Enough with broken promises
In 1964, I remember U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) uttering these words: “We’re not about to send American boys … 10,000 miles away from home … to war.” Johnson was promising to keep U.S. troops out of the war in Vietnam. In fact, his administration and the one following it sent more than 3 million American soldiers into an unwinable war. Nearly 60,000 of those young men died. They died of a broken promise.
After his acquittal, in 1995, O.J. Simpson claimed he’d “catch the real killers” of his wife Nicole. Never happened. In 1926, Babe Ruth promised to hit a home run for an ailing boy in New Jersey named Johnny Sylvester. He did. And retreating from Japanese armies in the Philippines in 1942, Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, “I shall return.” He did in March 1945. And, like LBJ, politicians make promises all the time.
Last Thursday, in a sudden U-turn in the Greenbelt scandal – following Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s damning report of Conservative government favouritism to developers and the resignation of political adviser Ryan Amato; next, Integrity Commissioner David Wake’s accusation that the minister of housing Steve Clark had his “head in the sand” and Clark’s Labour Day resignation; next, the resignation of Kaleed Rasheed, minister of public and business service delivery, for being cozy with developers in Las Vegas – Premier Ford said he was sorry and made a new promise:
“It was a mistake to open the Greenbelt,” he said. “As a first step to earn back your trust, I’ll be reversing the changes we made.”
So, we got a public admission of a broken promise from the Ford government (indeed, his entire caucus was summoned to Niagara Falls for the photo op of his mea culpa). And then we got the promise of a new promise. I know. I know. The world is full of political promises never delivered. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson won re-election with the slogan “He kept us out of war,” only to enter the First World War a year later. George H.W. Bush famously promised in 1988, “Read my lips. No new taxes,” then signed a bill raising taxes during his first and only term.
On the other hand, some promises that politicians make – when realized – have had constructive impact. In 1970, as tensions rose over the terrorist FLQ kidnappings in Quebec, CBC reporter Tim Ralfe pressed then prime minister Pierre Trudeau about his decision to call out the military.
“How far would you go? Ralfe asked Trudeau on the steps of Parliament.
“Just watch me,” Trudeau responded. Three days later he invoked the War Measures Act, which led to police actions against Quebec dissidents, and the capture, trial and conviction of those responsible for the murder of Quebec deputy premier Pierre Laporte.
In October 1985, then prime minister Brian Mulroney spoke to the U.N. General Assembly, condemning South Africa’s racist apartheid regime. He said that Canada was “prepared to invoke total sanctions against that country and its repressive regime.” The next year, Canada banned imports from South Africa – everything from wine to hi-tech products. Mulroney’s initiative helped end apartheid in that country and secure the release Nelson Mandela from 27 years of imprisonment on Robben Island.
So, what are we to make of Premier Ford’s promises?
First, his track record is not stellar. And not just on the Greenbelt scandal. In the spring of 2020, just as the World Health Organization told global leaders that COVID-19 was a pandemic, Ford said his government would build “an iron ring around long-term care homes.” Members of the province’s Science Table, Ontario’s own COVID-19 advisory group, reported (as of 2021) that 3,211 residents of LTC homes had died of the disease, 60 per cent of all 5,289 COVID deaths in the province.
In his re-election campaign, he promised to cut hospital wait times, maintain rent control and build new support for mental health, addictions and housing. OK, I recognize policy planks tend to promise the stars, and settle for the moon. But then, in 2018, after he was caught on video telling developer friends he’d open protected Greenbelt lands to construction, he made this promise:
“The people have spoken,” he said in May 2018. “They don’t want me to touch the Greenbelt. We won’t touch the Greenbelt.”
Finally, after delivering on his secret promise to developers, freeing up 7,400 acres of Greenbelt to a potential $8.3 billion windfall for them, last Thursday, he called it “a mistake,” and promised, “We won’t make any changes to the Greenbelt in the future.” Perhaps it’s time for an RCMP investigation or, as some opposition MPPs have demanded, a public inquiry to call this premier and his “promises” to account.
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