Now is Liberal Conservative détente the next big thing in Ontariario .. and is Andrea Horwath’s NDP partly to blame?

Aug 24th, 2012 | By | Category: In Brief

Now Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak is saying “Teachers’ wage freeze will pass.”

QUEEN’S PARK, TORONTO. FRIDAY, AUGUST 24, 3:30 PM. Some three and a half months ago, I was wondering: “Is Liberal Conservative détente next big thing in Ontariario .. and will it work?

My inspiration was a Toronto Star column by Martin Regg Cohn, which urged : “As labour tensions dominate the agenda, Liberals and New Democrats will grow apart — and the Tories will be in closer alignment with McGuinty’s stated goal of a two-year wage freeze for teachers’ unions and other public sector workers … Can McGuinty and [Conservative leader Tim] Hudak recast their strained relationship? … Détente may come sooner than anyone expects … Negotiations with the province’s 128,000 teachers are going poorly, increasing the likelihood that McGuinty will legislate a wage freeze.”

Some wild last-minute re-negotiation of New Democrat support for the McGuinty Liberal minority budget — which did not finally pass until June 20 — apparently served to keep Liberal Conservative détente in the wings for a while longer.

Minority government house leader John Milloy says “Ontario Liberals want Tory support of teacher bill in writing”!

Now, however, with the Legislative Assembly of Ontario about to return to work early, this coming Monday, August 27, to consider a teachers’ wage freeze bill, in time for the start of the school year a week later, it seems that Liberal Conservative détente has suddenly jumped onto the stage at the Pink Palace at last. (See, eg: “Conservatives will back teacher wage bill, Tim Hudak says” ; “Ontario PCs to support teacher contract bill” ; and “Teachers’ wage freeze will pass, Tim Hudak says.”)

It is probably still a little too early to break out the Niagara Escarpment champagne. According to CBC News : “Government House Leader John Milloy said Friday that the Liberals are requesting a more formalized agreement because had learned from a deal they made with the New Democrats to get their budget bill passed earlier this year … ‘We need a letter or a statement in writing from the PCs saying that they will support this bill and that it will not be gutted, as they attempted to do to the budget bill,’ Milloy said.” (Oh, and for those of us who may have forgotten : “Because the Liberals hold only 52 of the 107 seats in the legislature, they will need the support of at least one of the opposition parties in order for the bill to pass.”)

All this is happening, as NDP leader Andrea Horwath and others like to stress, in the context of two Ontario provincial by-elections, this coming September 6, in Kitchener-Waterloo and Vaughan. If the McGuinty Liberals win both by-elections, they could convert their current “major minority” government into a “bare majority” regime. And, say what you like, if Tim Hudak’s Conservatives were to continue refusing to support the McGuinty minority government’s teachers’ wage freeze bill — which is at least a step in very much the same direction as the Conservatives have been advocating for some time — they would just continue to look foolish enough to give the Liberals the two by-election victories they are so desperately seeking.

According to the latest Nanos poll on Ontario politics, “ both the Conservatives and Liberals are gaining ground lost by the NDP.”

Personally, I have to confess I will be disappointed if all this finally does mean that some form of Liberal Conservative détente actually is the next big thing in Ontariario. As I tried to ask more hopefully at the start of this year, when Liberal-NDP budget co-operation was in the wings, “McGuinty–Horwath .. will showing the left how to co-operate be Ontario’s new role in confederation?

Ontario political realists will of course say that there is just no way Ms. Horwath’s New Democrats could co-operate with Mr. McGuinty’s Liberal minority government on a teachers’ wage freeze bill. But the latest Nanos poll on Ontario provincial politics may also suggest the limits to this kind of NDP realism. The poll puts the Conservatives at 34.7%, the Liberals at 34%, and the NDP at 22.1%.  And: “The Nanos survey suggests that both the Conservatives and Liberals are gaining ground lost by the NDP.”  This past May I was urging “Hopefully, for their own good, Premier McGuinty’s advisors will” urge their leader not to rush “too precipitously into the arms of Mr. Hudak.” I’d feel more comfortable about urging something similar once again, if Ms. Horwath’s arms had proved somewhat less forbidding in the most recent past.

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  1. I do think that the NDP’s support for the teachers will seem hollow as the party had the chance to help defeat the Liberal government on the budget bill. Once the NDP supported the bill, the Liberals knew that they did not need the NDP to help do their dirty work. The Liberals could now depend on Hudak’s PCs. In de-facto purposes, the NDP is the party that supports the Liberal government on the teacher salary freeze as it could have stopped the Liberals on the budget.

    All is not finished for the NDP. It will need to prepare for the next provincial election which will likely happen within two years. How does one explain the Liberal government’s attempt to impose a two-year teacher salary freeze rather than negotiate the usual four-year contract with the teachers? The NDP will have no power during the next one to two years. The party will have to wait until the next election to improve its power.

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