The negotiations between the minority Liberal government – the first minority government in the province in 26 years – and the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) over the first budget since provincial elections last fall have set the tone for how this current Dalton McGuinty administration will have to manage in the months and years to come.
As soon as the budget proposal was read at the end of March, Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak took his party out of the game. Maybe it’s the Conservatives’ way of making sure McGuinty has enough rope to hang himself. However, after the Liberals’ more than seven years in power, Ontarians should know enough about how they function, so this strategy would have to rely on something even more questionable than the reports of the financial mess around the medical air transport contract with ORNGE or the alleged billion-dollar mismanagement of the e-health medical records conversion project.
With the Conservatives on the sidelines, it is expected that the NDP will move into some form of partnership with the Liberals until the next election. It may also mean good news for those who have expressed concern that McGuinty is really just a red Tory, or a blue Liberal.
A significant reason for McGuinty’s success in an essentially conservative province is that he has managed to present enough of a platform to comfort the conservative constituency, especially outside of the Greater Toronto Area. Witness his appeal to conservatives with his decision to take on the teachers’ union and doctors over wage freezes, for instance. And he has lowered business tax rates and held the line on welfare.
On the other hand, those who are still unsettled by the after effects of the ‘commonsense revolution’ of the previous Mike Harris Conservatives seem to be comfortable enough with the middle-of-the-road approach of the Liberals.
Like so many parties in power these days, the Ontario Liberals have moved substantially to the centre of the political spectrum where the sense is that a majority of Canadians seem to be most comfortable, and they have adopted some conservative policy approaches. So, a working relationship with the NDP could be just what is needed to satisfy those who feel that the Liberals are not doing enough on the social policy front.
True, McGuinty has made a point of putting education improvements front and centre in his mandate, but there are many areas of concern that he and his party have either neglected or acted as conservatives would. For one, welfare rates have remained at pretty much the level the Harris government lowered them to over a decade ago.
During budget negotiations, the NDP called for an increase in welfare rates. They fought for more money for daycare and community care, and a $250-million job creation tax credit. In terms of job creation, they also sought support for horse racing and tourism.
Some conservatives may not like it, but a minority government, especially as it can now expect to be collaborating with the left, can go some way to bringing balance back to social concerns that have been neglected during the recent past when the Liberals had been trying to appeal to those who want smaller government, unbridled capitalism and an ‘every man for himself’ approach. And if they get into trouble for it, they can always blame the NDP.
What we hope to see going forward is more of the kind of mature approach that marked the negotiations between the Liberals and the NDP during the vetting of this current budget.
We trust that McGuinty has the wisdom and intuitive sense of balance to adjust to the new reality of his government’s minority position. The people of this province have said they want something more than what the Liberals had been presenting and the circumstances require that they will have to play ball with the NDP to keep that balance. How far that collaboration will go remains to be seen.
The word is that both McGuinty and Horwath get along well enough to work together. That is good news for the rest of us. What remains is for the Conservatives to adjust to the new normal and find their way back into the business of collaborating in a minority government.