Dancing dialectic on Ontario budget .. could there actually be another election? (well no, apparently not just yet)

Apr 19th, 2012 | By | Category: In Brief

Thanks to Mike Graston, Windsor Star.

[UPDATED APRIL 22, 23]. Contrary to many prognostications, the dance of Larry Zolf’s Winnipeg dialectic between Dalton McGuinty’s Ontario Liberals and Andrea Horwath’s Ontario New Democrats, over the current Liberal major-minority government’s Budget 2012, has not yet shown decisive signs of coming to some stable point of rest. (Well … that too has now changed, at 4 PM on the afternoon of Monday, April 23. See final UPDATE below.)

(And the prognostications here include my own obscure mumbling just a week ago now. As they say, a week is a long time in politics, etc.)

There have been two big — and almost contradictory? — changes over the past seven days. First, there now seem more smart voices saying: you know what, as absolutely crazy as it clearly is, there just may be yet another Ontario provincial election in this strange spring of 2012. No one really wants it (well … ), but in Ontario today we live in bizarre times. We will not finally be certain about what’s going on until the actual budget vote in the Legislative Assembly, this coming Tuesday, April 24.

Ontario Premier Oliver Mowat (left) sitting next to Quebec Premier Honore Mercier (right), Interprovincial Conference, Quebec City, 1887. Dalton McGuinty has been compared to Mowat. And the new federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is the great grandson of Mercier!

The second big change (in theory at any rate?) is that at least two recent opinion polls seem to suggest that if the budget is finally defeated in the legislature this coming Tuesday, and a fresh election becomes necessary, it may very well produce an even less stable minority government than the one we have now:

(1) A week ago yesterday the estimable Graham Murray’s Inside Queen’s Park newsletter announced that it had “ obtained the results of a poll conducted for the Canadian Union of Public Employees – Ontario Division – by Angus Reid Public Opinion.”  The poll was “in the field April 2 & 3” and “surveyed 1,500 adults.”

In terms of province-wide popular vote the poll “showed 34 per cent intended to vote PC, 31 per cent NDP and 29 per cent Liberal.” A seat projection based on these numbers indicated that: “The Liberals’ 53-seat minority government would be replaced by a PC one led by Tim Hudak, with the identical number of seats — one seat short of a majority.  The NDP would become the Official Opposition with 28 seats, with the Liberals slipping into third place with 26.”

(2) Just yesterday the excellent Susanna Kelley reported that “New poll results obtained exclusively by OntarioNewsWatch.com show provincial voters favour Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives to win power should the Liberal minority government fail in its negotiations to get New Democratic Party support for its budget … the the Environics Research Group poll …  pegs the Tories at 37 percent support of decided voters, the NDP at 30 percent, and the Liberals at 27 percent. Six percent of Ontarians would support the Green Party … The telephone poll of 500 Ontario adults was conducted April 10-13.”

This latest Environics poll also suggests a striking geographic cleavage: “In the riding-rich Greater Toronto Area … the Liberals are still fairly strong. They have the support of 37 percent of those polled, while the PC’s are at 34 percent. The NDP are the favourite of 24 percent. (The GTA definition used by Environics Group includes both the so-called ‘416′ area and some of the ‘905′ belt outside of Toronto …) … But in the rest of Ontario, 39 percent of those asked would vote Tory if an election were held today, 34 percent would vote NDP, and just 20 percent would mark their ballot for the McGuinty Liberals.”  (And click on “Read the rest of this page” below and/or scroll down for April 22/23 update.)

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You would think that both these polls ought to be giving the minority governing Liberals fresh reasons for listening to NDP leader Andrera Horwath’s more reasonable demands — while still giving Ms. Horwath herself no good reason to be more unreasonable.

Yet the always wise and engaging Stephen LeDrew on cp24 TV in Toronto (former president of the Liberal Party of Canada, 1998–2003) is still saying today that many Liberals still feel they could win back their majority in a fresh election. There are assorted good reasons for not taking these two latest polls as anything too close to any gospel truth. Mr. LeDrew himself still seems to be taking the prospect of a fresh election surprisingly seriously (even allowing for his media self-interest). And he is far from alone.

Others are still more dubious about any fresh Ontario election, for whatever reasons. And there is still other evidence for that view too. Here are my top 10 press reports from the past few days:

APRIL 17 … Liberals are hankering for an election ;

APRIL 17 … Ontario election? Get real. Seriously ;

APRIL 17 … Ontario Liberals, NDP find ‘common ground’ as budget vote looms ;

APRIL 18 … D’Amato: Liberal budget is far better than the alternative ;

APRIL 18 … Liberals claim ‘common ground’ with NDP but suggest Tories can’t be trusted ;

APRIL 18 … Sorbara confident Liberal budget will pass … Vaughan MPP Greg Sorbara is optimistic the Liberal minority government’s budget will pass, staving off a spring election, But if it doesn’t, he’ll throw his hat in the ring to run once again … “There are good constructive conversations going on with one of the opposition parties, the New Democratic Party,” he said ;

APRIL 19 … Horwath backs off heat to push tax hike ;

APRIL 19 … Ontario NDP drops push to cut HST from home heating ;

APRIL 19 … Ontario NDP drops key demand in budget showdown with Liberals ;

APRIL 19 … Ontario budget: Andrea Horwath makes key concession to Liberals in effort to reach budget deal … Horwath repeated her demand for a new wealth surtax on the ‘super rich’ earning more than $500,000 … Her plan is popular with Ontarians — a Forum Research poll released Thursday found 78 per cent in favour and only 17 per cent opposed — and with some senior Liberals.

I will still be surprised myself if we do wind up with a spring election in Ontario after the fateful budget vote this coming Tuesday, April 24. I am taking what such people as Steven LeDrew seem to be saying more seriously than I did last week.  But I still think the only Canadian provincial election clearly in immediate view at the moment is the one in Alberta, this coming Monday, April 23. (And if you believe the most recent polls here, the Wildrose Alliance is probably going to win — led by the lovely Danielle Smith, who may or may not be “Canada’s Sarah Palin” — although “Smith is in no danger of not being able to tell you what magazines and newspapers she reads” She is Canadian, after all.)

UPDATE APRIL 22: As we move closer to the April 24 deadline for getting the budget through the legislature, the universe has grown warmer.  And there is less talk about another election from smart observers of the scene:

APRIL 20 .. Ontario Budget 2012: Liberals Agree To NDP Demands On Child Care, Disability Support ;

APRIL 20 .. Ontario budget: Liberals, NDP move closer to a deal ;

APRIL 21 .. Ontario Budget: NDP’s Horwath wants more from McGuinty before backing budget ;

APRIL 21 .. Ontario budget 2012: McGuinty should meet Horwath half way or we’ll all pay ;

APRIL 21 .. Labour groups protest against Ontario’s ‘unfair’ budget ;

APRIL 21 .. Only the unions know if Ontario is heading to the polls.

I would just add that this last item is from the pen of former Mike Harris cabinet minister John Snobelen. Personally I would not want to put the future of Ontario in the hands of the public sector unions. But I certainly wouldn’t want to put it in the hands of  John Snobelen either. What remains attractive about the McGuinty government is that it is trying to drive between these two extremes. And traditionally that is where the wisdom of governing Ontario lies. As best as I can make out, the argument that the best before date for this wisdom has expired has also been tried in recent provincial history, twice, and been found less than convincing, at best.

UPDATE APRIL 23, 12:55 PM : Premier McGuinty and Ms. Horwath are  scheduled to meet in five minutes. As we get closer to tomorrow’s deadline without any Liberal-NDP agreement in place there has been something of a return to nervous talk about an election. See  Ontario Budget: McGuinty and Horwath in last-ditch talks to prevent election.  How the two come out of their meeting today will be the next big sign of something — or nothing at all. Stay tuned, of course.

UPDATE APRIL 23, 4:00 PM : So …  Premier McGuinty has now agreed to Andrea Horwath’s most fundamental demand, in part at least. See  McGuinty agrees to NDP tax-the-rich demand as budget vote looms. At the same time, McGuinty has stressed  that “all of the proceeds from the new tax bracket — estimated at between $440-million and $570-million — will be used to reduce the deficit,” rather than pay for new government aid programs, as the NDP had wanted. Even with this stricture, what the government has done, both today and late last week, has been enough for Ms. Horwath, with the carefully solicited support of her 17-member caucus, to declare that she will support the government on tomorrow’s budget bill. At the same time again, she has made clear that Ontario New Democrats will continue to press for the demands that Mr. McGuinty has not accepted, as the legislative process moves along.  My own view is that people have been reasonable, on both Liberal and NDP sides (if not on Mr. Hudak’s Tory benches?), and the future has unfolded well enough. I like elections myself, but it really is far too early for another one in Ontario just yet.

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