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                  Can The Wynne Liberals Survive In The Age Of Trump? 



By Randall White

Long, long ago Goldwin Smith, a noted Oxford history professor who retired in Toronto, urged that, culturally, “Ontario is an American State of the Northern type.”

It also shares Great Lakes borders with several real American states that ominously shifted from blue to red in the U.S. presidential election of 2016. 

Even with a split decision in last week’s Ottawa Vanier and Niagara West Glanbrook by-elections, a poignant question remains. 

Are the new political forces that gave Donald Trump Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and possibly Michigan also conspiring to throw Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government out of office in the spring of 2018? 

Whatever else, there would be ironies in this prospect. 

Ontario is not exactly in an economic boom right now. But what region anywhere is? And Canada’s most populous province is doing not too badly. 

According to a report from Food Banks Canada, food bank usage has increased significantly this year in every province - except Ontario and Manitoba.

Ontario's economic development minister Brad Duguid recently pointed out that Ontario has gained 641,000 net new jobs since the Great Recession of 2008. Unemployment has been below the national average for 18 consecutive months. Provincial GDP growth is forecast to come in at 2.5% this year, at the top of the G7.

Ontario does have a public debt problem, one that governments of all three major parties have helped create. But it is being managed. And the trend is in the right direction. 

There is an evidence-based case as well that the Wynne government is coming surprisingly close to delivering on the complex promises it made in the 2014 election. 

It has worked to at once balance the budget and promote job-rich economic growth, while avoiding austerity in social policy and making calculated new investments in health care, education and transportation. 

Premier Wynne also still carries a risky torch for the 21st century Ontario Liberal commitment to do something serious about climate change. 

As elsewhere, green energy has put upward pressure on electricity prices. The government has had to moderate its policy — including an 8% tax rebate on hydro bills.

To keep hope alive, Queen’s Park recently announced further consultations on an Ontario cap and trade program. For some this remains one of many things making Kathleen Wynne and her government so unpopular in opinion polls (if not all by-elections) right now.  

Yet it is arguable as well that Premier Wynne has been addressing some of the real issues that have given Donald Trump unexpected strength in the rust-belt states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and possibly Michigan.   

Pension activism is one case in point.  The Wynne government has recognized that current economic trends are leaving too many Canadians with too little retirement income. 

Food Banks Canada is similarly recommending a national basic income to “curb excessive reliance on food banks.” And Ontario has recently announced a basic income pilot project. 

Late this past summer a discussion paper on the project was delivered by the old Davis-era policy guru Hugh Segal. A week later Steve Paikin, whose new biography Bill Davis is happily now in print, suggested that Premier Wynne has things in common with Premier Davis. 

Brampton Bill faced bumps in the road early on (including two minority governments), but survived, keeping the Tories in power for 14 years. A similar fate may await Kathleen Wynne.

However, in the wake of the U.S. election, it also seems possible to see the social and economic geography that parts of Ontario share with the Trump electorate as troubled waters that Bill Davis never quite had to navigate.    

It may even be that the forces that Donald Trump finally mobilized have been percolating in Ontario for some time now as well. 

At least some local pundits have urged that the Sudbury by-election “bribery” charges laid by the Ontario Provincial Police — at the behest of opposition parties in the toxic Ontario legislature — raise concerns not all that unlike those raised by Mr. Trump’s campaigning tactics.

Consider the testimony of U.S. conservative Max Boot: “Trump’s apologists tried to claim that he wasn’t threatening to jail ... Hillary Clinton for being his political opponent but, rather, for supposed ‘felonies committed in office.’ But this is exactly the kind of thing that dictators always say ... The essence of democracy is not to criminalize political differences.” 

Perhaps a little more positively, economic development minister Brad Duguid has noted that Barack Obama’s comparatively strong U.S. economy “didn’t seem to matter on election day ... I believe that Donald Trump’s campaign struck a chord with Americans who feel disconnected from the economic growth others are experiencing. I think we can learn from that.”

Just how much learning gets done — and how useful it finally is — will not be altogether clear until the next Ontario election scheduled for the spring of 2018.






About Randall White

Randall White is a former senior policy advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, and a former economist with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He is the author of Ontario 1610-1985: A Political and Economic History and Ontario Since 1985. He writes frequently about Ontario politics.
Posted date : November 21, 2016

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