Thursday, November 27, 2008

McGuinty may be wearing out welcome as dad-in-chief

McGuinty may be wearing out welcome as dad-in-chief

November 26, 2008 Jim Coyle

David Ortiz might have to start sharing his nickname.
The Boston Red Sox slugger is known to fans as Big Papi -- the "big" self-evident, "papi" a term apparently used in his native Dominican Republic for "dude" or "buddy."
In Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty may soon come to be known as Big Pappy -- in this case owing to a rather large streak of "father-knows-best-ism" in his Liberal government.
If the premier has developed a signature image, it's as a ban-happy control freak. The list of things that have fallen under his censorious eye is long and growing. Pit-bulls. Trans-fats. Lawn pesticides. Cigarette displays in convenience stores. Smoking in cars carrying children. Cellphones in cars.
Individually, many of these were uncontroversial, some even popular. Taken together, they reveal a mindset likely to make the province chafe just a bit.
Last week, as his government introduced proposed new restrictions on young drivers, McGuinty made a comment that probably revealed more than he intended.
The legislation would ban G2 drivers from carrying more than one teenage passenger during the first year; allow zero blood-alcohol in drivers 21 and younger; and increase sanctions against young drivers for any infraction.
"If that means a modest restriction on their freedoms until the reach the age of 22, then, as a dad, I am more than prepared to do that."
The premier has apparently appointed himself Ontario's dad-in-chief.
But judging by the firestorm of opposition to his legislation, McGuinty might have worn out his welcome as the province's Ward Cleaver.
There comes a point, as New Democrat Gilles Bisson noted in reaction to the introduction of the young driver bill, when politicians have to admit "we can't legislate everything."
In the end, McGuinty may be done in more by his fetish for risk-management and tidy-up time -- the incessant super-Dad --than anything he does or doesn't do on large matters of the economy.
Yesterday, Premier Dad was at it again when he was asked to comment on the huge opposition to the bill that's grown up among young people on Facebook.
The first part of his answer was bizarre. He applauded the participation of young people in the discussion about road safety. But he wanted to know "what responsibilities are they prepared to undertake to provide us with some assurances that they will do what they need to do to keep our roads safe?"
Talk about reverse onus. What's next? Having LCBO clerks demand assurances before making a sale that purchasers will not get tipsy?
The second part of the premier's answer was even odder.
He said he wasn't sure that young people would come to committees to make presentations at public hearings on the bill.
"I think we need to find a way to get onto Facebook. . . . I talk to my kids about this, they say: 'You're not going to make me go to a committee hearing, are you? When did you invent those, in the 1700s?' "
Let's leave aside the fact the premier has already banned civil servants from using Facebook and seems to have had a conversion experience on the merits of social networking.
Since when were premiers in the business of dissing a form of government that is a model for the world? Or a century in which a lot of really cool stuff was invented?
What next? Will the premier be mocking Confederation as an outdated concept because it happened, like, back in 1867, or whatever?
Not only is McGuinty subject to recurring doubts of Dad-ism. He's becoming that worst kind of middle-aged Dad --the Dad trying to be hip.

Jim Coyle writes on provincial affairs for Mercury news services.

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