Ontario: coalition dreaming - Macleans.ca

Ontario: coalition dreaming

Paul Wells on Andrea Horwath, the Ontario Liberals and a stack of hypotheticals


It’s not clear what Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath expects from the province’s next Liberal premier, whom the party will select on Jan. 26. She’s “open to working to get results for the people of this province,” in contrast to Conservative opposition leader Tim Hudak, who likes his chances in an election and will likely withhold confidence as early as possible to try to get one.

Does that mean Horwath wants a Liberal-NDP coalition?

Perhaps not. She’s already pointing to the deal she cut last year with Dalton McGuinty, a simple, classic, well-tested case of an opposition party withholding its sanction so a minority government can continue to survive, in return for specific concessions. That’s not a coalition, which would entail some sort of formal power-sharing, such as, for instance, NDP MPPs with ministerial portfolios in a cabinet led by a Liberal premier.

But Horwath isn’t ruling that out. At some point, an opposition leader gets in trouble with her own supporters if she keeps propping up a government from another party. Most New Democrats didn’t join that party to ensure a 10th consecutive year of Liberal government. Eventually Horwath will need to extract benefits commensurate with the cost: she’ll need cabinet experience for herself and some of her caucus, which would mean a coalition. Or she won’t bother propping up Premier Next, and the province will be in an election before summer.

If there were a coalition, Hudak could do nothing but complain and hope for a voter backlash against the coalition plotters down the road.  That’s not what happened last time: a Liberal-NDP pact took power from the Conservatives; the Liberal, David Peterson, won a majority at the next election; and the New Democrat, Bob Rae, won his own majority in the election after that. It was a good long time before the Conservatives, who had governed Ontario forever, were able to get it back.

Now here’s the tricky part. No Liberal candidate can proclaim any eagerness to work too closely with the NDP, because party members in a leadership race are capable of feats of self-delusion, and they will read self-preservation as selling out. Already there’s a dynamic where Sandra Pupatello, one of the leading Liberal candidates, is portraying Kathleen Wynne, the other front-runner, as too eager to give in to NDP demands. So the likeliest route to a coalition after the Liberal leadership vote includes plenty of denials before the vote that any such thing is possible.

A Liberal-NDP coalition government in Ontario after Jan. 26, then, would be bad news to Tim Hudak, because he could not block it. But it would be good news for Stephen Harper, who would use the Ontario coalition as evidence that his warnings of a federal NDP-Liberal coalition are credible — despite what they might say beforehand.

As always, it’s worth repeating that governing coalitions are legitimate in parliamentary systems. But so is it legitimate for voters to judge their composition and performance and decide whether they want to support parties that are likely to form coalitions. It’s also worth admitting that this whole post is built on a stack of hypotheticals. The likeliest near-term future for Ontario politics is an election within a few months after the next Liberal leader is chosen.



Ontario: coalition dreaming

  1. So what’s the most boring outcome? Depends upon whether you think elections are exciting, I guess.

  2. I fail to see what the NDP has to gain with being a junior partner in a coalition government. The Liberals will more likely than not be relegated to third place in an election which leads to either Horwath being Premier herself or the Opposition leader to a PC government that will need (and want) to cut government spending significantly. In the first case she’s Premier and in the second she establishes the NDP as the centre-left party as the Liberals are either forced to prop up a minority Tory government or are so decimated that they are completely irrelevant.

  3. I think the NDP would be crazy to enter into a coalition with the Liberals at this point. I think with all the baggage McGuinty’s left behind, the Liberals will finish in a distant 3rd whenever the next election comes, and it could very well be that Horwath will be Premier. By entering into the coalition she’ll reduce her chances by:

    1) Giving the new Liberal leader time to establish themself.
    2) Giving the public time to forget about recent Liberal transgressions.
    3) Restrict her ability to attack recent Liberal policy.

    Either way, tough times ahead for the next Liberal leader.

    • I think the Dippers would be crazy to listen to con men hoping Hudak will win a fake majority if an election is called early…

      • What the hell is a “fake majority”?!?!

        • To people like Ron Waller, all elections won by Conservatives have to be fake, as in the alleged “robocall scandal”, which he thinks is why the Federal Conservatives won. Those calls, if true, would not have changed the results of the election, but I guess he’s dreaming.

          • I guess the rationale for those robo calls was then to NOT influence the election? Anyone who’s familiar with how FPTP can turn small swings into huge gains will get my point. Failure to stop voters get to their PS does not negate intent, if the allegations are proven factual.

          • That character doesn’t know if the robocalls influenced the election or not. Election Canada recovered the records of robocalls made in Guelph. The ratio of actual calls to official complaints was 100 to 1.

            Considering there are 1400 official complaints in over 200 ridings across the country, that amounts to about 140,000 calls.

            This is obviously not something to be made light of…

          • Yeah right…

        • It means the government does not represent a majority of voters. Duh.

          The reason minority parties get absolute “majority” power in Canada is because of our primitive voting system. (Which is not good enough for any party to elect its leader with.)

          This can be fixed by: a) ensuring power is awarded to parties proportionally to the vote; or b) ensuring representatives *earn* their seats with a majority of the local vote.

          It’s time to put an end to this arbitrary welfare system for politicians. There’s no reason why voters should get saddled with politicians and governments they don’t want and didn’t vote for.

          (BTW, in opposition Harper said our antiquated system produced a “benign dictatorship.” Of course him and his minions are perfectly Ok with it as long as he’s the “dictator.”)

          • So Ron, were you out in the streets protesting, and posting madly online, back in the day when Jean Chretien was winning fake majorities? And back when Glen Clark won the BC Provincial Election despite losing the popular vote?

          • I don’t think they had online commentary back then… But ever since I’ve heard about electoral reform, I’ve supported it.

            Chretien, Clark, McGuinty, Bob Rae, etc. didn’t deserve unfettered power. Voters would’ve had better government if their wishes were respected.

            BTW, Marc Garneau has shown that he is a principled and practical candidate for leader of the Liberal party by supporting ranked ballots as a means to make our existing (Westminster-style) system democratic:

            Support Marc and his plan for democratic reform

    • I tend to agree(!). From a strategic standpoint, I don’t know why Horvath would entertain this idea, unless she’s being advised that an election this spring would result in an overwhelming PC victory (which is my prediction), and delaying that eventuality through a coalition/arrangement is preferable. But I think it’s a case of re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. I don’t see how the PCs lose the next provincial election, whenever it is. They’d have to really self-destruct to mess that up (but that NEVER happens, does it?).

      • Really? An overwhelming PC victory? Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see that result, I just can’t see it happening (though I don’t live in ON).

        But let’s say your correct. I don’t see how a year (lets say) of governing with the Libs, who are widely seen as dishonest, would improve her chances of winning in the future. Whereas being a strong opposition leader could effectively relegate the Libs to long-term 3rd party status.

        • Depends on what kind of polling data she’s getting. If it’s telling her a spring election is going to result in an overwhelming PC victory, what does she have to lose?

          The Ontario public teachers are doing a good job of sending votes to the PCs these days. An overwhelming PC victory seems to me to be a foregone conclusion if the election were to be held this spring (and probable if held down the road).

  4. All this nonsense against coalitions is disgusting, considering it’s nothing more than an election strategy cooked up by a low-life con man (“coalition with the socialists and separatists” nonsense.)

    In almost all developed countries, coalitions are the norm. That is because they have actual democracies where government represents a majority of voters. Canada has an ironic interpretation of democracy: here absolute power is often doled out to minority parties. (Presently we have the bizarre situation where the will of the super-majority is crushed under the tyranny of a minority.)

    North Americans are idiots. They live in a bubble completely oblivious to the outside world thinking they are the center of the universe.

    • And that is why those coalition government in Europe are doing so well economically!

      • Coalition = economic failure. Got cha.

      • Actually northern European economies are doing very well. Germany, Sweden and Finland had stronger economic growth coming out of the recession than we had.

        Of course, our position had nothing to do with a minority party getting absolute power. According to The Economist in 2010: “Much of the country’s resilience stems from policies—such as bank regulation and sound public finances—which predate Mr Harper. ”

        BTW, Harper’s propaganda that Canada has “the strongest recovery on the planet” is pure nonsense. Here’s how we rate on a number of indicators relative to other developed countries:

        * OECD productivity (2011): #17
        * OECD productivity growth (2011): #24
        * OECD government debt/GDP (IMF 2011): #25
        * OECD Unemployment rate (2012 Q1): #17
        * OECD GDP per capita PPP (IMF 2011): #7
        * OECD GDP growth (2011 CIA): #14
        * OECD trade balance (IMF 2011): #24
        * Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (2011): #12
        * Conference Board of Canada Economy Rankings (2011): #11
        * WEF Global Competitive Index (2012-2013): #14

        • Yes, Germany, Sweden and Finland are the only countries in Northern Europe. Another amazing fact from Ron.

          • You should learn how to read. That is not what I said. I’m just debunking the fallacy that all European economies are in crisis because the euro PIIGS are. Fact is the US is in just as bad of shape as the euro PIIGS. And Harper is taking us down the same path of self-destruction founded on reckless tax cutting and other neo-con policies that made America a train wreck.

          • Umm, no. America could solve its fiscal crisis tomorrow by raising taxes to a point where they would still have lower taxes than Europe. They won’t, but they could. The euro PIIGS don’t have that option. And I would hardly point to the Germany economy as an economy that is doing well. It grew 0.7% to end the year. In North America we consider 2% growth a rut.

          • Shhhh. Don’t knock Ron off of his talking points. He doesn’t like that.

          • Talking points means propaganda. I was citing economic facts.

          • I think you underestimate the damage done to the American economy. It suffered a financial market meltdown and housing collapse. It’s recovery from the dot-com bust and terrorist attacks was low-growth and delusional prosperity. If they were to raise taxes too much to lower the deficit, this would hamper GDP growth and likely put the economy in recession. What happens when an economy is in recession? The deficit skyrockets. (Self-defeating policy, like austerity in a slump.)

            Another thing about the euro PIIGS is that most of them are low tax countries (in the top 10 of 31 OECD High Income nations): Greece #8, Portugal #10, Ireland #4 (US #1, Canada #9.)

            The reason their economies faced crises was because: a) financial market meltdowns in 2008; b) when they adopted the euro this boosted purchasing power which led to big current account deficits which turned to big budget deficits (according to the “twin deficits” theory.)

            Canada is in a similar predicament. We have essentially adopted the US greenback as our currency, which is overvalued by 25% (based on PPP.) This has turned $20B current account (trade) surpluses into $50B current account deficits (-3% GDP.) This will likely lead to future budget problems down the line. (As we are already seeing in ON, which has a value-added economy and is not propped up by a commodities boom.)

            Like the euro-PIIGS, Canada will be expected to undergo an internal devaluation to restore competitiveness. But as Keynesians point out, wages are sticky and slow to come down (wages are inflated by 25% and need to be reduced by 20% to restore competitiveness.) Wage deflation, however, adds to the problem: it increases the burden of debt, both private and public. Wage deflation will also aggravate the coming housing slump and kill a lot of people’s retirement savings in home equity.

          • BTW, Germany is facing problems because of the euro-PIIGS and the ECB’s boneheaded move to fight imaginary inflation in 2011 which killed the recovery. Canada’s economy, however, is propped up by a commodities boom, which puts it in a precarious position. Canada has a 3% current account deficit; Germany has a 6% current account surplus founded on value-added exports. Canada also has record low productivity growth and it’s economic growth will likely come in below 2% when it was originally forecast at 2.5%.

            Germany still had stronger growth in 2010 and 2011.

            But yes, 2% GDP growth is nothing. Our recovery from the 2009 recession was probably the worst recovery since the 1930s. In the 1980s and 1990s, recovery growth was around the 5% range (higher in the 50s, 60s and 70s.) Now Mark Carney says 2.5% growth represents an economy at full recovery.

            So saying one country’s anemic growth for one year is stronger than another’s has no meaning.

  5. “But it would be good news for Stephen Harper, who would use the Ontario coalition as evidence that his warnings of a federal NDP-Liberal coalition are credible — despite what they might say beforehand.”
    I think this may be a bit presumptuous, Harper’s argument was that such a coalition would ruin the country. If such an Ontario coalition were to govern poorly (very possible) then yes it would be great news for Harper. If on the other hand such a coalition were to perform moderately competently, it would singlehandedly undermine Harper’s entire argument (to the extent he’d still raise the spectre of one…)
    Frankly I haven’t heard the word “coalition” used with any regularity since the election, I think the CPC war room recognizes the term is more than a little tired these days.

    • Good point . Saved me a windy post. Indeed! What if the coalition is proven workable? I guess we’ll see Harper pull off another of his don’t watch too closely while I swollow myself whole. As likely though he’lll find a way to link coalitions to economic stagnation, endless debt, latent support for everything from separatism to childhood obesity and pornography to terrorism, the annual failure of the leafs and the onset of early male hair loss. Have I left anything important out?

  6. I have no issues with coalitions, per se. However, I do have a major issue when a party leader unequivocally says his party will not be part of a coalition, and then immediately acts otherwise after the election; as Stephan Dion did in 2008.

    The likelihood that I would have voted Liberal in 2008 (as I did) would have dropped dramatically had Dion openly entertained the option of a coalition with the NDP (and sorta kinda with the Bloc), so I, for one, felt quite deceived after Dion’s about face.

    • At the risk of excusing Dion – he did rule it out during the election, a big mistake IMO – I seem to remember he was not part of the original planning by Layton and Duceppe. Given the update Jumbo Jim then sprang on the opposition( cuts to party subs and all) I can’t say I blame him at all for an about face. It’s the execution of the maneuver that brought him down ie., showed him to be politically inept. As a policy wonk Dion iwas superb, still is IMO .

      • The thing is, I like Dion. I liked how me methodically took on the separatists, I like that he’s a policy wonk, I liked that he would revisit the GST cuts, I liked that he was for a carbon tax (*). I considered him a straight shooter – which, for me, is a big plus. So, the about face on a coalition really came as a blast of cold water. Most other politicians, I could shrug it off as being a “typical politician”, but Dion seemed to be above that, and so I expected better.

        Also, if Flaherty’s update was really that unpalatable, then to me the reasonable thing would be to bring down the government and campaign on forming a coalition. That way people would know what they’re voting for when casting a Liberal vote.

        And finally, the fact that after prorogation neither was the coalition option pursued nor was the government brought down, strongly suggests that the update was indeed not beyond the pale.

        [(*) IMO if you’re going to charge for carbon, then a carbon tax is head and shoulders above cap and trade in terms of transparency and efficiency. We have one in BC and the world hasn’t come to an end. Having said that, until the big players (China, US, India, Russia) get on board, I find it rather difficult to get worked up about what Canada does or does not do. We’re basically peeing into the ocean in comparison.]

  7. I’m skeptical it would go over well to form a coalition with a party that is truly out of favour, as the Liberals are. The NDP should let the Liberals fall. Don’t prop them up. In the long run they will not be rewarded for going the coalition route.