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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 Bernie Farber- come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.

Kathleen Wynne and Justin Trudeau: is the Ontario Premier helping or hurting the federal Liberals? She's going where no Ontario Premier has gone before. Traditionally, the province's leader has stayed out of federal elections, but Wynne has been front and centre, campaigning for Justin Trudeau's Liberals. Is she helping or hurting his cause? 

John Capobianco:

Elections are a wonderful phenomena — for a number of reasons. Mainly because it is our democratic right to vote and many men and women lost their lives so that we can have that freedom. Of course, there are other reasons why elections are amazing, like the fact that they bring out the best in politicians, forcing them to have to sell themselves to the voting public. Some excel at this better than others, and some who aren't even running for office can’t help but to get into the mix.

Such is the case with our Liberal Premier, Kathleen Wynne, who, fresh from her own election just over a year ago, has gotten herself involved in this election campaign like no other Ontario Premier before her. In fact, other than former PC Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams, who started an ABC (Anybody But Conservative) campaign of his own in his province against Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

But even then, Premier Williams didn't actually campaign for any specific party. He just let folks know that he didn't like or want Harper to win any seats in Newfoundland. 

What is different in this election, and I think, unprecedented, is that Premier Wynne is actually stumping for Justin Trudeau while at the same time as she is taking shots at both Mr. Mulcair and PM Harper.

Rather than focusing so much time and effort on the federal election campaign, perhaps it might be best that the Premier to focus on Ontario and ensure that the many issues facing our province are dealt with first and foremost.

Bernie Farber:

Politics is a strange animal. Everyone wants to be part of the process, each in his or her own way. Kathleen Wynne has presented Canadians and Ontarians with a new, down-to-earth version of what a politician can be. It’s not for everyone but it seems that most Ontarians embraced it and, despite the pundits’ warnings, delivered a majority Liberal government.

John seems a bit threatened that Premier Wynne has taken a new approach to political theatre, one, if the polling is correct, that seems to be winning favour for the federal Liberals. So I guess he should be concerned.

And yes, John will not be the first to try to deflect the Premier away from the federal campaign by claiming she ought to stick to her territory. Yet truth be told Ontario remains the most populous province in the country, still very much its economic engine, and wither Ontario goes, so goes Canada.

The Premier may be doing things differently, and the other federal parties may not like it, but she has made no secret of her intentions and leanings. Indeed she has taken this election seriously, as she must. 

Marit Stiles:

Interesting debate. First, let's start with why has Kathleen Wynne entered the federal campaign in such a big way? Well, sure she's a partisan and hopes her “side” will win, but so are other Premiers and they've maintained a more appropriate distance. 

And for good reason. On the contrary, as I've argued before, this likely has more to do with her own political fortunes than those of her federal counterparts. Her popularity since the 2014 election has waned considerably and she's taking a major hit for her Trojan Horse plan to sell off Hydro One.

John's already pointed out some of the significant risk inherent in any Premier wading into federal campaigns in such a big way. But I see another entirely different risk which may not affect Trudeau as negatively as it will, in the end, affect Wynne herself.


Okay, so the three of us are all members, presumably, of different political parties. We like a good political gabfest and we break out the popcorn for federal leaders' debates (even the dreadful ones on the economy, yawn.) And in our work and professional lives, and in our daily lives, frankly, we get along with folks of other political stripes. We have to. Indeed, I would argue that to get along in our world, you have to find common ground if you are going to move forward on your objectives.

That applies whether you are talking about gaining acceptance at work for a particular approach to a project, or gaining acceptance on your street about building a speed bump. Or even gaining consensus on a major household purchase. We all need to find ways to work together to get things done.

And increasingly, we know that Canadian voters are not interested and indeed are turned off by partisan bickering. Especially younger voters. Witness the interest in “vote swapping” and the constant talk of minority governments and coalitions. 

So, how does Wynne's approach, her strident partisanship, appear to those voters? That's the risk she's taking.

John Capobianco: 

Bernie, the Liberals are lucky you have you — suggesting that what Premier Wynne is doing is a "new down to earth version of what a politician can be" is excellent. Excellent because it is precisely the opposite of what people expect of their politicians when one mentions “down to earth.” As Marit points out, no one would begrudge the Premier for picking a side, since she is a partisan Liberal after all, and supporting someone is acceptable. Even Premier Clark (BC) and Premier Couillard (Quebec) support Mr. Trudeau.

But picking up on Marit's very valid point on partisanship and the potential of turning off voters, the other issue Premier Wynne is forgetting is the fact that she governs the long-term economic and business interests of Ontario rather than any short-term political agenda that may carry the day. The Premier will have to, nay will need to, work with whomever becomes the Prime Minister, for the long-term interest of Ontario and Ontarians.

And believe me, she will need the help of the next PM to fix the challenges facing Ontario, not least of which is financial debt, the ill-advised sale of Hydro One, along with exorbitantly high electricity rates, just to name a few.

The risk flows two-ways however. There is not just the risk of the Premier alienating the next PM other than Mr. Trudeau, but the risk is on Mr. Trudeau as well. Ontario has historically voted to have opposite parties represent them provincially and federally, so that can cause issues along with policy differences among the two parties and, more importantly, among voters.

So as I mentioned at the outset, elections are exciting and this is certainly exactly that even with lots of time to go. But we will see if Kathleen Wynne's strategy has worked on October 19.

Bernie Farber: 

John, you may not agree, but in my view the Prime Minister is that he has been one of the more difficult leaders to get along with when it comes to relationships with his Premiers. Heck, he won’t even attend federal provincial gatherings, the first PM not to do so.

Premier Wynne will no doubt work with whoever the next Prime Minister turns out to be, and good politicians put aside their petty differences after a charged election campaign. The popularity of any leader rises and falls often during a majority mandate, just ask Dalton McGuinty. I would hope that all three of these federal leaders will work in the future with all the Premiers in a spirit of co-operation.

Marit, what you say is frankly more applicable to PM Harper than Premier Wynne. The latest polls seem to suggest that the Premier’s message is being heard by the voters of Ontario, hence there is a seeming jump in Justin Trudeau’s popularity. To be sure, it also has to do with Justin’s message to the Canadian people, but I would argue that had Kathleen’s message been spurned we would have seen evidence of it. That is just not happening.

This election is fraught with emotion thanks to a federal government that has played fast and loose with issues of social justice and human dignity that Canadians so embraced in the past. Premier Wynne represents many of those lost feelings to many Ontarians and will, in my view, more than hold her own post-October 19. 

Marit Stiles: 

Well, I think it's a bit of a stretch, Bernie, to claim based on a couple of days of polls that Justin's message is resonating in Ontario and resulting in a “jump” in the polls. Let's agree to call that a hiccup. Not yet a jump.

There is an inherent danger in the Premier of this province sidling up and getting too cozy with any one party in a federal election — period. And with the election still nearly an entire, er, election away (still almost a month to go, folks) I think she should be worried about what it says to Ontarians who are concerned about issues of social justice and human dignity that she has decided to throw her support behind a leader who voted to support Bill C51. Or who has thrown together such an irresponsible fiscal plan. (Wait, what fiscal plan?) Or who makes such derisive comments about small businesses, which create 80% of jobs in our economy. Or who has yet to make any significant commitment to the manufacturing sector.

Perhaps at the end of the day this is all about the "alternative" financing that Trudeau is talking about in relation to his infrastructure plans. Hmmm, where have we heard that before? Is Trudeau opening the door to more privatization plans? In the end, Wynne is opening Ontario up to either a) further fractious and divisive relations with our federal government or b) a relationship too tight and tidy to ensure that our provincial government is able to make the best and most sound decisions for Ontario.

Either way, it's a hell of a gamble with our future.

About The Salon

John Capobianco is a former CPC candidate and long-time party activist in both the federal and Ontario Conservative parties; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; Bernie Farber is a former Ontario Liberal candidate and one of Canada's leading human rights experts.
Posted date : September 16, 2015

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