Touby column

There is a prevailing viewpoint that private businesses can do nearly anything better, cheaper and quicker than any government. If there’s a buck to be made, a smart businessperson will always trump an over-stuffed government operation composed of fat-cat bureaucrats, coddled union stiffs and lobbyist-influenced politicians.frank

In that view, The Market has a wisdom that trumps straitened government operatives who are lulled to inaction by tax-funded comforts for which the rest of the world must wrestle. The Market is portrayed as a jungle of warring worthies jockeying for winner-take-all advantage and consuming it while snapping and snarling over a conquest to fend off other predators seeking to bite away some morsels.

It’s a myth. But it’s one we keep hearing as if there’s some wisdom to it. Often that myth is proffered by people we’d expect to the least likely to promote it. Take Christopher Hume in The Star as an example. Reading like a Toronto Sun opinionizer, he suggests privatizing some or maybe all of the TTC could be a way for the future. Of course it’s not.

The TTC isn’t like a taxi-cab company. It’s an intricate part of the Commons. By that is meant the places, facilities and institutions created by government using tax money to serve the public.

Building, managing and maintaining the Commons is why governments exist. They provide civilization and we pay taxes to enable and sustain that for ourselves.

Under the nasty regime of ex-premier Mike Harris, selling off the Commons was a goal that has bitten us in our common behind. He longed to make Ontario Hydro like a private company. To that effect, he created splinter hydro companies to more readily enable a sell-off to transnational corporations. All the sundry Hydro corporations have their own high-paid boards and executives and lots of energy being pumped into their bonuses. And our rates are soaring, not entirely because the Dalton McGuinty crowd sold us out in Oakville to buy an election by cancelling natural gas generators.

Surely a private-sector transnational corporation will eagerly bid to operate those electricity gold mines when the right forces are established at Queens Park. (Think the unthinkable: Premier Tim Hudak, ex-Harris acolyte and likely ex-president of his high-school class.)

Harris succeeded in the ersatz privatization of Highway 407, merging state power with corporate power. In so doing, Harris made the province a collection agency for a Spanish company’s outstanding toll receipts. The foreign company’s slow-payers can’t renew their Ontario licence plates until they pay off the company. Sweet!

Harris, you’ll recall, was a Conservative saint, even while he was a skirt-chasing émigré from his crashed marriage and occupying a position as Premier of Ontario. His Common Simpleton’s Revolution (he called it Sense) was a testament to a handout of the Commons to corporate interests.

There are so many things that could be sold off to profit-centred operators. Schools could be run by corporations, automated with videos of lessons on computer screens, maybe with no classrooms at all and thus enabling a sale of school property to further cut taxes and need for services.

Just plop your kids into separate corners of your condo with their iPhones or Androids. Lessons sponsored by junk-food franchises would inspire kids to order their burgers, fries and tooth-rotting sodas for delivery in time for lunch break.

Big Pharma could deliver dope and scalpels to your unit so you could self-medicate while you follow on-screen how to remove that tumour. Think of the OHIP savings!

The Mike Harris notion is that government is by nature inept, self-serving and corrupt unless it’s limited in size and scope. That goes absolutely contrary to his ruination of Toronto by forcing it to amalgamate with the dissimilar suburbs that now overrule it. But despite being a revered member of the Fraser Institute think tank, Mike was no deep thinker.

Amalgamation created the Conservative chimera of Big Government. It made a monster city council of 44 headed by a mayor.

Now, according to the Rule of 10s, any deliberative body that has more than 10 members renders decisions half as smart as the dumbest member. So that would devolve city council to the IQ of either Rob Ford when he’s shit-faced or Giorgio Mammoliti under any conditions.

So you can imagine how dysfunctional it could be to rule an entire province. The difference between a parliament and city hall is that parliamentary systems have several ways of restricting rulings to a small number of people. The party system clearly enables that and maybe should be considered at the municipal level.

But keep in mind that whatever form we get in the Clamshells on Queen, their obligation is to enhance and maintain the Commons. Not to sell them to profit-crazed corporations. — Frank Touby