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View From The Inside:

How The Liberals Can Win The Next Election


By Hershell Ezrin

No one said that managing a government is easy. But it does give you many advantages compared to having to deal with Opposition infighting and lack of discipline.

Premier Wynne and her team have successfully delivered two unique achievements in her first months in office: they stabilized and have even, at least for the short term, reversed the plunge in popularity of the McGuinty government and avoided the detritus of the ongoing gas plant saga.

Second, Wynne has negotiated a series of electoral challenges (province-wide by-elections, Opposition obstructionism in the House and non-confidence and budget votes) with the likelihood of a spring 2014 election still in play.

Premier Wynne has achieved these goals through a combination of savvy conciliation, firm toughness when needed and an ‘Official Opposition’ still more intent on challenging its own leadership and priorities than managing its own electoral profile.

With the anticipated clearance of a number of small or uncontroversial bills, the stage is set for Wynne to deliver Phase 2 of her rebuilding plan for the Ontario Liberal brand.

Consultation and negotiation will have to give way to some policy and political choices that carry significant risks.

Going into what is likely the last six months of her Government, the Premier has to decide key elements of the party’s platform that will form the umbrella vision upon which the electorate will ultimately judge her government. Otherwise, small but publicly seductive issues like 99 cent parking expense charges can easily hijack the Premier's agenda.

1. Is the McGuinty/Duncan approach of a balanced budget and ongoing belt tightening (living within Ontarians’ means) in keeping with the need for an economic rejuvenation plan (and likely spending increases) that is focused on jobs creation and economic renewal, especially in the hard hit Southwest and North of the province?

2. Can Premier Wynne quickly assemble and showcase a strong economic advisory team that can plan for the Province’s economic future and build public confidence that this is also an area of strength of the new administration?

3. Given the lack of public appetite for any new revenue tools, how does Premier Wynne finance her ambitious public transit goals? She has rightly identified this as a first priority for urban (read GTHA region) voters who remain the current core of the Liberal constituency, but time is running out on good intentions, as public expectations for tangible results peak.

4. Despite a number of effective symbolic acts directed at rural Ontario (reversal of certain horse racing initiatives and the decision to become Minister of Agriculture), Liberal fortunes, at least in the short term in rural Ontario, will focus on a handful of specific seats where local issues and strong local candidates may allow for a Liberal resurgence.

5. How does the Premier package her ‘good works’ in a memorable way? The need for a coherent strategy is a particular imperative for an effective communications plan.

6. And optically, will these policy choices suggest to the voters a new and fresh government that has successfully reinvented itself? The genius of the 43 year Conservative hold on the reins of power was the ability of a succession of its leaders to present a new face to the voters each decade.

In the current three- way battle for voter attention, Premier Wynne and her team have to make deliberate choices to distinguish themselves from their political opponents.

While insurance premium rebates, long- term care support increases, youth job initiatives and a provincial budgetary officer may have been in more than one party’s agenda, there can be little doubt that, at the very least, the NDP has equally benefitted from these policy announcements by the government.

It is a truism of recent Ontario politics that the NDP over 20% in popular vote means trouble for Liberal fortunes, particularly in Ontario cities.  But a progressive Liberal agenda could put back foot the NDP into the me-too strategy with which they have tried to hobble the Liberals.

With the Conservatives’ continued attractiveness to rural Ontario, Liberal fortunes cannot depend upon a Conservative collapse in those areas.

Nonetheless the Liberals may have more fertile ground to plough, as the published policy talking points (a right to work province, the need for budget balancing even at a cut of services) and Mr. Hudak’s own statements (for example, about foreign workers) have marginalized a considerable percentage of the Progressive wing of the Conservative party, and some of the ethnically diverse 905 which Hudak needs to attract to gain traction.

There also remain two other Conservative icons that the Wynne government can hold to account.

Mr. Harper’s government is vulnerable in its lack of support for provincial needs (ranging from health care to transportation to social services and immigrant requirements) while the Ford administration’s future remains unclear (from ridicule to success and then back to irrelevancy.)

The next election currently remains a toss-up among the parties. In my view, boldness can win the day for the new Wynne government. 

About Hershell Ezrin

Hershell Ezrin has more than 30 years' experience as a political advisor to elected officials at all three levels of government and senior executive roles in both the public and private sectors. He served as Principal Secretary to former Liberal Premier David Peterson and was a member of the federal-provincial relations team within the Privy Council Office under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. He is now the Managing Director of Ezrin Communications. He blogs regularly at www.hershell-ezrin.com
Posted date : October 08, 2013

View all of Hershell Ezrin's columns
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