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            Why A Spring Election Makes No Sense

            And Meanwhile, An NDP-Liberal Deal Is

                        There For The Taking 

                                                                                         

 

 

By Susanna Kelley

The common thinking over the last year is that this spring Ontario will be going to the polls.

While I've never believed such an election was inevitable, I'm even less convinced it's going to take place now.

Kathleen Wynne should have her own mandate from Ontarians, said some senior Liberals (not that any government has a "mandate" in our undemocratic first-past-the-post system where 60% of those voting usually vote against the winning party, but that's an argument for another day.)

Tim Hudak has been chomping at the bit to get to the polls since his party placed second in the 2011 provincial election. He's remained totally consistent on that topic for two years.

And the NDP's goodwill in propping up the Liberals is wearing thin, at least with some of the press gallery at Queen's Park.

What's more, the NDP is on a roll, what with winning four of seven by-elections since 2011. That made some New Democrats hawkish.

But things change in politics. Or sometimes they don't change enough.

Most polls show the Liberals and Tories neck and neck with committed voter support percentages in the low to mid 30s. The NDP is just few points behind in the upper 20 percent range, and sometimes higher.

So what are the parties thinking as they ponder their next moves?

For certain, the only questions they are contemplating right now are: Would an election give them enough seats to form a government with a majority?  A minority? Would they lose? Or would they emerge after an election with the same number of seats?.    

First, assume you're inside the Liberal war room.

It is very difficult for any government, of any party, to be re-elected after more than 10 years in government.

All governments, of every stripe, have scandals that erupt over time.  For the Liberals that has meant eHealth, ORNGE and the gas plant cancellations.

Voter fatigue with governments happens incrementally as these scandals become more numerous.  Hence, a ten-year term is a very long time in politics.

It is clear from speaking to activists that some grassroots Liberal supporters are angry with the party - not with Kathleen Wynne, but with Dalton McGuinty. Some activists are getting an earful from long-time Liberals who think McGuinty was, shall we say, less than forthright. Their way to punish the party is to vote against it or stay home.

 

And indeed, an examination of the NDP win in Niagara Falls shows that, while by-election turnouts are always low, a disproportionate number of Liberals sat this one out and didn't bother voting at all.

The Liberals dropped from first to third place, from receiving 16,894 votes in 2011 to 7,143 - less than half - in last month's by-election.

In the Thornhill by-election, the Liberals still came second, but the party's vote fell from 18,373 in 2011 to 11,592 last month.

Hence it appears Ms. Wynne has not succeeded so far in her goal of distancing herself enough from Mr. McGuinty's foibles.

Anger at the Liberal government over the sluggish economy, as well, is evident in some parts of the province and is putting seats the government now holds in jeopardy.

In the southwest, the collapse of the manufacturing sector, including the shutdown of auto plants in Windsor, London and St. Thomas as well as the Caterpillar plant in London, is hurting the Liberals big-time. 

In the Northwest, the fact the Liberal government stood by and allowed 61 mills to shut down since it took office is something people there are not going to forget come election time.

In addition, the retirement of many senior Liberals - Rick Bartolucci, John Gerretsen, John Milloy, and perhaps even Jim Bradley (there are rumblings his health is not the best) will put more seats in play.

So if the polls don't show an upward trend for the Liberals - which they don't - and a survey of seats shows they'd have a difficult time even holding onto a significant number of those they have now - and it does - why in heaven's name would the Liberals want an election?

There is absolutely no reason right now for the Liberals to go to the polls.

It makes sense, then, that in their meetings with senior Liberals of late and in public, party campaign head honchos are expressing the view that, given the polling (and internal party polling usually mirrors the public polls) as well as the poor showing in the seven by-elections (the Liberals are down four seats) there's likely little to be gained from an election this spring.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, many Liberal honchos think, so why not try to make a deal with the NDP once more and live to fight another day?

It would make no sense, then, for the Liberals to engineer their own defeat by putting a poison pill in the upcoming budget.

Next, look at the possibility of an election from the Conservatives' point of view.

Consistently running neck and neck with the government with voter support in the low to mid-30s, and sometimes ahead, Mr. Hudak would have to win just 17 more seats to form a majority government.  With the number of Liberal seats up for grabs, many think that's doable.

Mr. Hudak and his campaign team of former Mike Harris Whiz Kids recently showed for the first time publicly that they are willing to put a little water in their ideological wine in order to win: the climb-down on Right To Work. 

Given the passion of people such as Leslie Noble and Tom Long, who are running the campaign, it must have been very difficult for all concerned to do.

But do it they did, making it more difficult for the Liberals and the NDP to pin the "scary" label on him than before.

It remains to be seen whether Mr. Hudak will continue to run a campaign on the far right or whether this is the first step in a move towards a less radical agenda, hence making it easier for swing voters in Ontario to cast their ballots for him. For those are the ones he needs to form a government.

Then there is the NDP.

Running third in the polls but not by much, the decision of whether there will be a spring election is really Andrea Horwath's, just as it has been for the last two years.

 

Despite the roll the party is on, it has the most seats to make up in order to win government. Sitting at 21 seats currently, the New Democrats need to win 33 more seats to form a majority.

With the caveat that, again, anything can happen in an election (the famous NDP "Orange Wave" brought the party 58 of 75 seats in Quebec in the last federal election) still, 33 more seats for the provincial NDP isn't easy to find.

Should it force an election, the NDP risks losing the four seats it has just picked up, and going back to a smaller third-party status again.

Most importantly, it could lose the balance of power and the adoption of NDP policies that that entails.   

And there are signs the makings of a deal are there to be had if both the Liberals and NDP want one.

Consider this: former NDP MPP Paul Ferreira has said twice on The ONW Insiders show (here at the 10:57 minute mark) that should Kathleen Wynne agree to a defined benefit Ontario pension plan - and the defined benefit requirement is the key - he believes the NDP could see its way to supporting a Liberal budget yet again.

On top of this, Andrea Horwath has ruled out only taxes and fee hikes on the middle class as a deal-breaker.

That means presumably tax and fee increases on wealthier Ontarians, and a tax hike on larger corporations (the NDP has always supported small businesses) would be acceptable to Horwath as a way to pay for the transit improvements in the GTA that Premier Wynne has pledged.

Voila.

The Liberals stay in power and still get to improve transit, Ms. Wynne's pet project.

Premier Wynne has bought more time to distance herself from Mr. McGuinty.

And Andrea Horwath's NDP keeps its four newly found seats, the balance of power and helps champion a new pension plan for Ontarians.

Contrast that with the alternative. 

The NDP brings down the government, there's an election and perhaps Mr. Hudak wins a minority government.

What would Andrea Horwath do?

If she propped up the Tories she would face a horrified New Democrat base. She would feel pressure to force a second election within months.

The public might well punish her for forcing a second election so quickly and the Tories might then form a majority government.

Or perhaps the Liberals would form a majority government.

In either case, there goes the NDP's balance of power for another four years.

Finally, Ms. Horwath could just stay the course, not force an election, get a good pension plan for Ontarians and keep on holding the balance of power.

If I were Andrea Horwath or Kathleen Wynne, I know what I'd choose.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 : March 03, 2014

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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