Slowing down McGuinty’s ban-wagon

May 30, 2010

If Dalton McGuinty isn’t more careful, there could be dandelions growing from his political grave.

Over the seven years he’s served as Ontario’s premier, McGuinty’s earned a reputation for passing more new laws to protect Ontarians from their neighbours, their families and themselves than any premier before him — including laws governing lawns.

Opinions will differ on the value and justification for each of these laws. But it’s fair to say a good number of people on this lovely May weekend will take the premier’s name in vain as they strain their backs, skin their knees, jab the ground and wrench out dandelions with sweat-drenched hands. All because they want a relatively weed-free yard and McGuinty’s Liberals declared forbidden the pesticides that once delivered this blissful, suburban Arcadia in a more convenient manner.

Now one dandelion is a thing of beauty. As vivid and blazing as a noonday sun, its flower transforms itself into a white dome of seeds that ride the wind on silken parachutes. And that’s the problem. The darned things are prolific and invasive. They’re a herbal rash. And for many people, the sight of 1,000 dandelions or 10,000 of the stubborn weeds defiantly popping up their yellow heads on lawns and playing fields is a thing of horror.

Adding insult to injury is the opinion of at least some people that the pesticide ban was unnecessary and legislated without scientific proof. It is true, as the many supporters of the pesticide ban attest, that the province acted out of concern for public health. But it is also true that the federal government regulators had ruled that all of the pesticides banned in Ontario were, in fact, absolutely safe.

This is not the place to rehash this debate. Suffice it to say, however, that dandelions have now sprouted in the political arena. Last week, Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak drew a line in the partisan turf between his party and the government.

“While we are focused on creating jobs and defending the family budget, the nanny premier is worried about saving you from the menace of the plastic bag and protecting dandelions on your front lawn,’’ he said.

When Hudak rails against the Liberal’s harmonized sales tax without threatening to do anything about it, he does not impress. When he rails against McGuinty’s penchant for waving new restrictions and regulations in the face of Ontarians, the Conservative leader stands on firmer ground for fighting the next election 17 months from now.

Along with pesticides, the Liberals banned pit-bulls, smoking in workplaces, smoking in cars with children present, and the use of hand-held devices such as cellphones while driving. In addition, the government has mused about banning plastic bags and forced store owners to hide cigarettes behind barriers.

To be sure, each of these initiatives can claim its defenders. Indeed, this newspaper editorially endorsed measures such as the bans on drivers using cellphones and on people smoking in public places.

This would be an appropriate time, however, for the Liberals to take stock of the legacy left by their seven-year ban-wagon. They could do more to stop smoking if, rather than obsessing on how convenience stores display tobacco, they did something to stop the sale of cheap, untaxed, contraband cigarettes to schoolchildren. Moreover, the Liberals ought to consider the accumulative effect of all their bans.

As one new restriction is piled upon another regulation and yet another new rule, many ordinary, decent citizens feel their lives have become pinched and constrained affairs needlessly and unfairly regimented by governments. Perhaps the government needs to realize that, while ordering pedestrians to wear helmet might prevent some people from concussing themselves on sidewalks, there is a point at which mature and intelligent adults should be allowed to walk freely, even if they risk stumbling.

And perhaps this government should consider that the hand that digs the dandelion may one day rule the province.

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