Did I pass, dear?


The Times is lucky to have so many well-informed, intelligent readers. A few of these readers submitted letters last week regarding what can be succinctly termed “the Greenbelt scandal”. There is no point in regurgitating all of the information contained in those well-written submissions, but a quick summary may be prudent. 

Ontario’s “Greenbelt” is a protected area of millions of acres that has countless environmental benefits. Under Doug Ford’s provincial government, it has suddenly become… well… less protected. The government has chosen large portions of the land to sell to housing developers who can expect to make billions of dollars in profit. 

An Auditor General’s report has found that impacts to the environment were not considered by the government in its decision making. More significantly, the report found that the developers themselves had an influence in choosing which parts of the land would be slated for development. Experts have spoken and generally agree that it is not a shortage of land driving Ontario’s shortage of housing. The development of the Greenbelt is unnecessary. 

Why would developers, who stand to make a fortune, have such an influence in a government decision? Imaginations and speculation run wild in cases like these. “Scandal” is a term often applied any time a government makes an objectively bad decision. A significant portion of Ontario’s population seems to think this was a bad decision, so “objectively bad” is an appropriate term. Even those who may agree with the development of the Greenbelt must surely be questioning how the decision was made. Consultation is a key part of governing. Consultation should never involve those who stand to make a profit if the “right” decision is made. 

Why are governments so disappointing? In a June 2023 poll, out of nine provinces surveyed, only two provinces (Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia) had citizens who held more than 50% approval for their Premier, and even then, it was only JUST over 50%. Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford was sitting on an approval rating of just 33% in that same poll. Why does a government with only 33% approval, in a democracy, get to make universally hated, “scandalous” decisions, and just keep on governing like nothing happened? It will likely hurt their chances of re-election, but once every four years is not a good timeline for citizens to be able to express their displeasure in poor decision making.

Significant in Doug Ford’s case is this – his approval at its highest point was once 69%. As recently as December of last year, he had an approval rating of 45%. The June 2023 rating of 33% is predicted to drop as a result of the Greenbelt scandal. Am I the only one who gets a mental image of a sinking ship? And yet, we have nearly three more years to go. If my math is right, approval ratings cannot go any lower than zero. 

In a traditional grading system, a 69% would be a strong C+. This is still below what schools call “the provincial standard” (pun intended). In contrast, 45% is an F, and 33% is a much bigger F. Similarly at the federal level, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected with just 32.6% of the popular vote, while his runner up, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, had 33.7% of the popular vote. This is because our system of political ridings is meant to ensure that certain areas of Canada don’t dominate when it comes to electing a leader. How is it possible that Conservatives got more votes, but Liberals won? Because on average, there were more strong Conservative ridings (like ours), and more “on the fence” Liberal ridings that swung slightly in the Liberals’ favour. Seats in the House of Commons are all that matters. 

To be perfectly and blatantly clear, I am not suggesting that governments should be achieving near 100% approval ratings to be allowed to govern. Disagreement is healthy and is actually what drives democracy. A government with a 100% approval rating would and should be suspected of brainwashing and propaganda. Disagreement is what gives voters something to vote for. Pick a side – the side that best aligns with your views. But disagreement should never take the form of a vast majority of citizens disagreeing with a government that was questionably influenced and didn’t bother following expert advice or seeking proper consultation. 

I dream of a system where constituents get to grade their politicians. Maybe their pay rate can even be attached to these ratings. I am filled with happiness thinking of Doug Ford waking up on the morning after a citizens’ approval vote, groggily asking his wife, “Did I pass, dear? Do I get to keep my job? Did my pay go up or down?” Politicians love to give themselves raises while raising taxes, giving pitiful increases to government pensions, and generally making life unaffordable. I wonder how quickly things would change if the people being governed were in charge of the payroll department. 

I have no specific hatred of the Ford provincial government. I am just slowly learning to hate all provincial and federal governments. The accountability is lacking, and the apparent inability of the parties to find policies and leaders that Canadians can trust, and whose policies make sense and provide help and good value for tax dollars, is disheartening. 

Why can’t we find someone who meets the “provincial standard”? Why can’t we push the “next” button and fire those who let us down? Why can’t we, the citizenry, reward good choices with pay raises, and punish bad ones with pay cuts? It’s all a dream of course. I guess the only time we can be proud of our leadership is during REM sleep. 


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