Dance of Liberal-NDP dialectic in Ontario .. end of first set now in sight (well .. maybe)?

Apr 12th, 2012 | By | Category: In Brief

Ontario is not what it used to be, as this current New Yorker cover suggests. If you look closely with a magnifying glass, you will see that the name on the duty free bag slightly to the right of centre in the foreground is “SASKATOON“!

Larry Zolf’s 117-page opus Dance of the Dialectic — on “How Pierre Elliot Trudeau went from Philosopher-King to the Incorruptible Robespierre to Philosopher-Queen Marie Antoinette to Canada’s Generalissimo and then to Mackenzie King and Even Better” — was published 39 long years ago now.

In the strange spring of 2012, however, its title has taken on fresh relevance as a summary of  budget negotiations between Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal minority government and Andrea Horwath’s 17-member New Democrat caucus in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

Ontario finance minister Dwight Duncan brought down the budget two weeks ago this past Tuesday. With the Liberals just shy of a bare majority of seats in the legislature (and one of their number, Dave Levac from Brant, now serving as Speaker), they need at least two votes from the opposition Conservatives and/or New Democrats to pass the budget. (Or, technically it would seem, assuming the Speaker would vote with the government in a tie, just one vote … but, whatever the case, they can’t pass the budget all by themselves.)

Andrea Horwath calls for new taxes on high-income earners on April 3.

Conservative leader Tim Hudak almost instantly made clear that absolutely no votes would be coming from his caucus.  And that effectively means that if Ms. Horwath’s New Democrats do not finally support the budget, the McGuinty minority government will fall and there will have to be another provincial election — even though the last one was held just this past October 6!

You can trace the story over the past week or so through such headlines as: “NDP wants ‘reasonable’ changes to Ontario budget” ; “Horwath calls for tax increase to wealthy Ontarians” ; “Ontario budget: Make the rich pay, NDP demands” ; “NDP-Liberal budget dance gives McGuinty breathing room”  ; “Why Ontario’s NDP isn’t drawing a line in the budgetary sand” ; “Latest NDP demand for Ontario budget calls for cap on executive pay”  ; “McGuinty listening to NDP budget proposals”  ; “NDP demands in hand, McGuinty considering options to save budget”  ; “Ontario budget 2012: Andrea Horwath insists on surtax for wealthy”  ; and “Horwath to McGuinty: ‘Is it millionaires or daycares?’”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath discusses Ontario's budget with a group of people in Toronto. Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail.

Ms. Horwath and her New Democrats are taking something of a breather this Friday, April 13–Sunday April 15, for their “Leading Change” gathering at the Hamilton Convention Centre.  Martin Regg-Cohn at the Toronto Star probably quite wisely believes that : “Despite escalating rhetoric, all signs point to a [budget] compromise that resolves the NDP-Liberal negotiating game in the back rooms, while [NDP] party stalwarts [in Hamilton] debate a slew of earnest resolutions on the convention floor this weekend.”

Regg-Cohn nonetheless worries, a little at least (he does have a regular column to write, after all), about what impact party activists might have on Ms. Horwath’s dialectical manoeuvering : “The question for delegates this weekend is whether they will cling to the ideological shibboleths of the past, or trust Horwath enough to let her dance with the Liberal devil.”

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says the NDP's proposed amendments to his government's budget will cost around $1 billion. The premier is seen here speaking at Mr. X Inc. visual effects production studio in Toronto on Wednesday. April 11. TANYA TALAGA/TORONTO STAR.

Based on Andrea Horwath’s televised press conference on her final budget demands yesterday — along with various McGuinty Liberal media noises lately, I would agree that we probably don’t  need to worry too much about yet another Ontario provincial election this spring. Between the lines, Ms. Horwath does seem to understand that, while she is in a position to force a few of her more widely popular proposals on the “major minority” government, she does not really have a very strong a case for another election so soon. Premier McGuinty and finance minister Duncan also seem to believe very strongly that they don’t have to buy into anything like everything the NDP, with its 16% of the seats in the legislature, says it wants. If the opposition did finally force an unnecessary election on them right now, they apparently think, the Ontario Liberal Party would stand a very good chance of getting its majority back. And they could be quite right.

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