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THE SALON

The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - Rick Anderson, Anne McGrath and Richard Mahoney - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.


ONTARIO'S CANCELLED GAS PLANTS COULD COST 

$1.1 BILLION: AUDITOR GENERAL


Anne McGrath:

 

Even when you're braced for bad news it can be worse than expected.

This is very bad news for the Wynne government.

As much as she has been trying to distance herself from the McGuinty record and turn the page she is haunted by this story.

The question of course is how it will play out for her in a general election. Will voters accept the mea culpas and the idea that this is a new government or will she end up wearing this?

This gives fresh impetus to the opposition to bring down the government and force an election, and puts incredible pressure on the Premier to back off the election sabre-rattling.


Rick Anderson:


The history buffs amongst us will be checking out whether this billion-dollar scandal is the worst in Canadian history; it may well be.

Think of the time we have spent on hundreds of thousands of dollars of Senate expense scandals. Or the millions that went missing in the federal Liberals' sponsorship scandal.

This one has now reached a cool billion dollars.

And the path to that is littered with self-serving partisan political choices, an absence of due diligence on the part of former Premier McGuinty, his cabinet and senior political aides, and a record first of concealed information and later of attempts to destroy it.

It does not get a whole lot worse than that in terms of bad governance...and we have yet to hear from the Wynne government who should actually be held responsible for this. No one?


Richard Mahoney:

 

I agree with Anne's observation - this is bad news. It's hard to imagine how an issue like this could be good news for a government.

This is a classic situation where the former McGuinty government relied on experts to site a gas plant to produce electricity, conducted a process and made a decision.

Then, in 2010, following serious concerns raised by the local community, the Mayor, Mr. Hudak, Ms. Horwath, and many others, the decision was made to relocate the gas plant.

And while my friend Rick, and I presume Tim Hudak, exaggerate the costs involved for their own partisan purposes, the question that I think most responsible people ask when mistakes like this are made is how does, or did, the Premier handle it?

Did she take responsibility? Yes, she did, as did Mr. McGuinty. Were extensive and exhaustive hearings undertaken to figure out how this happened? Yes they were. Over 130,000 documents were handed over to the committee examining this. Did she apologize? Yes she did. Was she held accountable? Yes. And she undertook to make sure the situation would not happen again. That is the kind of leadership we expect of a Premier. And that is what we got.

 

Anne McGrath:

 

There are very few Ontarians, including in the Liberal Party, who believe that the decision to relocate the gas plants was made as a result of opposition concerns.

Probably the worst part of this saga for the Liberal government is the perception that this was a move made for purely partisan electoral reasons. It certainly looks like voters are placing the responsibility with the Liberal government based on the by-election results in the past few years and the real accountability will be when there is a general election.

When it comes to numbers, Ontarians will believe the A-G and not the Liberal party. There is no silver lining for the Premier in this cloud.

 

Rick Anderson:

 

I'm still getting a chuckle out of Richard's acknowledgement that this is "bad news."  As in: when someone told Captain Smith they'd hit a bit of ice.

The government has misrepresented the costs on this fiasco time and again, and today is just one more mega-millions step in that process of deception. And if the Premier has ever said, this is who did what wrong and here is what we are doing about it," I missed it.

 

Richard Mahoney:


Premier McGuinty was clear - he made the decision to relocate both gas plants. Premier Wynne took responsibility as the current Premier, acknowledged it was done for political reasons, and apologized. That is candor. And appropriate behaviour for a Premier.

The costs of relocation are spread over twenty years, and involve a lot of assumptions. Governments make mistakes - in this case, a significant one. When they do, the public expects honesty and accountability. I say that is what they are getting in this case.

Anne is right - sometime, likely in the spring, the New Democrats and the Conservatives will defeat the government in the Legislature and force an election. The public will pass judgment on the Premier, the government and the opposition parties. And they will take all of this into account, as they should.

 

CONSERVATIVES LEAD IN ONTARIO; LIBERALS LEAD IN QUEBEC 

 

Anne McGrath:

 

It's no surprise that the federal parties are paying a lot of attention to Ontario and BC in the run-up to the next election.

Horse race numbers at this point in the election cycle are interesting to political addicts but really of very little use.

More interesting research is the attitudes to leaders, the issues that resonate, and the right direction/wrong direction numbers. With the addition of new seats to a province that already has such a major influence on who forms the government, Ontario will be the critical battleground and the federal election could be won or lost in the province.

More qualitative research would likely tell us more about the mood and aspirations of Ontarians.

 

Rick Anderson:

 

Guessing that Richard is pretty happy that this trio is finished the discussion on gas plants for the day, but smart enough to know the topic is just beginning again for lots of other people in Ontario. I think this feeds into what is already a highly volatile public opinion environment in Ontario.

Although the federal election is still two years off, the federal Conservatives will take some encouragement from recent polls suggesting they have regained support in Ontario, particularly amongst suburban voters who may well decide the next election outcome.

But it is the provincial polls most Ontario observers are watching closely, since an Ontario provincial election will likely occur well before the federal one.

The best way to read the provincial polls, to my eye, is as a tight three-way race in which any outcome is conceivable. Which is why billion-dollar scandals matter so much.  

 

Richard Mahoney:

 

One of my favourite quotes of all times is John Diefenbaker's  "polls are for dogs!" That said, and with Anne's warning about the horse race in mind, recent polls tell us a couple of interesting things in term of the larger trends.

First, that the federal Liberals, the third place party in parliament, are leading the polls nationally.

Second, that there is a dogfight going on in Ontario between the Conservatives and the Liberals - they appear to be closely matched in popular support.

I suspect that trend will continue for some time. We have already seen the Harper attack machine spend millions of dollars to discredit Mr. Trudeau. That approach did not work.

The real battle will be to see which party has the most convincing program and ideas to help grow the middle class, and therefore to help grow the economy.

The party that wins that battle will win Ontario and will likely win the election.

 

Anne McGrath:

 

I have quite a bit of experience with unfavourable poll numbers that result in big wins nonetheless (federal election, May 2, 2011) and conversely, with favourable polling that results in losses (BC, May 2012) so I tend to be fairly skeptical about their reliability as an indicator of vote intentions.

However, it is true that Ontario is a major battleground and I agree with Rick that provincial politics will be pivotal.

The by-election in Toronto Centre is shaping up to be an interesting race with the NDP mounting a sharp challenge to a seat that has recently been a cakewalk for the Liberals. The gas plant scandal won't help the Liberal candidate. Voters don't tend to make strict distinctions between federal and provincial parties.

 

Rick Anderson:

 

300% agree with Anne's cautionary tales about pre-counting un-hatched polling chickens. Ask Danielle Smith. Or Tim Hudak. Or Kim Campbell. Or John Turner. Far too early to really tell how Justin Trudeau is going to sell with voters here in Ontario, or in BC, or in suburban anywheresville. Some positive signs for him, some less so. Far too early to tell if Quebec's Orange Wave was a one-of occurrence, or if Thomas Mulcair can do a repeat.

I tend not to see federal and provincial parties helping each other (sometimes more the opposite), but nonetheless it seems today that Wynne-Trudeau, Hudak-Harper and Horvath-Mulcair have closer relations than is the norm, and maybe at least a sense of shared wellbeing.

 

Richard Mahoney:

 

Agree that polls at this point don't tell us what will happen in an election two years away.

But...the Liberals are doing surprisingly well in recent polls, and it is worthy of note that Mr Mulcair and the NDP are not doing so well. It was just a few months ago when New Democrats were arguing that we were moving to a two-way battle between the NDP and the Conservatives, with the Liberals being left out. Not many NDP stalwarts saying that now.

We will see in Toronto Centre whether or not these positive results for the Liberals are reflected in actual electoral results. The parties have chosen candidates that underline the battle of ideas between the two parties beautifully. Both Chrystia Freeland and Linda McCuaig have written authoritatively on the middle class and the economy. Where they differ is on what to do about it, with the NDP candidate arguing for a tax increase on higher income Canadians. Let's see what the residents of the riding have to say about that, about Mr. Mulcair, Mr. Harper and Mr. Trudeau and their plans.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

About The Salon (Anderson, Mcgrath, Mahoney)

Rick Anderson is former senior advisor to Reform Party Opposition leader Preston Manning; Anne McGrath was Chief of Staff to the late NDP leader Jack Layton; and Richard Mahoney, former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin.
Posted date : October 09, 2013

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