Campaign raises a critical issue

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The average Nova Scotia might be paying scant attention to the Ontario election campaign, but one heated issue has relevance for us all.

Add to that, when political talk resurrects the tragedy of the Walkerton, Ont., deaths and widespread sickness due to water contamination, expect emotions to be at their peak. Mixed in with this debate about safe drinking water is the perpetual subject of public sector roles versus the privatization of services.

Vying for the top political job in Ontario, Conservative leader Tim Hudak is campaigning on fiscal austerity with a vow to privatize to an extent and slash 100,000 public sector jobs.

You don’t have to live in that province to relate to this. Nova Scotia, as we all know, is deeply in debt and in need of finding ways to reel in public expenditures. Ontario, though perceived as an economic heartland, certainly bottoms out when the economy sours. The province now is in overall debt by about $250 billion.

Keeping that figure in mind, Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, if successful in the election, would be running a province where the annual deficit is projected to grow to $12.5 billion by 2016.

As we recall what happened in Walkerton on the May long weekend in 2000, people are warning that any slashing of public sector jobs would just invite another such severe health catastrophe.

Other provinces – governments everywhere – will eventually be having this same argument, since probably the most essential role of government is the safety and health security of its citizens. Yet there’s only so much public funding can afford, and the crunch is getting worse with an aging population and finite tax base.

This Ontario showdown of opinions begs the question of whether a privatized service dealing with public issues can perform as adequately as a public sector. It would require checks and balances and strict accountability.

This is an issue that needs thorough debate, because it’s going to come up again and again.

Geographic location: Ontario, Walkerton, Nova Scotia

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