Toronto Star Editorial November 15, 1998 Tories' health ads abuse power and trust The Mike Harris government has taken to television with partisan ads attacking Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty on health policy. These follow $4 million of ostensibly non-partisan ads on taking Band-Aids off the health system. What distinguishes the two? The blame-McGuinty ads are paid for by the Tories but the Band-Aid ads are paid for by the taxpayer. A lot of people believe that the ads paid for by the taxpayer represent an abuse of power. We agree. This kind of advertising, now over $42 million without the usual government ads included, is worthy of study by the provincial auditor. The clobber-McGuinty campaign, by contrast, is supposedly acceptable because the Tories are paying for it - albeit with help from tax deductions. But there's a bigger issue here. What marks our system as different from the American is trust. Theirs is premised on the idea that government cannot be trusted. Each branch of government must be checked by another, no one of which is supreme. But trust is central to ours. We must believe - for between elections we have little choice - that a majority will use with restraint the formidable powers Parliament provides to it. A government's ongoing exercise of power is not justified by the majority it holds, in other words, but by the trust it earns each time it uses power. And unlike the Americans, we test each day, through direct questioning, whether trust is still justified. Harris answers few questions in the Legislature, however. And neither inner restraint nor respect for contrary opinion has marked his government. Indeed, Harris' own words introducing The Common Sense Revolution did not suggest they would. ``The political system stands in the way of making many of the changes we need right now,'' he said there. The political system? Did he just mean cities and school boards whose powers he gutted when they blocked his way? If that were all, it would be concern enough. But Harris' proposition, that the Tories are not there to govern but to ``fix'' the system, denies responsible government itself. Indeed, it is perilously close to arguing that his government need not be restrained by tradition. This is not an idea in keeping with the spirit of our democracy, or any democracy for that matter. Unfortunately, Queen's Park has also chosen not to restrain itself in the most sensitive area of our democratic life: elections and how they are financed. Traditionally, changes to election rules were based on all-party agreement. But Harris used not simply his majority but the bluntest of all parliamentary instruments - closure - to override objections and cut off debate on the rules he wanted. And now we can see what the new rules mean. There are no limits on spending in the months before an election, and none will be respected. It does not serve us that a government seems intent on buying - rather than winning by its ideas and its record - a majority to justify whatever it might choose to do. It does not build trust but destroys it and, with it, the legitimacy of all government does. How are we to think it legitimate when - months before an election is to be called - we see vast amounts of public treasure expended to place some of this century's most vaunted propaganda techniques in the service of untrammeled power? Even if it were not propaganda, it would be obscene, when the homeless crowd our streets and hospitals close, to spend $42 million to bash teachers and school boards and take Band-Aids off a health system Harris wounded. But it is propaganda, and it is worthy neither of our traditions nor our trust - nor our respect. Rather, it connotes a government abusing power and position because, in Mike Harris' words, ``the political system itself'' - what we call democracy - stands in its way. People see this. That is why resistance is rising on schools and health. If the government wishes to run election ads, let it have the decency to call an election. Otherwise, it should halt this abuse of our treasure and our trust. Contents copyright =A9 1996-1998, The Toronto Star. User interface, selection and arrangement copyright =A9 1996-1998, Torsta= r Electronic Publishing Ltd.