Homes and Condo Mississauga

Selling Hydro was Kathleen Wynne’s inextinguishable sin

Liberalism seems exhausted in all forms, including left-liberalism. A long time ago it turned to neoliberalism: inequality, adoration of the free market, anti-government, etc.

What more explains the ability of the right to put out empty ideas and phrases – and to win elections! The Ontario debate on leadership on Wednesday was remarkable because of the lack of something that was fresh or even … important.

You had candidates who believed the clichés – Ford and Tanya Granic Allen. And those who – I dare to bet my house – do not: Elliott and Mulroney. But they all know that the only way to win their party is to channel Mike Harris through Trump, then run on those bromides and probably succeed, because according to polls everyone can beat Kathleen Wynne. Argggh.

Who killed Liberalism? The Clintons, Blair, Martin and Chrétien, especially Obama. They talked about liberalism and provided neoliberalism. Raise the hope and then skip it. If your term is over and you have not done all the promised things, take the money, run out and sunbathe on David Geffen's yacht on Tahiti.

Kathleen Wynne fits uncomfortably. She sounded sincere. She said she would be the prime minister for social justice. She is different, I would say, in one, laudable sense. She came through well on many fronts: pensions, tuition, minimum wages, equal pay, pharmacy.

She blew it just one: she sold Hydro (Hydro One actually, but everyone says Hydro). She stumbled blatantly there alone. Yet it leaves a bitter taste that people do not seem to shake. How does this work?

Recently on a cold night in Montreal (with me) I shared an Uber of dinner with a millennia I know. He had an account. Not me. I have been reluctant for generations because Uber undermines the hard-won trade union rights. But I can recognize a great technology. (They come in a few minutes, no money changes hands.) I mentioned my scruples about Uber until the millennium. "That's why I think it should be nationalized," he said. "Together with Airbnb, Spotify and Netflix."

His generation is so disillusioned with the rubbish rhetoric of politicians left and right that they talk freely about socialism. (You have to go that far back to escape the blotches of liberalism – as Sanders and Corbyn have.)

They know that they will never live at the level of their parents. Their dream is not home-delivered. At most they hope to rent reasonably. They do not expect that they will ever have much private property, so they will not fetish it. They are open to public property. Neoliberalism has failed them. And they also mistrust Wynne. Why? She sold Hydro.

The sale of public goods is the essence of neoliberalism. Where do the computer and the internet come from? Usually from American military research, financed by taxes. All the important elements of the iPhone, Mariana showed Mazzucato, came from that research. So why not nationalize disbursements such as Uber instead of exploiting those whose taxes have made it all possible? Nationalizing Uber is not theft, it is the elimination of theft. It takes back for the people, what is theirs.

Hydro is in the same relationship. Water is the soul of all life. (Hydro means water.) It is our bloodstream. It is a social necessity. Ontario Hydro was a public venture funded by the public and benefiting everyone. You can not sell it, you can only sweep it and hand it over, as Wynne did.

The buyers do nothing to improve it; they will just squeeze in to make a profit. Classical economists from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries would have called renters – the ugliest players in capitalism. Worse, she did this in the name of acquiring money for another public good: transit. It robs Peter to pay Paul. It was a scam.

(There was one amazing moment in that debate about PC leadership.) Host Althia Raj asked if someone would renationalise Hydro, followed by the rarest event of TV: long-lasting silence No candidate dared to say yes or no. )

I think people feel a deep betrayal of the principle in Wynne's Hydro sell-off. Something is very wrong and if Wynne was able to do that, she can not be trusted, regardless of what else seems to prove her worth. She is from them, not us. For me, the big mystery of this fascinating political season in Ontario is Wynne's disgust. This is my attempt to understand it.

I think it's a harsh judgment about her, too hard. But we live in an age of horrible betrayal and emotions are churning far below the rational level. Rick Salutin appear Fridays.

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