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                    Wynne's "Endorsement-By-Proxy" Of John Tory Ill-Advised, 

                              Breaks Longstanding Tradition of Neutrality


By Susanna Kelley

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has sent a strong signal that she prefers Torontonians elect John Tory as their mayor, but her breaking of the Premiers' traditional neutrality in these cases doesn't bode well for politics in this province.

No, she didn't actually get up and say the words to endorse Mr. Tory, but she may as well have.  She allowed her Minister of Infrastructure to do so, and there can be no mistake of the signal it has sent as to where the Premier of Ontario stands.

The tactic fooled no one, but it wasn't really meant to.  Mr. Duguid's very public endorsement was deliberately meant to send the message while providing her cover through plausible deniability.

The plausibility factor is pretty laughable, however.

It's no surprise that Ms. Wynne is de facto endorsing Mr. Tory.

The scuttlebutt around the mayoralty race has been that Mr. Tory is actually the Liberals' candidate, counting many a veteran of that party amongst his campaign advisors and his most ardent supporters. 

Veteran Liberal Bob Richardson is one of the co-chairs of Mr. Tory's campaign.

As for Mr. Duguid, he has always been one of those the Liberals have sent out to deliver the government's message, ever since his days as a backbencher. 

Always a team player and serving much in the same vein as John Baird did for Mike Harris and now does for Stephen Harper, Mr. Duguid never seems to question that he's being used as a messenger, and seems willing to say whatever the centre wants him to.  He did so for Mr. McGuinty and he is doing so for Ms. Wynne.

As is usual with those always willing to play the good soldier, his loyalty has been well rewarded with a cabinet post.

But it is that very cabinet post - Minister of Infrastructure - that makes his oh-so-public endorsement on behalf of the Liberals so very inappropriate. 

For it is transportation that has emerged as the top issue in the Toronto mayoralty campaign - and that means the Minister of Infrastructure will be involved in negotiations for funding the plans the candidates come up with in the end. 

In effect, Ms. Wynne has just endorsed Mr. Tory' transit plan.

      

She had better hope that the polls - which have been notoriously wrong in many elections in the last few years - are now correct, and that Mr. Tory is in the lead. Because she's going to have to work with whoever is elected mayor of Canada's largest city.

There was a time, not very long ago, when wiser heads prevailed in campaigns.

Major government leaders would never publicly endorse candidates running for positions because they always have to work with whoever is elected, on important policies after the last vote was cast.

The thinking was it was better to remain neutral so relations would be smooth post-campaign. 

It made great sense before, and it makes great sense now.

It was Prime Minister Stephen Harper that first broke that tradition publicly.

In the last several Ontario elections, he and his ministers got directly involved by calling out Liberal Premiers right during the campaigns.

In the last election, for instance, Mr. Harper and his senior ministers made disparaging remarks about Ms. Wynne's pension plan and the state of the Ontario economy, directly blaming the Liberals.

During the 2015 Ontario election, Mr. Harper called Ms. Wynne's proposed plan a "tax hike."  His minister of Finance, Joe Oliver, said the Liberals' budget, dropped just before the race began, was a "route to economic decline."

And of course there was the famous video of Mr. Harper endorsing both Tim Hudak and Rob Ford at an annual political barbeque hosted by Rob Ford's mother Diane.

As a clear illustration of exactly why this shouldn't be done, post-election relations between the Ontario Premier and Canada's Prime Minister are frosty, to say the least. Ms. Wynne says she has not spoken to Mr. Harper since the election took place.

This is a far cry from the days of former Ontario Premiers Bill Davis and David Peterson.

Mr. Davis, a Progressive Conservative, always placed himself firmly in the "Canada First" camp and worked well with the Liberal Prime Minister of the day, Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Mr. Peterson's nickname was "Captain Canada" for his work on national unity after the Quebec referendum nearly passed in 1980.  Despite being a Liberal, he worked with Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to support the Meech Lake Accord (it eventually failed) and gave up a number of Ontario Senate seats for the national benefit.

Because of their attitudes, the national interest - which was always considered integral to provincial interests - always came first.

It was in the early 1990s that former NDP Premier Bob Rae (ironically, now a senior federal Liberal) broke with that tradition.

Faced with a raging recession and watching Jean Chretien drastically cut billions in social programs needed to fund swollen welfare rolls and Ontario's unemployment rate, which at it's height topped 16%, Mr. Rae dropped the gloves and put his own province first.

But even Mr. Rae steered clear of endorsing candidates for Prime Minister or Toronto mayor or any other municipal candidates.

Perhaps Ms. Wynne is so sure that Mr. Tory is going to win that she believes she's not taking any gamble by endorsing him.

Or perhaps she's trying to push him over the top in the race so she doesn't have to deal with Mr. Ford or Ms. Chow.

But she had better pray the recently released polls showing Mr. Tory in first place are correct.

Because many of them have been plenty wrong in the last several elections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 : September 08, 2014

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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