The big losers when provincial politicians vote on the Liberal budget next Tuesday would be Tim Hudak’s Conservatives. Almost as soon as Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan read the budget three weeks ago, Hudak declared that his party would be voting against it, effectively closing off any opportunity they might have had to influence this first budget of the minority Liberal government.
The Liberals, with 52 seats – excluding Speaker Dave Levac – to 37 Conservative seats and 17 for the New Democratic Party (NDP) need two additional votes for their budget to pass. As such, Premier Dalton McGuinty has indicated that the Liberals are working on making sure that they can get support from the NDP.
If that doesn’t happen, we will be looking at a snap election just six months after the last one.
McGuinty has suggested that an election campaign now would have a $100 million price tag. Democracy does come at a price, but any party playing the system for political gain will not find favour with the electorate, especially at this time.
It raises the question of whether Hudak’s gamble is more about politics than concern for the interests of the people of Ontario. The Liberal budget could benefit from greater emphasis on a job creation environment, for instance, something Hudak has championed in the past, but will not influence by counting his party out of negotiations.
Further, why would the Liberal plan to freeze wages for teachers and doctors and cut public sector spending not get the support of the Conservatives who are supposedly in favour of smaller government and a smaller public service sector?
This decision to disconnect from negotiations with the government seems to have a hint of the current Republican-Democrat intransigence in the U.S. that has become the shame of federal politicians in Washington. Of course, that is not where Ontario politics are headed, is it?
With the Conservatives counting themselves out, McGuinty’s Liberals are going to have to concede to some of NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s proposals if he is to avoid an election.
While we don’t believe that a snap election is very likely, the possibility exists nonetheless. And the NDP leader is in the centre of the action. If she plays it right she could have a very strong edge going into an election, if one becomes necessary.
Horwath wants the Liberals, among other things, to agree to a two per cent tax surcharge on incomes of over $500,000. Government estimates are that doing so would raise $400 million in tax revenue, which would certainly help in paying down the province’s $16.5 billion deficit.
This is already popular with the public and shouldn’t be difficult for the premier to do. What will be a challenge will be any concession on proposed cuts to unionized workers. It will be interesting to see how both parties handle this.
The last time a provincial government took on the powerful teachers’ union, the teachers fought back hard. Then Conservative premier, Mike Harris, had to face teachers picketing at Queen’s Park. The NDP, therefore, has some work to do to show its union supporters that it can protect labour’s interests, because this is where McGuinty will fight to win – or hold on to – the support of small ‘c’ conservatives.
Another NDP proposal that both sides can meet on will be a cap on salaries of the government’s high-earning employees, some of whom make more than twice that of the premier. Here, the government should get both the support of the public and the NDP.
At the same time, to meet the Liberals half way, Horwath will have to help NDP supporters come to terms with the current economic climate. She will have to understand – and be able to convince her supporters – that the NDP cannot win on all proposals but must be able to assure them, truthfully, that they won on meaningful issues.
We trust that with enough give-and-take, Ontarians and the current government can move forward without the disruption of another election at this time.