McGuintygeddon: Countdown to an Ontario election, or not

Dalton McGuinty was the very picture of grim determination this morning at Queen’s Park as the Ontario premier explained why an election right now would be a disaster for Ontario.

“An election right now,” he said, “would threaten our economic recovery.”

“If we receive a downgrade because we’re plunged into an election less than a year after the last one,” he warned, interest rates will go up and vital programs will become more expensive and harder to finance.

An election, he said in a half-dozen ways, would be just an awful thing. But he may call one next week.

This is going to be a tricky sell.

The problem, the McGuinty Liberals say, is that the opposition parties are using their narrow combined majority to “gut” the provincial budget. Yesterday at Finance Committee, the Conservatives joined the NDP to remove five schedules — essentially, chapters of the budget bill, each dealing with a combination of measures on a broad area of governance — from the budget bill.

(The parallels between the federal and Ontario budget situations have been too little explored. Just like the Harper Conservatives, the McGuinty Liberals have tried to package a bunch of disparate changes — nearly a whole year’s worth of governing program — in a sweeping omnibus budget bill. Provincial Conservative criticisms of some of these changes have sounded a lot like federal Liberals’. The only party blessed with the opportunity to sound consistent at both levels of government has been the NDP.)

At some point during his news conference this morning, McGuinty seemed to realize he’s the guy who will decide whether there’s an election, even as he keeps telling Ontarians an election would cause nothing but turmoil. So he attempted to set up a hierarchy of turmoil. Sure, an election is a risk, he said, “but the greater risk is for us to be without a plan.” His budget may look like a hodgepodge, he said, but in fact it’s a carefully-selected set of tools for digging Ontario out of its fiscal mess, and “every one of those tools is integral to getting the job done.” “I don’t think anybody wants an election, but I have a higher responsibility,” he intoned, “to protect the health and wellbeing of the economy.”

The broader question here is whether McGuinty now has any hope of governing coherently and according to his own wishes, now that he has already lost a confrontation Stephen Harper was careful not to lose in Ottawa. In a minority government, the opposition can team up to cause mischief in a hundred ways — and most of those ways do not lead to a confidence vote that can, in itself, decide that a government falls and the legislature must be dissolved.

Andrea Horwath’s NDP and Tim Hudak’s PCs have realized that, as long as they don’t defeat the government on a confidence measure, they can defeat it on everything else and essentially hamper its ability to implement any agenda. That’s what Harper sought to avoid with his famous committee tactics from 2006 until — well, until today, because old habits die hard. The Harper Conservatives would rather shut a committee down, ignore its own votes, have witnesses pop up without warning or ignore longstanding agreements to testify, and do all the other tricks we’ve come to know and love covering, rather than lose a substantive vote back in the days when the Liberals, NDP and Bloc outnumbered them. McGuinty is a nicer guy, and the price for that is that he has now lost, perhaps forever, his ability to decide which parts of his legislation live or die.

In that world, it makes a lot of sense to roll the dice on an election. If he wins a majority, McGuinty would be premier again with the support he needs to implement his agenda. If he doesn’t, his troubles are over anyway because somebody else will be premier and he can go decorate his office at Massey College.

But despite the fevered claims of his more over-the-hill communications advisors, McGuinty will have a very hard time framing the ballot question in any election. He can’t keep it at the level of broad principle by sheer force of will. The specific content of those defeated budget chapters will become campaign fodder too, and they sought to constrain environmental review in a very Harperesque way. As he defends his right to make those changes, McGuinty starts to lose appeal with the Liberal voter base. Nor can he grump around the province as Harper grumped around the country a year ago, blaming the opposition for the election, because as long as the Ontario provincial opposition takes care not to defeat McGuinty on a confidence vote, then an election is entirely McGuinty’s choice.

Right now an Ontario election looks entirely possible, but not likely. There’s still plenty of room for somebody, whether McGuinty or Horwath, to back down. But this confrontation is over something real: if McGuinty survives by making concessions now, he essentially loses his ability to govern coherently.




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McGuintygeddon: Countdown to an Ontario election, or not

  1. “Sure, an election is a risk, he said, “but the greater risk is for us to be without a plan.”

    Marcus Aurelius ~ Observe always that everything is the result of change, and get used to thinking that there is nothing Nature loves so well as to change existing forms and make new ones of them.

  2. Virginia Postrel ~ One Best Way:

    Technocrats are “for the future,” but only if someone is in charge of making it turn out according to plan. They greet every new idea with a “yes, but,” followed by legislation, regulation, and litigation. Like Schlesinger and Attali, they get very nervous at the suggestion that the future might develop spontaneously. It is, they assume, too important and too dangerous to be left to undirected evolution ….. Technocracy is the ideology of the “one best way,” an idea that spread from Frederick Taylor’s “scientific management” techniques to encompass the regulation of economic and social life.

    Accustomed to technocratic governance, we take for granted that each new development, from the contents of popular entertainment to the latest in medical equipment, deserves not only public discussion but government scrutiny. Every new idea seems to spark a campaign to ban or control it: breast implants and mobile phones, aseptic juice boxes and surrogate mothers, Japanese cars and bovine growth hormone, video games and genetic engineering, quality circles and no-haggle car pricing, telecommuting and MRIs, data encryption and book superstores—the list goes on forever.

    • Tony, why don’t you share your own thoughts on issues rather than just lengthy quotes that are completely tangential to the matter at hand?

  3. I hope Mr. Mcguinty settles down, accepts some (more?) changes and provides an example of how somebody who respects democracy can work a minority parliament. I can still hope, but the language, reminiscent of a recent evil, doesn’t leave me hopeful.

    On the other hand, can he accept a bill without the schedules (which may be more palatable!), win the byelection then repass them?

  4. I suppose one upside to having an election is that presumably, Ontario’s fiscal situation, and the parties’ proposals for dealing with it (or not), would be the focus, as it should be. Unlike the previous election, where Hudak’s political stupidity basically stole the show, with predictable results. Whoever might win, I think it would at least be healthy for Ontarians to have a focused political discussion on their budgetary and fiscal issues, which are extremely serious.

    • Just because it’s on a particular topic doesn’t ensure great debate. Some gems from last time included how Hudak hated the GST so so so much he wasn’t going to do two things about it, and how as a lifetime MMP Hudak had no idea what he would actually cut from government so just couldn’t tell anybody during an election.

    • I wouldn’t underestimate the media’s and the parties’ ability to make the election about everything inconsequential and ignore all of the real issues.

      The election will probably end up being all about Toronto’s plastic bag ban.

      • It would be awful for voters to have to read the platforms and think about them for themselves.

        • If it’s in the platform. I could be wrong, but from what I know none of the parties had anything about reducing the deficit. I’ve never heard a credible plan from any party in Ontario about reducing the deficit, which is an astounding 15 billion.

  5. The elephant in the room here is the by-election in Elizabeth Witmer’s riding, which the Liberals have a decent shot at, and which would give them a (tenuous) majority government.

    Are Hudak & Horvath willing to risk being shut out of the picture entirely for the next 3 years is the question that everybody should be asking. My guess is we are going to an election.

    • Absolutely. Mcguinty has every reason not to call an election, and every reason to wait for a byelection. This may be the reason for Horvath’s about-face on the budget (she was a little slow on the uptake).

      • Horvath had no about-face. The Liberals and NDP had an agreement on the budget, but McGuinty tacked on a number of extras (as part of a 350-page omnibus bill,) including measures to privatize government services, that were never originally agreed on.

        The NDP only voted down the measures that McGuinty was trying to sneak in during committee and Hudak, surprisingly, supported her.

        McGuinty is the weasel here.

        • Heck, I’d be the last person to argue that McGuinty’s not a weasel. If it’s Mcguinty’s fault then he played a bad hand. The byelection was a path to a majority and he just needed to get his budget bill passed to get there.

  6. The parallels between the federal and Ontario budget situations have
    been too little explored. Just like the Harper Conservatives, the
    McGuinty Liberals have tried to package a bunch of disparate changes —
    nearly a whole year’s worth of governing program — in a sweeping omnibus
    budget bill.

    Aaron Wherry…you have a call waiting on the white courtesy telephone…paging Aaron Wherry…

    Yet another example of how Liberal governments get away with things that Conservatives never do, with nary a word of protest from the media; and why the media simply cannot be trusted to hold liberal governments to account.

    • Of course, the fact that this is a national magazine, and Wherry covers the federal Parliament, plays no role in this at all…

      • I think his point wasn’t so much about Wherry the individual, but the Liberal media in general. At the federal level, the press has been framing the “omnibus budget bill” as a terrible insult to democracy. But when a provincial Liberal does the same thing, the press is silent on the issue.

        The media’s been showing this bias a lot lately. They portrayed the federal restraint budget as mean spirited, dangerous, and an affront to polite company. When McGuinty does the same thing, they call it brave, necessary, and prudent. And it happens in all areas where provincial and federal responsibilities converge: environmental regulation, tax policy, etc.

        The MSM seems to think that most of their viewers are idiots, and don’t notice these inconsistencies. But people do, and the media loses credibility in the process. And the funny thing is, soon it’s going to be only the idiots left consuming their mass produced news.

        I always find it funny when I’m reading the comments at the G&M or Toronto Star how many consumers of those typically Liberal papers seem to live in a world where their newspaper of choice is the sole arbiter of truth and reason. The same people who’d claim to be the defenders of science, reason, and logic simply refuse to accept the fact that there are different points of view on almost every topic.

        • The scale of the bill and their now-historic promises to not utilize them play an important role in distinction, however.

    • Absolutely.

      That being said, in my opinion, omnibus bills have been around since the beginning of time, and there’s nothing wrong with them. They have their benefits and they have their drawbacks. Apparently McGuinty has discovered the drawbacks.

      I agree with you 100% that there is absolutely no consistency when it comes to Liberals vs Cons.

      According to the media:
      Harper’s omnibus bill=The death of democracy!!!
      McGuinty’s omnibus bill=crickets chirping… yawn… no story here…

      • Also the Liberal provincial government in British Columbia has had its fair share of omnibus bills, and again, no talk of the end of civilization — or at least Canada — as we know it.

        • Gordon Campbell ruled with an iron fist in the same way that Harper is now doing. He was forced to quit and what’s left of his party is about to be benched.

          • . . . because of the HST and the rise of the BC Conservative Party. Period. Which has absolutely no similarity to Harper’s situation.

          • Years of arrogance finally caught up with him. The HST was the last straw. And his leaving didn’t save the party because all those backbencers didn’t have the gonads to stand up to him. The same thing is playing out with Harper.

          • Like the Everley Brothers once sang, “Dream, dream dream dream . . .”
            You’re really overreaching with your analogy there. The BC Liberal Party is dying because of the HST and because they are getting their lunch eaten on the right hand of the political spectrum by the BC Conservative Party. There is nothing comparable on either count vis a vis Harper. Nobody is eating his lunch on the right and he didn’t introduce an epically unpopular tax that was his undoing. The appropriate federal comparable is Mulroney/Kim Campbell, the GST and the rise of the Reform Party.
            I know you’re obsessed with hatred of Harper and there are lots of things about him that suck, but not everything that occurs on this planet is evidence of Harper’s scumminess. You should limit your analogies and comparisons to ones that actually make sense.

          • Keep telling yourself Harper can do no wrong.

          • Where the hell did I say that? In the very post you’re responding to, I said “there are lots of things about him that suck.” Have you completely lost it? Do you have no reading comp skills at all?

          • Trust me I understand the meaning of the words, it’s the sincerity of them I question,

          • I see. So I gratuitously offered up that there are lots of things about Harper that suck, just to throw progressive sleuths like you off of my trail.
            But of course, you’re too clever for that.
            Yeesh.

    • Hey guys. I wrote to McGuinty and the candidate in my riding (Yes, that one) to express my concerns about hiding things within an omnibus budget bill. And since I’d officially taken out a membership in the provincial wing of the Liberal party (in order to vote for said candidate) that was as a provincial Liberal.

      Did you guys express your concerns to your party leader, Federally?

      • They have no concerns it would seem.

    • there’s a matter of degree, however, and their long history of promising not to do it.

      Normally I’d end with “but you knew that”, but I have come to believe you are sincere in your beliefs and actually, you DON’t know that.

    • …did you even know about these alleged parallels before reading about them here, in the media?

    • Wherry covers Ottawa. Would you also like him to comment on Bieber’s new hair?

  7. There’s more going on besides the implosion of the Liberal Party. Can you comment on, I dunno… the budget bill?

  8. If McGuinty was serious about actually leading Ontario out of the financial mess he’s made, he wouldn’t be picking on the Catholic school boards via legislation that conflicts with the Canadian Constitution. The Ontario government is about to lose millions trying to change the foundation of our country just so this guy and bribe a few extra votes out of the Toronto ridings. Take your job seriously, McGuinty! Keep your bigotry with respect to Catholics to yourself and look after the business of running the province!!

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