation peacefully.The Harris government's tax and spending cuts led to a deterioration in public services, and the Harris-Eves government still left office with a $5-billion deficit. History's judgement on Harris will connect all these dots.What troubles me most about Ipperwash Inquiry chair Judge Linden's verdict is what it reveals of Harris as a public leader. Surely, we expect our leaders to treat all members of society with respect and not to engage in crude bigotry, even behind closed doors.While politicians are prone to fudging the facts, we see in Harris a man who flouted and still flouts Daniel Moynihan's maxim that everyone is entitled to his own opinions but not his own facts.Were Harris a Member of the Order of Canada, Judge Linden's verdict would lead to his eventual expulsion, just as members who indulged in racism (David Ahenakew) or broke the law (Alan Eagleson) have been expelled.The contrast with former Premier Bob Rae is revealing. While his critics argue that Rae ran an unfocused government during an economic crisis, no one has impugned his integrity, and he has carved out for himself a respected role chairing commissions of inquiry. Harris has also had considerable acquaintance with commissions of inquiry – as a witness, compelled to testify under oath.I find it interesting that Ontario Conservative leader John Tory has echoed Premier McGuinty in his reaction to the Ipperwash Inquiry, thus distancing himself from Harris. During the coming election campaign, the Conservatives might well pay Harris's expenses to study market reforms in Ulan Bator and the Sakhalin Islands.Harris denied in the legislature that he uttered a racist epithet. He denied it under oath at the Ipperwash Inquiry. He denied it after the inquiry. He will likely have inscribed on his tombstone the epitaph: “I never said f**king Indian.” History won't believe him. History will judge him Ontario's worst premier.

Related Download
CanadianCIO Census 2016 Mapping Out the Innovation Agenda Sponsor: Cogeco Peer 1
CanadianCIO Census 2016 Mapping Out the Innovation Agenda
The CanadianCIO 2016 census will help you answer those questions and more. Based on detailed survey results from more than 100 senior technology leaders, the new report offers insights on issues ranging from stature and spend to challenges and the opportunities ahead.
Register Now