How Ontario’s Liberals can win back rural Ontario – by Michael Warren (Toronto Star – June 2, 2013)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Wynne is starting to deliver on commitments to rural and northern voters.

There is a method in Premier Kathleen Wynne’s madness. Firing Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. (OLG) chair Paul Godfrey. Forming a four-minister task force to review rules for renewable energy projects. Negotiating with the horse-racing industry.

All these seemingly unrelated actions have one purpose. Winning back rural Ontario. Most of the 18 Liberal seats lost to the opposition in the last provincial election were in rural Ontario. It was northern and rural voters who said no to a Liberal majority government.

Former premier Dalton McGuinty governed from his bunker at Queen’s Park. He saw the big issues of the day through a metropolitan prism. His government developed a big city “we know best” attitude that infuriated rural voters.

His rural MPPs and cabinet ministers told McGuinty about the deepening sense of Liberal abandonment in their ridings. But he wasn’t listening. Almost all of them went down to defeat as a result. This didn’t go unnoticed during February’s Liberal leadership race. Every candidate talked about the needs of the North and the hinterland.

Wynne was no exception. She promised to take on the role of minister of agriculture and food. She’s committed to bringing back the http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&BillID=2702 and supporting a sustainable horse-racing industry. She called for more municipal control over the siting of wind farms, and funding for roads and bridges in small communities.

Now she’s starting to deliver. Paul Godfrey took OLG some distance toward modernization. But he made a couple of major Toronto-centric mistakes along the way. Early in the process, without consultation, OLG announced it was cancelling the Slots at Racetracks Program that gave the industry about $345 million in slots revenues annually.

It was a death sentence for the 14 rural racetracks and hundreds of horse breeders across the province. Together they employed about 60,000 people. The push for higher profits from slots blinded the OLG board to the economic impact of their decision.

Godfrey’s second mistake was personally fronting the OLG campaign for a casino complex in downtown Toronto. Godfrey’s deal-making reputation enticed some of the world’s largest casino operators to team up with leading developers. They dazzled Torontonians with a series of megaproject proposals.

Godfrey upped the ante in January. He dangled between $50 million and $100 million in hosting fees if Toronto approved a casino. This amount went well beyond the formula being discussed with other cities.

For the rest of this article, click here: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/06/02/how_ontarios_liberals_can_win_back_rural_ontario.html

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