One of the great put-downs in the history of political debates was Lloyd Bentsen’s of Dan Quayle, “I knew Jack Kennedy. … Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” I never thought I would be applying similar logic to praise Mike Harris, but here’s why it fits.
One of the Ford Government’s first moves was to fire Ontario’s first Chief Scientist, Molly Shoichet. I don’t know Molly Shoichet, except by reputation. She’s a biomedical engineer, Canada Research Chair, and recipient of both the Order of Ontario and Order of Canada. It doesn’t get any more prestigious than that.
The Ford Government gave no rationale for her firing, except to say that they wanted to appoint their own Chief Scientist. Here’s a link to a radio interview where she discusses the circumstances. Her firing brings to mind a story of my own that will make clear why in this instance I’m praising Mike Harris.
I was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Ontario Transportation Capital Corporation (OTCC) by Premier Rae on May 15, 1995. Mike Harris was elected Premier on June 3. The OTCC was responsible for overseeing the development and construction of Highway 407, the province’s most important capital project at that time. The lead Minister on the project, Gilles Pouliot, wasn’t naïve. He knew the NDP was likely to be defeated. He recommended the appointment of a number of outside directors on the basis of their expertise, not their links to the NDP. I had a background in transportation economics and had done research on road pricing. My appointment was by Order in Council, just like Professor Shoichet’s.
Mike Harris and his transport minister Al Palladini could have fired us all. They didn’t. We served for three years and gave the project managers good impartial advice. That’s why I now give Mike Harris credit.
Doug Ford’s office has said they will keep the position of Chief Scientist and appoint their own person. Based on everything I’ve seen of his government so far, I’m skeptical. Here are two likely outcomes. First, they won’t get around to making the appointment for long enough that people forget about it. Second, given their position on carbon taxation they will find someone with a doctoral degree far less accomplished than Prof. Shoichet who is willing to provide cover for their regressive if not antediluvian policies on climate change.
I will have more to say about the Ford Government in future posts, but I’ll start with one in which my personal experience is relevant.