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                                           View From The Inside:

                   Ford, Harper Obstruct Liberal Pre-Election Agenda  



By Hershell Ezrin

 It’s tough to drive a new provincial agenda in advance of a widely-expected spring provincial election when you have the Gong Show taking place all around you. That’s the dilemma facing the Ontario Liberals these days as they start to unveil parts of their campaign to entice voter support for their party's first election with Kathleen Wynne as leader.  

Yes, you can roll out provocative ideas about an Ontario pension plan or a green bond for transportation infrastructure and the like; you can launch new consultation vehicles studying transit funding, government transparency and accountability.  And you can seek to empower and engage your political base through policy crowdsourcing.

Yet, getting much airtime or attention for any of these initiatives is almost impossible, sandwiched between the Senate scandal and Mayor Ford’s unraveling sideshow that have attracted so much media and public interest.

The good news for Ontario Liberals is that these twin fiascoes have sucked almost all of the public’s attention and have changed the channel on any remaining public discussion about whether to blame Premier Wynne for Dalton McGuinty’s decision to move the gas plants at great budget cost.

And who can blame the public, watching their elected politicians playing out any number of scenarios from recent television series?

Mayor Ford and his confidants avoid daily surveillance from a secret police task force a la Homeland while the truth about who knew what and when in the PMO is reminiscent of scripts from West Wing and Veep.  

Ford Nation’s so-called endorsement capacity in the upcoming provincial campaign has shrunk, and just in time for the Liberals. who need Fortress Toronto to hold if they are to have any chance of retaining power.

Liberal strategists face several challenges in their aim to reposition and reset the Wynne government’s agenda from consultation to action. 

There is already a narrow window of opportunity to launch new initiatives and engage voter support before the Christmas holiday period when the public traditionally tunes out any political discourse. This time crunch for action has been one of the primary risks to the style of ‘grand consultations’ now closely associated with Premier Wynne.

With the Ford Horror Show not demonstrating any signs of abating, the opportunity to gain attention for any new government ideas continues to contract even more.  With the mainstream media editorially unanimous in its view that Mayor Ford has to go, expect a torrent of researched but as yet unpublished stories to drive the final nails in the coffin.

Even if the mayor finally takes a leave of absence that his other close advisers have proposed, and resists his brother Doug’s advice to tough it out, there is little opportunity to launch credible programs to a public exhausted (but exhilarated) by the last two months of federal and municipal revelations.  

However, waiting until the winter means less credibility for Liberal programs that will be more easily dismissed as ‘the usual’ election promises and without an opportunity to build sustained public support behind them.

And while the three Senators may finally be suspended but with perks (how Canadian), the backstory about how much the Prime Minister knew and how much he was involved still lives for more reporting cycles.  Trying to take on the federal government for more assistance (whether on an enhanced CPP or infrastructure support) during this news cycle, focused as it is on whether a new sponsorship scandal has emerged, seems a distant dream.

Moreover, these two scandals have further fed the public’s cynicism about politicians in general. That will not help any of the parties planning to run ‘against’- read negative - campaigns.

Ontario Liberals have two other traps to avoid.

They must not be seen to gloat about the Conservative problems federally and municipally, yet they must figure out a way to take advantage of a heaven-sent opportunity that has tarnished the Conservative brand.

Politically, this means devising tactics to focus on Mayor Ford’s political enablers provincially, without invoking the personal pity the public may feel towards the Mayor and which could, at some time in the future, translate into political redemption.  

Similarly, with regards to Mayor Ford’s future, the governing Liberals have to remain vigilant not to become embroiled in offering opinions on his legal status. They have done a good job so far of staying above the fray. But there will be ongoing pressure on the province from its important Toronto electorate to get involved if the Mayor does not step down voluntarily.

Premier Wynne and her advisers know that hard policy choices will have to be made in the lead up to the widely-expected spring election.

The Gong Show that has emerged offers both opportunities for political advantage but sufficient distractions to weaken a carefully laid out pre-election policy launch plan.




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
Posted date : November 05, 2013

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