ďI want to be the biggest supplier in North America of clean energy componentsÖĒ

An exclusive conversation with
the Hon. Dalton McGuinty, Premier of Ontario.

                                            

                                                   By Thomas S. Saras

 

His smile on his face, I would call it, as the Trade Mark of Premier McGuinty. For his friends he is a real gentleman, for his opponents a politician unwilling to negotiate his principals. For the last eight years, that he administered the government of Ontario, Premier McGuinty and his colleagues managed, in reality, to shape the social culture of Ontario, keeping at the same time the province out of the worst world economic crisis since the great reception. 2011, is an election year for Ontario, and the young premier of the province dedicated to challenge the opposition by asking the voters of Ontario to renew his mandate for another term. This was exactly the reason of todayís interview, to explore the mind and the future plans of the premier.  This interview was granted for all the members of the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada.

 

Thomas S. Saras: Sir, allow me to congratulate you for successfully entering the 8th year of your government in power. I remember you as a young politician, and I specifically remember during one of our meeting we had, when I first met you that period of time, I told you then that I am quite sure that you are going to be a Premier. And you became a Premier, and also one of the most successful Premiers we have in the Province of Ontario. In fact in eight years you managed to change the culture of the Province in great deal. And you made many changes, modernized the society and made it a successful modern Province. At this point you are at the end of your second mandate as Premier. Can you share with us your experiences and challenges you faced during the period of your eight years as Premier?

 

 

Premier, Dalton McGuinty: First of all, let me tell you that, I remain as an ideologist, as enthusiastic and as committed, and I maintain the same sense of honor and privileges to serve the Ontarians. One of my stock closes to all in my speech is, ďWe live in the greatest province, in the best country in the world.Ē And I say that because I believe it. One of my experiences that I have enjoyed as Premier is the privilege to travel on behalf of the Ontarians to different parts of the world. And I have yet to meet another leader in another country who would now gladly exchange my challenges and opportunities for his or hers.  So, we enjoy an extraordinary quality of life here, Tom. We have a responsibility not only to ourselves, to continually find ways to make progress, but we owe something to the world. And I think that we can and should stand as a shining beacon of what we can do. Let me give you a specific example, from time to time, when I tell people how diverse our province is, I tell them Toronto is the most diverse cities in the world.  And they say, ďWell! I have seen riots in the streets of London, in Paris, in Berlin. I have seen problems even in the Netherlands. Iíve seen problems even in Switzerland. Why have I not seen problems associated to the multicultural society in Ontario?Ē And I say, ďItís because we have found a way to make it work. And our continuing responsibility is to ensure that it always works so that people living in another parts of the world you can say, ďDonít tell me it canít be done. ĒBecause, it is done. It is being done in a place called Canada. Thereís a province that is called Ontario. Thereís a city that is called Toronto. We have found a way to make this work.Ē So, we have responsibility not to just ourselves, Tom, but also to the rest of the world. I would argue especially when it comes to multiculturalism. I can tell you as well that we are proud of the things that we have been able to achieve together. I have been talking a lot lately about our successes and results that we have obtained. But, the truth is that our government could never have achieved those on our own. Itís because of the support we have from teachers of all departments of education. And today our text courses are up and our graduation rates are also up. Now we are the top ten globally when it comes to our text course. In healthcare, itís because of the support from all our partners in healthcare that an additional one million two hundred thousand Ontarians have family doctors and we have the shortest wait time in Canada. I am not saying that to praise any kind of institute. This is the result thanks to support from all our partners. In the renewable electricity system, we are creating a reliable electricity system, we are cleaning up our air and we are creating thousands of new clean energy jobs. Itís an exciting new industry where we are the best in class in North America. So, I am also very proud of Ontarians about the way they are dealing with very difficult transformation of our new tax system. We are adopting HST (Harmonized Sales Tax). We want to catch up with 140 other counties all around the world. If you look at a map, which I have been doing this lately as part of my presentation tomorrow and  which actually may be an opportunity for me to talk to your multicultural media, so that you get a sense of what we are doing.

 

 

Thomas S. Saras: Thank you, I will extend to you an invitation for a presentation during one of our meetings.

 

Premier, Dalton McGuinty: I would love to do that, please. And, one of the things that I show is that I put up the map of the world where apart from the US, Greenland and much of Africa, pretty well the rest of the world has adopted a tax called Value Added Tax (VAT) and what we call in Canada, the HST. And what that means is that their businesses are more competitive than ours. So, we have gone through a very difficult transformation of our tax system with the help of the Ontarians. We are moving forward on that which I know is not that easy. But itís really important that we do that. It will create 600,000 more jobs and make our businesses more competitive. Weíve also come to understand that because itís been a difficult time because our economy, it has effected our households. So, we wanted to be there to help the people. So, we got a new clean energy benefit which is taking 10% off the energy bills for the next 5 years. We reduced post line income taxes by $355.00 from the average Ontario family, that is plus $355.00 off this year and every year going forward. Full-day kindergarden, which is in 600 schools this year. We want to bring it to all 4000 schools by of 2014. It will benefit 250,000 four and five year olds. Full-day in kindergarden means for a young family, you are saving thousands of dollars in a day-care cost. So, weíve thought of a way to improve the quality of our education now that we are the top ten in the world, improve the quality of healthcare Ė the shortest wait time in Canada, strengthen our taxes so that itís more competitive, we are renewing our electricity system so that itís reliable, creating jobs and cleaning up our air. We have done this in a way that it is sensitive to the cost that the families are experiencing. And the last thing that I will touch on is infrastructure. We partnered with the Federal Government in some ways but in most ways we have been doing this on our own. We have invested more money in infrastructure in the last six years than the previous two governments in 13 years. So, massive investments in roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, which last guys closed hospitals and we are building 18 new ones. With that, courthouses, recreational centers, all things that creating jobs, because right now this is what we need more in order to make our economy more competitive over the long run. So, weíve done a lot that I believe objective people would say that it constitutes genuine progress. So, have we been a perfect government? No. Have we made mistakes from time to time? Yes. I have a government that is made up exclusively from diverse people, with all their wonderful strengths and all their human frailties. My responsibility in government is, when we make a mistake, to own up to it, to admit to it, to acknowledge it and to take necessary steps to ensure that it doesnít happen again. And I think, if you look at the big picture of our government that is made up of people. We have demonstrated our genuine desire to build a stronger Ontario for all Ontarians.

 

Thomas S. Saras: Tell me something, was there any time during this period of eight years that you regret of being a politician?

 

Premier, Dalton McGuinty: NeverÖ. Never! There were some days that were harder than others. There were some days that you may have more doubts than others. But I never lost the sense that this is the best job that I am ever going to have. And, I never lost the sense of privilege. What you get to do in the government is you help to shape the future. When you improve the quality of education, you are going to shape the future. When you improve the quality of the healthcare you make sure, for example, that you provide better services to citizens. Also when you talk about seniors you mean that they are enjoying the better quality of life. Here allow me to take an example of my mother. I canít tell you how old she is because she will be angry if I told you how old she is, (laughs). Reality is that she is getting on. But I want to make sure that she can stay home as long as she wants to because she doesnít want to go into a long term care home. And, like everybody of my generation, I am feeling a little bit guilty, I am thinking, ďOh my God! If I were a really good son Iíd take her in. But how can I do my job and all that kind of stuff?Ē Itís kind of complicated, so I think I am where a lot of people are. I just want to make sure that she gets good quality care. At the same time I can shape a brighter future for my mother and all Ontario seniors, to make sure that they have the right kind of support in there.  And then, we work with our business partners and labor partners, we can make sure that we are in fact creating more jobs. And thatís a brighter future for our families, the fact that there are going to be more jobs and employment there for our families. So, I think thatís a real privilege of leadership to Ontario, Tom, as well our ability to see what problems are out there in the community and to act today accordingly to make sure that it is bright future.

 

Thomas S. Saras: Recently the Federal Government announced that they are planning to cut 48 million dollars funds from the various ethno cultural associations and communities, helping new immigrants, located in Ontario. How are you preparing to face this challenge?

 

Premier, Dalton McGuinty: Well, first of all, we are very disappointed with this decision taken by the Federal Government. Minister Hoskins, has expressed that a number of times. There are various organizations providing support services to new immigrants, services that are not delivered by the public sector. So, we provide financial support to these organizations to do the job. They are generally smaller institutions, they are low budget operations, they operate on a shoe string budget you might say, and we are getting a very good value for the money we are investing on those services. More importantly,  new Canadians are getting very good value from these services being provided by these organizations. And we need to understand that when a new Canadian gets a little bit of support, we help them get their feet on the ground, better understand the language, better understand the employment opportunities and better prepare themselves to find employment opportunities. This is good for all of us. So, we will continue to raise the issue of immigration with the Federal Government. There are number of areas that we want to explore with the Federal Government. We think that we can have a better agreement that is more suited to the needs of Ontario. In fact, the matter is that we have continued to count in the need of more people, as our economy demands more working hands, for more people that continue to come to Ontario from different parts of the world, which is in everybodyís interest and also to ensure that those people getting on their feet here as soon as possible and they are fully integrated to work market and our economy as quickly as possible.

 

Thomas S. Saras: There are many new immigrants who do not necessarily have bad intentions. They are working on minimum wage because they have family and kids to look after. They do not get a full time employment and this leads them to live under the welfare roles in order to maintain the survival of their family. I believe that you have to review and take care of this matter. We have to find out a way to put these people into proper labor market which is going to help our economy and pull them out of welfare. And the other thing is, Ontario is the biggest producer in Canada at this moment. Most of our goods that we are producing here are going to United States. All the previous years thanks to lower exchange rate between Canadian and US dollar things were working on our behalf and our exports were much prosperous. But today  these two dollars are equal in value. are you concerned about this?

 

Premier, Dalton McGuinty: I see this as both a challenge and also an opportunity, Tom. You put your finger on a topic which is really important in terms of a fundamental shift in terms of our economy. We used to rely on a low dollar and now itís a high dollar. When we have a high dollar it makes our exports more expensive and difficult for more people around the world to buy. So what we need to do now is to ensure that we explore other market opportunities around the world. This is something we are positioned to do so well thanks to our human diversity. Think of Ontario this way: ďwe own a store and 70% of our exports or goods are bought by one shop, letís say, that it is the United States of America. If that one shop is having financial difficulties, this is not just their problem, thatís our problem as well. Now, what we are doing in this case? As an example, we are sitting with the European Union through the Federal Government, trying to negotiate a good and responsible trade agreement. But I have also travel to many countries like India, China, Pakistan, Japan and Iíve been to other parts of Europe and the US as well. But, there is an old expression that the world is your oyster. What that means is that this world is filled with opportunities, and I would argue that there is no country that is better prepared to take advantage of the global economy than the country that is made up of a diverse people. Especially the diverse people that have found strength in diversity, that are getting along together and there are supporting each other. So, as I said, this new high dollar combined with the weakness of the American economy at present, is both the challenge and opportunity. It means that it will boost our efforts to look elsewhere around the world.

 

Thomas S. Saras: I would like you to tell me about how you see the future of Ontario especially today as you are running this year for a third term. We would like to know if you are running just for the sake of the election and to create a statistics for a third term in power, or you have some plans ahead for the betterment of Ontario and Ontarians.

 

Premier, Dalton McGuinty: I am running because we started things that I want to see through. I want to share something important with you today, Tom. The other day my friend, the leader of the official opposition, said something which struck me. Somebody asked him about his vision for the future of Ontario. He said that he is an Ontarian, that is not that different from todayís. I couldnít disagree more strongly and more profoundly. I see the Ontario that keeps getting better and stronger everyday. And I would also like to tell you something else. When I travel some places like India, China and the US, they are not prepared to stand still, not for a minute, they want to keep growing stronger, they want to improve the quality of their life and their citizens, they want to keep finding new and exciting ways to develop their economy and enhance their social programs. Thatís the world we live in. So, I feel that everyday  we go, we have to keep moving. So, practically what I want to keep doing is now that we have started 600 full-day kindergarden schools, by 2014 I want it in all 4000 schools benefiting from this program which will give equal benefits to 250,000 young Ontarians who are four and five year old. We shut down seven coal power stations. I want to shut down the last 11 coal power stations which will make total of 19. This is something that will be taking seven million cars off the Ontario roads. We just started to develop our clean energy industry.  We developed it here in Ontario, so far makes us top for Ontarians, and this is what I really want to do. We know the reason why we are number one auto producers in North America, because we sell cars not to ourselves but to the Americans. I want to do more than just sell wind turbines and solar panels to Ontarians. I want to sell them to Americans. I want to be the biggest suppliers in North America of clean energy components, here in Ontario. For this, we donít need all their business. Even a little bit of their business is big business for Ontario. Thatís going to create more sustainable jobs. These are the three examples of places where I see us continuing to grow stronger, and on top. And there is more work to be done and I am eager to get it done.

 

Thomas S. Saras: Thank you very much for this great honor, Premier. I trust and hope that the future is going to be on your behalf and as good as it was in the past. You have proved to be one charismatic and great politician of Ontario although at the very beginning not many people believed so. So, on behalf of all the members of National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada we wish all the best. Good Luck in the upcoming general elections.

 

Premier Dalton McGuinty: Thank you Tom