Politicians…they’re consistent

We’ve got provincial election coming, here in Ontario. It’s on June 12, 2014. The only bright side is that the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, David Onley, ordered the election on May 2, 2014, leaving us only about five weeks to suffer through campaigning.

More than how they might save the world, I’m interested in how politicians treat their constituents, because I believe that says a lot about them as people, and how they will handle their duties. You might say it’s much like how some people suggest that you watch how a dating partner treats the wait-staff to get an idea of what kind of person they are. Of course a politician is perfect in their ads, but what about when I write them an e-mail message about a back-burner issue?

With that in mind, I wrote the Liberals, the Progressive Conservatives, the New Democratic Party, and the Green Party e-mail queries about Ontario’s Drive Clean program. Drive Clean is the reason you have to take your car in for an emissions test every certain number of years when you renew your plate sticker. The reason I decided on this issue is because it’s not at the fore of the media spotlight, but I’m very interested in it for two reasons.

One is that with the increasing efficiency of emissions controls, cars are remarkably pollution free as compared to those even a decade ago. Yes, plenty of older cars are still on the road, but is the bureaucratic infrastructure required for this program worth the benefit? I believe not. The other reason is that the Drive Clean program, in my opinion, is the worst kind of government scam. The program is revenue neutral, in that it pays for itself an no more, except that it doesn’t. In 2012, the program generated an $11 million surplus, and in 2013 it grew to $19 million. The Auditor General at the time, Jim McCarter, advised the government to eliminate the surplus and make sure it doesn’t happen again, but the government said they’d perhaps get around to it next year. That year is now and I’ve heard nothing about the program changing.

And why did the auditor general advise the government to eliminate the surplus? Because the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled it is unlawful to make a profit from a revenue-neutral program. So the provincial government continues to charge drivers more than it should to make a profit…simply because this issue isn’t big enough to break out into the media spotlight.

I drafted a very simple e-mail message with a subject of “Drive Clean” to the four parties I mentioned earlier. Some required that I use a feedback form on their web site, but the contents of my messages were the same:

I checked [party web page URL] but there’s nothing there about this issue.

So let me just ask directly: What are [party contender for premier]’s plans for Ontario’s Drive Clean program?

It couldn’t be simpler. I wanted no confusion about what I was asking, and no wiggle room.

I sent all four messages in the space of an hour on the evening of May 6, 2014.

The first reply arrived about 20 hours later from the Progressive Conservatives:

Thank you for taking the time to write and share your concern.

We agree that the Drive Clean program needs to be scrapped.

The truth of the matter is before we can get rid of Drive Clean, we need to get rid of the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals and their NDP enablers.

Kathleen Wynne has made it clear she will make this program permanent, and the NDP will support her.

We can’t let Kathleen Wynne get away with this illegal tax and making the Drive Clean program permanent.

Donate $25 today to help us get rid of Drive Clean once and for all: https://secure.ontariopc.com/Donate

Your donations will help us fight the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals and put Ontario on the right track.

Thank you,

The Ontario PC Party

I was immediately amused that the person who replied seemed to think I was against the program despite my making sure I expressed no opinion in my query. Also amusing is the claim that the Liberal party will make the program permanent. It is permanent, unless revoked. The program has no set duration that I’m aware of. So they assume they know what I’m thinking, throw in a manufactured scare tactic, then ask me to give them money. There’s nothing about the Progressive Conservative party in there…it’s all about how the Liberals are evil. Granted, in this case I think they are but for the PCs entirely give away the spotlight tells me that they themselves believe they’re playing catch-up and have little of their own to contribute. Poor show, PCs.

The Liberals replied even sooner, but it doesn’t count. Their message arrived seconds after I wrote them:

This is an automated response to acknowledge receipt of your email.

Your correspondence will be reviewed by our office as soon as possible and you will receive a detailed response if necessary. Due to how much correspondence we receive, it can take some time before we are able to carefully consider and respond to a communication.

If you have recently made a donation to the Ontario Liberal Party and are enquiring about receiving a tax receipt, please be assured you will be mailed your receipt prior to the next tax filing period.

If you are seeking support on matters of government policy, there are several avenues available to you for receiving information from your public service and elected representatives. You can contact the Government of Ontario and its individual ministries here. You can also consult your local representative, the Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) for your community here.

Our office does not manage government business. The OLP office is responsible for addressing queries from party members on matters of party administration. We do not have the same resources or access to information as government offices or MPP constituency offices, or the authority to respond on behalf of those offices.

Therefore, if our office is not the best source for the information on the issue of your concern, we encourage you to contact the Government of Ontario or your local MPP so you can receive the most detailed, up-to-date, and accurate information possible.

Thank you for contacting the office of the Ontario Liberal Party.

That’s a whole lot of text to say, we’ll look at your message and reply is we deem it necessary. And in the intervening 17 days, they seem to have thought it unnecessary because I’ve heard nothing.

The NDP and the Green Party have also seen fit not to reply. I’m sure they’re busy, but do I accept that as a reason for not having heard back? Hell no. “Too busy” is not something I ever expect to hear from my elected representative, or someone vying for that position. Their whole job is to represent me and if they’re too busy to do so, they have no business in the position. Similarly, I understand that election time is a busy time, but if they can’t run a campaign, how can they expect to run a government?

Yes, politicians are entirely consistent. They fawn and preen to get our votes, as long as it’s easy or extremely visible. Ask a question that is not terribly sexy and you’re not worth answering… except as a revenue stream, in the PC’s case. Then once in office, the winner sees us as merely an annoyance.

Plus ça change…

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