Hudak’s MacGuffin and Wynne’s Gun


Tim Hudak is sitting around with his economic advisors.

“What’s this about laying off 100,000 people, Tim?” asks one.

“That’s a MacGuffin,” Hudak says.

“What’s a MacGuffin?” asks one of his eggheads.

“Well, it’s an apparatus for creating a million jobs through tax cuts,” he responds.

“But you can’t create a million jobs through tax cuts!” an exasperated economist shoots back.

“Well, then, that’s no MacGuffin!” Hudak laughs.

All laugh.

Hudak’s opus has turned into his single greatest liability and, as Hitchcock envisioned it, his MacGuffin.

A MacGuffin, for those unfamiliar, is essentially a focal point of a story that is left essentially unexplained by the author.  Rosebud, from Citizen Kane, the Maltese Falcon, or even the case from Pulp Fiction.  For Hudak, it’s the MILLION JOBS PLAN.  It is of integral importance, but is essentially a symbolic prop.

And if Hudak had wandered into this campaign against a couple of stool pigeons who played the roles that he wanted them to, he might’ve even gotten away with it.

Problem is, everybody always wants to know what the MacGuffin is.  People agonize and torture themselves.  What does it mean?  What does it symbolize?

Policy geek and Ottawa Citizen journalist David Reevely summed up the plan’s problems, noting that they are based on “an idealized conservative image of how a government would behave.”

Nerdy columnist Andrew Coyne artfully concluded that “the figures used to justify that suspiciously round number are a hot mess: one-half wishful thinking, one-half double counting and one-half bad math.”

Economist Mike Moffatt skewered the math in concluding “it is absolutely laughable to believe that Ontario’s economy will instantaneously grow faster than China’s just by simply enacting three policies.”

Economists and former Finance Canada wonks Scott Clark and Peter DeVries torched the plan in grim detail, writing that “these numbers may seem fanciful, and they are.  But they became crazier still.”

And so the MacGuffin was exposed: a farce.

But disastrous policy in the age of voter fatigue and financial illiteracy won’t necessarily hobble a party leading in the polls.

Wynne’s gun, however, might.

It was Anton Chekhov who wrote: “one must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.”

The author established the rule — Chekhov’s Gun — that has become law in television, theatre, and literature.

One may have thought that Wynne broke that rule in announcing her 2014 budget.  Spectators gasped.  But she never fired that gun.

She set it on the mantle, called the election, and hit the streets.

The budget didn’t even appear on her website.  Now she’s got a full plan, and it is virtually the opposite of Hudak’s tirefire of a platform.

She pulled that rifle off the mantle, took aim at Hudak, and fired.

As I’ve already written, voters don’t like it when you point the gun at them.  And cutting spending is a nice promise, but its results are far from predictable.

Which is why Wynne’s plan may be extreme — $130 billion in spending here, new payroll deductions there, 30% off tuition for good measure — it is at least as likely to create ONE MILLION JOBS as Hudak’s plan is.  The upswing is that it doesn’t fire a tenth of the public sector work force, increase class sizes and reduce public services in the process.

Even the police are railing against Hudak.  The police.  In our streets.  Opposing the Progressive Conservatives.

Tim Hudak and the Conservatives can whine about Wynne and her corrupt government all they like, they’ve enabled another minority government through the sheer incompetence of their bluster.

Andrea Horwath, meanwhile, appears to have misread the field.  She has tried to step in for Hudak as the penny-pincher-in-chief, with limited success.  It’s perhaps a case of a typecast actor trying to step into a new role — people can only ever see you as Inmate #4, not Sassy Bartender.  To that end, Horwath appears to have abandoned her core consistency — which is not, in and of itself, a bad thing — only to try and woo a swath of voters that are outside her universe.  Unless she can right that ship in the next few days, she has limited hope of a breakthrough.

The Greens, meanwhile, have been trotting out clever and innovative policy, but have failed to grasp the media’s fancy.

So it will come down to the leader’s debate.

Hudak won’t be able to dance around his MacGuffin.  He’ll need to face facts.

Wynne will be trying to get a clean shot off on the PC leader.

And Horwath will continue her doomed courtship.



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Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling


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