The Ontario Liberals seem to be gambling on turning their minority government into a majority with upcoming by-elections. Or maybe they are just going to call a fall general election.
Up until a few days ago, there was only that upcoming by-election in the Kitchener-Waterloo riding, which was held by Progressive Conservative Elizabeth Witmer until last April. A win there for the Liberal government would shift the balance of power in its favour, giving the party a slim majority of seats in the 107-seat Legislature. It currently has 52 seats – 53 with the House Speaker, Liberal Dave Levac. The Speaker usually votes with the government. A by-election win will give the party 53 seats and, together with the Speaker, provide the Liberals with a working majority government.
Witmer was pulled away from the riding she had been re-elected to just six months before, with the offer of a government appointment as chair of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). (She held the record as the longest serving woman in the Ontario legislature having first been elected in 1990.)
But what’s this about Liberal tactician Greg Sorbara’s decision to resign as the Member of the Provincial Parliament representing Vaughan, a riding represented at the federal level by the well-liked Conservative and former police chief, Julian Fantino? While the Liberals used to be very big in Vaughan, things have changed over the past few elections. First, the popular Al Paladini (since deceased) took the provincial riding from the Liberals for the PCs then, when long-time MP, Maurizio Bevilacqua quit to become Vaughan’s mayor, the seat fell to Fantino and the Conservatives. This is no longer a safe Liberal seat.
Sorbara, one of McGuinty’s most trusted MPPs, has served as Ontario’s minister of finance, chair of the treasury board and chair of the management board of cabinet but he has been edging out of politics for some time now. He quit his last cabinet post a while back.
He’s a shrewd politician, so what to make of this latest move? Is he really bowing out of representational politics in a riding his party could lose and why now when the party is just trying to edge towards a majority?
While offering the usual line of wanting to spend more time with family, Sorbara also says he’s still involved in the party and is giving up his seat because he wants to give full attention to the (upcoming) Liberal election campaign. Really? What election?
Are the Liberals planning to call by-elections or are they going to go for broke and call a general election? It is worth noting that Sorbara has said that an election call could come at any time. Why make such a statement in the middle of summer unless he’s prepping the public?
Is McGuinty planning to gamble that the electorate is ready to return the Liberals to power with a majority government or is he looking for a way out of politics which a loss would engender?
Or, maybe he is on to something. McGuinty’s minority Liberals are in pretty much the same position Stephen Harper’s minority Conservatives were before the last election with weak opposition from parties that don’t seem to be ready for prime time. So, while the McGuinty Liberals are, as were the Harper Conservatives, not wildly popular, voters might decide to stick with the devil they know.
Obviously, the Ornge controversy over questionable compensation for executives; the $180-million penalty payout to stop construction of the Mississauga power plant, the e-health controversy over profligate spending, and the latest gambit, the brinksmanship over trimming salaries in teachers’ and doctors’ contracts, don’t seem to be making much of a dent in the government’s popularity. Or maybe it’s just because it’s still summer.
But things are going to change. The pressure to lower or at best control spending in the province at a time when the provincial budget demands spending restraints has led the Liberals to play hardball in their negotiations with teachers and doctors. This kind of showdown is what eventually pushed the Mike Harris Conservatives out of power. So, are the Liberals willing to gamble on another majority or is Sorbara just blowing smoke?
The Liberals must remember that voters don’t like to be taken for granted and, as much as they may not be comfortable with the current preparedness or lack thereof of the opposition parties, they may just up the ante and surprise them.