EVERY taxpayer in this province owes Hazel McCallion a big thank you. McCallion, the famous former mayor of Mississauga, who at 98 remains remarkably engaged in civic affairs, has done us all a huge favour: she is not taking our money.

Though Ontario is horribly broke — weighed down by a horrendous deficit of nearly $15 billion — Premier Doug Ford, a Conservative no less, who campaigned in part on balancing the province’s sorry books, wanted to pay McCallion $150,000 annually for “advice.”

Ford, who considers McCallion a pal, has shown a tendency as premier to take care of his friends. He also wants another good buddy, Toronto Police Supt. Ron Taverner, 72, to become OPP commissioner, despite waves of opposition from the OPP’s rank-and-file.

But McCallion, who grew up in the Depression, and likely knows the value of a dollar better than most, turned Ford down. Wisely, McCallion said Ford could call her up anytime if he needed her advice and — wait it for it — she wouldn’t charge a cent. Imagine that.

About 100 years ago, when much of Europe was economically devastated by the ravages of the First World War, a handful of wealthy American businessman were called upon to sail across the Atlantic and offer some advice to help those countries get back on their feet financially. The U.S. government suggested it could cover their expenses, but the businessman were aghast and dismissed the offer. They said they could afford to pay their own way, and did so.

There is very likely a list as long as Ford’s arm of similarly experienced people who would gladly give him a few moments of their time — gratis.

One thing that is going to come out of the provincial coffers is the sumptuous salary for veteran Conservative party hack Jenni Byrne, who is soon to be appointed to the Ontario Energy Board. Byrne, who used to work in Ford’s office, will rake in nearly $200,000 a year as a full-time OEB board member, despite the fact that the agency is already chock-full of fully qualified directors.

Ford is hardly the first premier to throw taxpayer money around so that friends and acquaintances can end up in plum positions, or get handsomely paid for advice.

The question is, how did we get to this point, where a politician in charge of a province teetering on the brink of insolvency can lay down $150,000, like it’s 25 cents on a sidewalk?

The answer may partly be due to how detached society has become from government in general, unaware of how expenditures are broken down. We pay our taxes, but somehow we are disconnected.

Let’s say someone forks out $2,000 a year in provincial income tax. That person might vaguely be aware that Ontario has a massive debt — nearly $350 billion, actually. What they might not know are the particulars; that, for instance, half of the province’s operating budget (about $60 billion worth) goes just for the cost of running hospitals and medical clinics, and paying doctors and nurses and so on.

So, using the same example, that person’s share would amount to $1,000 in real money. Now, imagine If he or she counted it all out on a kitchen table in crisp fifty-dollar bill, the amount being spent really sinking in. They’d probably be pretty ticked off if they found out someone at Queen’s Park had wasted it on “advice” that could be had for free.

And by the way, where does $150,000 possibly come from, when a province’s debt is deeper than the Grand Canyon, and the prospect of a balanced budget seems like a fairy tale? McCallion’s refusal to accept the amount spoke volumes: in other words, give your head a shake, Doug Ford.

Perhaps we all need to think of the provincial budget in terms of pie-graph, in which expenditures for each department — roads, education and so forth — are plainly defined. Clearly, there would be no room on any such graph for plum appointments. There just wouldn’t be any money for that type of thing at all.

Sixty years ago, when Hazel McCallion was a young woman, someone who found 25 cents on a sidewalk could buy a couple of loaves of bread, or half a dozen eggs.

It was cheaper to live back then, but people also knew the value of a dollar. Today, not so much.

(Originally published Feb. 4, 2019)

Recommended for you