Made-for-TV Budget Plan gets Poor Reception

By RICHARD MACKIE Globe and Mail, Mar 15, 03

Ontario Progressive Conservative MPPs should revolt against their own government and block its plans to deliver a made-for-TV budget outside the legislature, the Speaker of the Legislature says.

Gary Carr, a Tory MPP for 13 years, said unelected advisers to Premier Ernie Eves are running the province and it is up to MPPs to stop them.

"This is not the right thing to do," Mr. Carr said of Mr. Eves's unprecedented plan to use a television studio instead of the legislature to present a budget on March 27.

"What I hope happens is we get some more members who are prepared to stand up and do what they believe is right," he said in an interview. If six of the 56 Tory MPPs voted against the government along with the 46 opposition MPPs, they would defeat Mr. Eves's government.

"What can happen, and what I believe should happen, is the Conservative members, if they decide that five or six of them want to stand up and [say] this budget isn't the proper thing to do, they could get the Premier to back down by saying they are not going to support the [budget] bill."

Mr. Carr, who was elected Speaker four years ago by his fellow MPPs, blamed outside political advisers for Mr. Eves's decision to delay the return of the legislature from March 17 to April 30 and to deliver the budget in a television studio.

"What happened [was that] Leslie Noble, Paul Rhodes and Jaime Watt made the decision. They come in 15 minutes before the announcement and tell the caucus this is what's going to happen," he said."

Government backbenchers have to decide whether Leslie Noble and Paul Rhodes and Jaime Watt are running the province or whether the duly elected members are.

"All three were senior organizers on the Tory election campaigns under former premier Mike Harris in 1995 and 1999. Ms. Noble and Mr. Watt are co-chairs of the current election preparations and Mr. Rhodes is responsible for the communications strategy.

Mr. Rhodes rejected Mr. Carr's arguments and noted that he and the others were asked to help prepare the Tories for an election.

"The decisions that are being made are being made by the Premier and the cabinet in consultation with the caucus," he said.

Within the Tory caucus, the decision to abandon parliamentary precedent and deliver a budget outside the legislature has drawn quiet dissent among some MPPs and cabinet ministers. However, the malcontents were hindered in sharing their views because many MPPs were away from home on March break holidays.

"The problem is that all of the people care more about being cabinet ministers, or being potential cabinet ministers, than they do about doing what's right for the people they represent," Mr. Carr said.

Mr. Carr, who plans to retire from politics, has won three elections as the Conservative standard-bearer in Oakville. His attack on his own party came amid increasing criticism across the province of Mr. Eves and his plan to deliver the budget in a TV studio, complete with a hand-picked audience.

At least 15 newspapers in Ontario have run editorials opposing the idea, including The Globe and Mail. On Friday, a CBC Radio phone-in show was swamped with calls opposing Mr. Eves's plan.

However, Mr. Eves remained adamant when talking with reporters Friday morning, before Mr. Carr made his comments. The Premier argued that few people care where the budget is presented.

"If you talk to people out there - not people that are caught up in the system as members or . . . the Queen's Park [press] gallery or university professors who like to speculate on this sort of thing - if you talk to working men and women out there, they will tell you what's of concern to them is what's in the budget and how it affects their everyday lives not where it's from," he said.

Government House Leader Chris Stockwell, a former Speaker, defended the decision to delay the recall of the legislature. "The decision with respect to the budget and calling the house back was put to caucus and to the cabinet, and I didn't hear any complaints."


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