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Five things Kathleen Wynne is doing to save her political skin

With an election looming next year, Ontario’s premier is cratering in the polls—and desperate times call for desperate measures


 

Kathleen Wynne can be accused of many things, but not inertia. With an election campaign looming next year, and her approval ratings at epic lows, the Ontario’s Liberal premier has been a political pinwheel, sending announcements, agreements, strategic leaks and policy reversals flying in every direction.

Sophisticates will shrug. A pol’s got to save her skin, after all, and the pressure within Wynne’s party to do something—anything—must be enormous. But the spectacle Ontarians are witnessing is less common than you think. Most office-holders have obeyed the writing on the wall long before their positives reach 16 per cent. But Wynne’s in a rare position, having spanned the fin de siècle in 2014 with her upset majority victory, by which point the Grits had already been in power for more than a decade. Just three years ago, she was presenting herself as a figure of change, with a plan to govern from what she called the “activist centre.” Today her vision is at best partially fulfilled, which might explain why she’s stated her intention to lead her party into the next election.

To have any chance of winning, though, Wynne has to turn those numbers around. Here are the desperate measures she and her government have taken in hopes of staving off electoral disaster.

Keeping the lights on

No issue is a bigger millstone for the Liberals than sky-high electricity bills, which climbed 70 per cent for homes and small business between 2006 and 2014 (Wynne was in cabinet through almost all of that period, though never as energy minister). So last September, the province announced that it would rebate to customers its eight-per-cent portion of the harmonized sales tax on power bills.

This band-aid move might have done more harm than good. The premier offered it up as much-needed relief. Yet for the average household, it computed to a measly $10 per month saving. In the end, her rebate probably drew more attention to the Grits’ well-documented missteps on the hydro file than it did to her empathy.

Toll-free call to 905

Starved for cash with which to build transit infrastructure, Toronto Mayor John Tory took the political plunge of his mandate in November, promising to toll the two city-controlled highways entering his sprawling metropolis. Wynne, he says, personally encouraged him to pursue the model.

But he’d barely floated the plan when the premier declared she’d use the province’s power over municipalities to scotch it. Instead, the province is offering an added $170 million in gas tax revenue

It’s easy to see why. Tory had been proudly justifying tolls as a way to make 905 residents “pay their fair share”—a reference to suburban commuters who travel Toronto’s highways daily but whose property taxes don’t go toward their upkeep because they live outside the city’s limits. Toronto might be big. But no party can hope to win power in Ontario without at least a bite of the ridings in 905, the populous region that forms a giant necklace around it.

There, Wynne’s move has been warmly greeted. Two weeks ago, the Toronto Sun published a poll suggesting 56 per cent of voters in the 905 were pleased by the decision.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's speaks during a press conference regarding the political fundraising question at Queen's Park in Toronto on Monday, April 11, 2016. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s speaks during a press conference regarding the political fundraising question at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Monday, April 11, 2016. (Nathan Denette/CP)

School’s open

Wynne might be the best friend Ontario teachers ever had (and vice versa: teachers’ unions have contributed generously to Liberal candidates’ and leaders’ campaigns since the 2000s). But that wouldn’t stop teachers’ unions from strong-arming the Grits at an opportune moment. And few things are worse for a governing party than a pre-election teachers’ strike that leaves families scrambling for child care.

To stop that from happening, the government has offered to extend its contracts with major teachers’ unions for two years, with sweeteners like a four-percent pay hike over the two years, a class-size cap of 30 pupils for kindergarten and more money for classroom supplies. The deals haven’t been ratified, but it’s hard to imagine the unions saying no. This is, after all, the government that at one point was basically paying them to negotiate.

They’d be well-advised to take what they can get while the Grits are still in power.

Keeping the lights on, part two

Aware that their rebate was too little, too late, the government has been floating an array of ideas for across-the-board cuts to power bills. Among the measures on the table: a cut to the so-called “global adjustment,” which frequently makes up the lion’s share of power bills but is not visible on most bills.

The Wynne government is reportedly aiming to knock a further eight per cent off bills, the CBC reports; it’s also considering using money from general government revenue to offset power costs for lower-income Ontarians. Again, there’s as much risk here as potential reward. At what point do Ontarians feel as if the money going into one of their pockets is being taken from another?

Have a drink!

You’ll still have to pay for it, but it might be closer at hand. By summer, Wynne’s attempt to drag Ontario’s liquor-sales regime into the 20th century (yes, we mean 20th) will be in full swing—which is to say, a fraction of the province’s supermarkets will stock beer, wine and cider.

The ultimate goal is to get suds and cider into 450 stores, and wine into 300 of those. But it’s happening at a glacial pace, because the province must navigate a knot of trade agreements and competing commercial interests. When all is said and done, Ontarians will be able to buy soft grog in less than a third of their grocery stores.

By then, they’ll be able to toast the premier who made that possible. Or her defeat.


 

Five things Kathleen Wynne is doing to save her political skin

  1. LOL, not sure what she can do to stay afloat but those five things won’t do it for me.

  2. Hopefully these token changes won’t mask the fact to voters that she has led Ontario into an economic sewer that gets deeper by the hour.

  3. She really threw John Tory under the bus with that sudden reversal on tolls. Funny how liberals love to play environmentalists until it starts costing them votes. He’ll, even Nova Scotia has road tolls. They aren’t the end of the world, and it makes sense to make users pay.

    • Road tolls are regressive taxation. They don’t differentiate between drivers based on their ability to pay so that the minimum wage restaurant employee pays the same as the Bay Street banker.

  4. Anyone who can possibly defend this wretched human is just a desperate hyperpartisan now.

  5. The only time I find myself impressed with our politicians these days is when they are exerting themselves with the energy, initiative, and acumen necessary to save their political butts by using our own money to buy us off. I’m also amazed at our continued acceptance of this sorry state of affairs. By and large, we do get what we deserve, and this sort of political expediency is the just desserts of the political apathy and shortsightedness of a significant portion of Ontarian voters. In short we allow this to happen. The mice always seem to vote in either the Dog Party or the Cat Party. Is it any surprise that the mice never win? We really do need significant change here in Ontario to reverse our slide, but just how many Ontarian voters are there ready to take the initiative and political risk at the poles to initiate real change?

    • It seems to me that Mr. Brown is sensibly holding his cards close to his chest … for a while. I predict a record turnout at the next election.

  6. I don’t think anything can save Wynne and with Trudeau’s approval rating in the toilet, he can’t help her either. About the only thing Trudeau could do for Wynne is import more Syrian refugees to Ontario and grant them voting rights. That’s what he’s doing to try and save his own skin right now.

  7. The problem is Wind and Solar are not reducing C02 and our government will not admit this costly failure. Ontario’s professional Engineers, those tasked with generation, transmission and billing, have reported the problem. our government continues to build more wind and solar.

    Reference: “Ontario’s Electricity Dilemma – Achieving Low Emissions at Reasonable Electricity Rates”. Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE). April 2015.
    (Archived at: http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.ospe.on.ca/resource/resmgr/DOC_advocacy/2015_Presentation_Elec_Dilem.pdf)

    Page 15 of 23. “Why Will Emissions Double as We Add Wind and Solar Plants ?”

    – Wind and Solar require flexible backup generation.

    – Nuclear is too inflexible to backup renewables without expensive engineering changes to the reactors.

    – Flexible electric storage is too expensive at the moment.

    – Consequently natural gas provides the backup for wind and solar in North America.

    – When you add wind and solar you are actually forced to reduce nuclear generation to make room for more natural gas generation to provide flexible backup.

    – Ontario currently produces electricity at less than 40 grams of CO2 emissions/kWh.

    – Wind and solar with natural gas backup produces electricity at about 200 grams of CO2 emissions/kWh. Therefore adding wind and solar to Ontario’s grid drives CO2 emissions higher. From 2016 to 2032 as Ontario phases out nuclear capacity to make room for wind and solar, CO2 emissions will double (2013 LTEP data).

    – In Ontario, with limited economic hydro and expensive storage, it is mathematically impossible to achieve low CO2 emissions at reasonable electricity prices without nuclear generation.

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Five things Kathleen Wynne is doing to save her political skin