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

Jobs, pensions, transit and who can you trust have taken centre stage in the early days of the Ontario election campaign.


John Capobianco:

So... as was widely predicted in this very Salon last week, we are into an election - well, technically - I guess the writ will be dropped tomorrow officially. However, all three leaders have been at it since Andrea Horwath decided (and finally!) that she can no longer support this government.

The issues that are being discussed so far - and it is very early - are of no surprise to anyone who has been watching this stuff over the last few months. They are related to the economy.

Tim Hudak is focusing on jobs and his "Million Jobs Plan," Kathleen Wynne is focusing on a pension plan and trying to pick a fight with the Prime Minister, and Andrea Horwath is focusing on ... well, I am not sure what she is focusing on. Seems as if this whole election thing has caught her off guard.

Although Kathleen will try and make pensions the main election issue and  attempt to link the Prime Minister or former Premier Mike Harris or anyone else they can to Tim Hudak - I think the main issue will focus around who can fix the economy and get people working again.


Richard Mahoney:

John ably tries to position his leader as being the candidate of jobs, and positions Premier Wynne as being the candidate only of pensions.

The reality is this: this election is about leadership. Leadership on building on a modern economy, and creating jobs and the government's role in that. Kathleen Wynne has put in place a smart program to do just that, which Tim Hudak decries as "corporate welfare".

Unfortunately for him, some of his campaign stops to date have been at places that have partnered with the Liberal government to do just that - create jobs - making for some awkward early campaign moments for Tim Hudak.

The Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP)  is another sound proposal that helps equip Ontarians to work and thrive in the modern economy.

One of the great surprises of the campaign to date is how Prime Minister Harper and his Finance Minister intervened in the campaign on day one to criticize the idea, and try to tell Ontarians they should just save more. What they fail to understand is that people find that very hard to do. They are struggling to pay the bills every week, and most of them don't have pension plans like Mr. Harper does.

So a plan to augment the CPP, likely with the participation of other provinces, is a great idea that will help people work in an economy which forces them to be mobile, and change jobs, and doesn't give them a pension plan. It will change people's lives for the better. It is a bold, courageous idea that will actually help the average person. Moving to a low wage environment and attacking unions as Mr. Hudak is doing, is bad economics, will kill good jobs, and will hurt the average person. That is not what governments are there to do.


Marit Stiles:

Well, clearly Wynne’s strategy right out of the gate has been to make this election about a fight between Harper and herself, over pensions. She baited him and, although usually Prime Ministers do try to rise above commenting on provincial elections, Harper took the bait. I mean, if you're going to poke that dog with a stick.... well, just sayin' be careful what you wish for.

For a strategic point of view, this attack on Harper is actually an attack on us - the NDP. Why is she striking against Harper? To try to shift the debate away Hudak, sure, and from the stench of 10 years of Liberal scandals and mismanagement. But by talking pensions and taking a run at Harper the Liberals are also hoping to shake loose some NDP votes, at a time when Horwath is showing the tough leadership and progressive vision that Ontarians are looking for. I don't see Horwarth and the NDP letting the Liberals outflank on this issue, nor on job creation or affordability.

And meanwhile, Wynne risks looking like she is out of touch with so many of the other issues Ontarians care about while she picks schoolyard fights with the Feds.


John Capobianco:

Both Richard and Marit have focused on the fight Kathleen has picked with the PM over pensions and that the PM (and Finance Minister Oliver) has waded into the debate. It is true that the PM normally doesn't engage in provincial elections, but he will not stand by and let someone attack him or his government on any issue, especially one that involves pensions, an issue his government has been studying and working with the provinces to try and resolve. And let's not forget that it was former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty who had the courage to tell Canadians that the CPP needed to be fixed .

Other provinces have taken the federal government's advice and are actually looking at ways to fix the problem in substantive ways. But Kathleen complains that she has been talking about this for a year and no one has been listening.

Like everything else, this tired, scandal-plagued government engages in studies, task forces and more studies, but no action. So trying to deflect the issue by picking a fight with the PM or Mike Harris is the only way Kathleen can attempt to charge her base.

Ontarians won't be fooled, and to go against the federal government on any economic issue is going to backfire - big time. Instead, both she and Andrea will soon figure out that jobs and creating jobs and keeping existing jobs in Ontario will be the only issues that Ontarians will care about in this election.

And on that, there is only one choice - Tim Hudak. He has a plan, has the team and has a laser focus on jobs.


Richard Mahoney:

What a fabulous commercial for Tim Hudak, John!

The Prime Minister hasn’t worked with the provinces on anything. And when provinces almost unanimously asked him to help fix the inadequate pension situation, he flatly refused. So Ms. Wynne and her government and other provinces went to work, and the ORPP proposal is the result.  By coming out so strongly against the proposal, Mr. Harper takes a big risk.

It is bizarre that the Prime Minister has intervened in this election to this extent. Normally, it is wise for Prime Ministers, particularly unpopular ones towards the end of their mandates, to steer clear of provincial elections. But our Prime Minister jumped in with an attack on the Premier’s pension proposal in the proposed budget on day one. I guess he couldn’t resist. He didn’t have to do that, he could have ignored it. And then, to make sure we didn’t miss it, he sends his Finance Minister out the next day with another attack.

It's a mistake, I think, that likely helps Premier Wynne make her point. They ought to let Mr. Hudak fight the fight against better pensions for the people of Ontario.

We do find ourselves in the strange position of having the NDP proposing to join Messrs. Harper and Hudak in the fight against better pensions. In doing so the NDP ignore one of the founding creeds of their party. Ms Horwath announced last week that she would defeat a budget which proposed that pension plan, and many other long term plans the NDP says they want.

At this point, it is anybody’s guess what the NDP is for. They are against limousines, apparently, but also pension plans, and expanded transit, and tax increases on the top 2 per cent. But they are now apparently not for building a modern society that gives Ontarians the support they need to thrive in that society.


Marit Stiles:

Richard, the NDP is the only party that has been fighting, consistently, in Ontario and in Ottawa, for retirement security, for an expanded CPP, for years. Horwath could not sit by and watch another Liberal budget go by with empty promises that Wynne was never intending to implement. It's nice to see the Liberals come to the game in the dying minutes of their ten-year term. But, as I said earlier, the NDP is not going to be outflanked on support for workers and particularly for retirement security.

Maybe Wynne should have tried to actually implement some of the promises she made in the last TWO budgets if she wanted to prove to the NDP she was trustworthy.

The fact is that while the Liberals are baiting the Prime Minister, and talking about Hudak, their actions show they are worried about New Democrats. Horwath is the only Leader out there talking about the issues Ontarians are thinking about. Most folks couldn't care less whether Wynne is picking fights in the sandbox. They want real change. The Liberals can't be trusted to do the right thing. The Conservatives threaten to divide our province and inflict more of the Harris-era pain.

I think in coming weeks we'll see Andrea Horwath emerge as the clear, strong alternative ... one who can be counted on to deliver on some of those promises where the Liberals failed and with a clear plan to create jobs and build a strong economy.



About The Salon

Richard Mahoney is a former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; and John Capobianco is a former CPC candidate and long-time party activist in both the federal and Ontario Conservative parties
Posted date : May 07, 2014

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