Andrea Horwath's Election Call:
Between A Rock And A Hard Place
By Susanna Kelley
It is a massive gamble, but Andrea Horwath was between a rock and a hard place when it came to her decision about whether to force a provincial election.
She may end up as Ontario's second-only NDP Premier, or a leader reviled by her own party for killing a province-wide pension plan. Or she could be the leader of the Official Opposition. Or back in third place and fighting off leadership challenges. Or it could be the end of her career.
Any politician worth their salt wouldn't have wanted to be in her place for a million dollars last week as she faced the decision on whether to pull the plug on the Liberal minority government.
On the one hand, Horwath could have voted for the budget (or abstained, as New Democrats did in 2012), allowing the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan to become a reality, while suffering Tim Hudak's slings and arrows, accusing her of propping up a corrupt government.
And if Bob Rae's experience supporting the Peterson Liberals from 1985 to 1987 with a formal written agreement - the "Agenda For People" - is any guide, Horwath's NDP would have been given nary a shred of credit for the pension plan - even though the NDP says it was their party's idea to begin with anyway.
(The Liberals are running on many ideas shamelessly stolen from both the PCs and the NDP in the months leading up to Friday's election call. But it's one of the cruel truisms of politics that most voters won't remember that, nor care.)
In addition, to have supported the budget would have meant giving Ms. Wynne another year to try to distance herself from the gas plants scandal. It is the explosive, recent allegation that criminal activity occurred at the end of Dalton McGuinty's long term in power that put the NDP, as well as the Liberals, in an awkward position. The OPP say they believe David Livingston, Mr. McGuinty's former Chief of Staff, may be charged with breach of trust after 24 computer hard drives were wiped in the Premier's office, some just days before Ms. Wynne became Premier.
On the other hand, there are also massive risks for Ms. Horwath in pulling the plug and going to the polls.
Her party is running third in the polls, voter support percentage somewhere in the middle to late 20's, depending on the day and the pollster. Her party is also in third place in the Legislature, with 21 seats.
She is personally popular and that is to her advantage.
But the risk is that in order to stop Mr. Hudak from winning, many New Democrats will, when push comes to shove, vote for Ms. Wynne, believing she is the only one with enough strength to stop him.
Labour support is particularly vulnerable to this migration to the Liberals as unionized Ontarians fear Mr. Hudak may still bring in "right to work" legislation if he wins, despite his climb down on the policy he advocated for several years.
That could bleed votes to Ms. Wynne's party.
It was the former Canadian Auto Workers (now part of Unifor) and teachers' unions that advocated strategic voting in the last several elections to keep the Tories out, and played a large part in the coalition that won two majorities for Mr. McGuinty.
And should Mr. Hudak win, it will mean the end of an Ontario pension plan, spending cuts that will be fast and deep (aka Mike Harris right after his 1995 win when the Environment Ministry and others were gutted) which will be necessary to fulfill Mr. Hudak's promise to balance the budget quickly, and a war on labour like this province has not seen even when Mr. Harris was Premier.
All these will leave Ms. Horvath vulnerable to angry blame from her own party and a portion of Ontario's labour movement - such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Ontario Federation of Labour President Sid Ryan who have supported her in the past.
In the end, it was the fear that insiders around Ms. Horvath had that the party's hard-won increase in seats in the last election and in by-elections since would be in jeopardy from Mr. Hudak’s charges that the NDP was supporting a corrupt government, that was a major factor in her decision to force an election.
That's because it is the PCs that ran second in many of those newly acquired seats and the NDP is running hard against the Tories as well as the Liberals in this election.
In reality, it is unclear whether the $1 billion cost of cancelling of the gas plants, or the tampering with computers, has made much of a dent in the public's consciousness.
With the campaign's vigorous debate in front of the public for six weeks, it still may.
Ms. Horwath was really between a rock and a hard place when it came to deciding whether or not to pull the plug.
Elections are like a big cauldron into whose swirling, roiling soup gets thrown policy platforms, the televised leaders' debate, performances on the hustings, TV ads, poll results, candidate eruptions, uncontrollable events, external factors and an unpredictable media.
No one knows what, out of all that, will catch on, or even explode, and shape the ballot question.
In truth, this election could see any one of the three leaders as the next Premier once the votes are counted June 12.
Ms. Horwath has taken the gamble of her political life.
Politics, you see, is not for the faint of heart.