Taking It To The Street



By Susanna Kelley

As Ontarians bid adieu to a beautiful summer and prepare for autumn's graceful arrival, reluctantly heading back from vacations to work and school, a kind of political moderation and the calm it brings seems to be settling over our province and Ottawa.

Yes of course, we still have a minority legislature here in Ontario despite this summer's five by elections, with the non-stop negotiations and political finesse it takes to keep the government from falling.

And yes, the Official Opposition Progressive Conservatives are as adamant as ever to have no truck nor trade with the Liberals, rather leaving that to the NDP.

And yes, bloody attempted coups to wrest the Tory leadership from Tim Hudak are being waged with ugly political knife-fights in the run-up to the PC convention on June 20-22 in London, Ontario.

(An observation: You have to admire the Liberal spin-masters at Queen's Park. Their party loses three of five Liberal seats, the Tories win one in Toronto, and for some strange reason Mr. Hudak is portrayed as the big loser in the media, giving his enemies within the party the opening they crave to publicly dispose of him. Wouldn't you think it would be Kathleen Wynne who would be on the ropes for losing those three seats?)

But unless the PC party can get its act together fairly quickly, it runs a very good chance of blowing its chances in the next election, as it has in the last three elections spanning back now nearly 15 years.

For the old saying is a political truism: a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Or to paraphrase: political history has shown time and again a party caught up in vicious infighting can't possibly dedicate the time, energy, attention and smarts it takes to win an election.

Still, despite the PC drama and a minority government, the fact is the two most powerful politicians at Queen's Park - those who are choosing how Ontario is run - are moderates.

Kathleen Wynne, while seen as coming from the left wing of her centrist party, is only slightly left of centre on the traditional political spectrum.

She's still committed to balancing the budget by 2017-18 while dedicated to attracting investment to Ontario and providing a highly educated work force as the primary ways to create jobs.

Andrea Horwath, while growing up and working in the labour movement, is no flaming red.

She's made pragmatic politics her stock in trade - pocketbook issues such as a break on hydro rates, income tax hikes only on those making over half a billion dollars a year, etc.

Hence she occupies much of the same political space that Wynne does.

This may be a problem for both at election time, but in the meanwhile, it makes for very moderate politics of the sort Ontarians, and many Canadians, have historically preferred.

Federally, too, we are entering a politically moderate phase.

Stephen Harper has shuffled his cabinet and his staff in the Prime Minister's Office.

Contrary to what you may have read, this shuffle is about one thing: getting re-elected.

Mr. Harper is not leaving.

(The discussion you heard over the summer about that was actually based on, well, nothing. It began as pure speculation by some media personalities.  Reporters then asked some in the political class about it and used their answers to make a "story."  Some columnists debated it in the slow news days of summer, mostly amongst themselves, although Paul Wells of Maclean's got it right from the beginning. Even when Mr. Harper stated flat out he is running, some could not graciously admit their mistake. No wonder politicians get frustrated with us sometimes.)

Mr. Harper's history always made the theory he was leaving a very long shot. He hates the Liberal party, wants to see it demolished, and would hardly want to leave when the biggest hope for its resurgence has arrived in the person of Justin Trudeau.

It's just not in Mr. Harper's political DNA to leave a fight like that.

His cabinet and office staff shuffles reinforce his statements.

No favourite heir apparent was given advantage by being showcased in a new, major portfolio.

Most telling of all is the appointment of Jenni Byrne as Deputy Chief of Staff.

Ms. Byrne's is not only a rock hard Harper loyalist; she ran his last campaign in 2011 quite successfully.

Her move from the job of Director of Political Operations for the Conservative Party into the Prime Minister's Office at this time signals what other reports have confirmed: that as is the normal political cycle now, two years before the next election, Mr. Harper's team has shifted into serious pre-election mode. And how does Mr. Harper govern, and run, when the goal is to get re-elected?

As a moderate.

Hence you have seen reports of "senior Conservatives" telling reporters Mr. Harper is reluctant to have Canada dragged into another military quagmire in the Middle East, pushing the U.S. for incontrovertible proof instead that chemical weapons have been used by the Syrian government against its own people.

Hardly the ready-aye-ready hawk Mr. Harper was when it came to sending Canadian troops to fight in Afghanistan.

In the last week he's also said he'll consider the idea of ticketing those caught with small amounts of marijuana, an obvious attempt to neutralize a wedge issue of Justin Trudeau's.

This one is a slam-dunk for the Prime Minister, of course, since the idea was raised by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police - part of the PC's own core constituency.

While it doesn't go so far as to legalize marijuana use as Mr. Trudeau advocates, it's a considerable moderating of Mr. Harper's "tough on crime" stance.

For a student of federal politics since Mr. Harper came to power in 2006, his shift to political moderation has been seen before and it's arrived again, right on schedule.

To the extent that Mr. Harper governs on the right, those types of measures are implemented in the first two years of his mandates.

The last two years being all about re-election,

He moves to the centre, and certainly campaigns as a moderate once the writ is dropped.

His platforms are meant to make Canadians feel comfortable with him, like putting on a familiar pair of slippers. 

Hence, the "sweater" ads, pictures with cuddly kittens and Olympic jackets in the last campaign as he appealed to Canadian's wish for economic calm after the 2009-09 global near economic collapse.

His party's candidates are kept on a short leash during a campaign.

The last thing Mr. Harper wants on the hustings is a Tory candidate advocating radical change.

Thus we can likely bank on several years of quiet, moderate government from Ottawa.

Add that to the centre-left leanings of both Ontario Premier Wynne and Andrea Horwath, and the weakened leadership of Mr. Hudak, and it looks like the moderates will deliver political calm over the next while.

The politically wise know that Ms. Wynne is still not sufficiently distanced in the public eye from the Liberal scandals of former Premier Dalton McGuinty to take a chance on going to the voters in Ontario.

Of course, we could always be plunged into an election should the polls turn in favour of the Liberals, wherein they could take advantage of Tory disarray to engineer their own defeat.

Other than that, and with the caveat that unexpected political crises can always occur, it looks like we're in for a period of moderate politics for some time to come.

You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley 

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : September 03, 2013

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
Taking It To The Street
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