Liberals must adjust to new minority reality

By Pat Watson Wednesday June 27 2012 in Opinion
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That was quite a little drama that erupted just before the Ontario Liberal government’s first minority budget was finally passed. Most of us in the public are unaccustomed to seeing the Liberals take the offensive and attack other parties and their leaders. The tone of stridency that came from Premier Dalton McGuinty and Finance Minister Dwight Duncan charging that New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Andrea Horwath was going back on her word to support the budget had a sound of desperation.


Here’s McGuinty: “The NDP turned their backs – yet again – on an agreement to pass our budget. They joined forces with the PCs to gut the government’s budget bill. The consequences of the NDP’s latest backtrack would hurt our economy when what it needs most is stability and certainty. Andrea Horwath and her party have, for the second time, broken their word about passing this budget.”


Duncan then built on the rhetoric, calling Horwath someone who “can’t be trusted”.


Was this all just political grandstanding for their respective supporters?


The Liberals charged that the changes the NDP were seeking to make in order to gain its support for this budget would have disrupted the government’s schedule for paying down the deficit, a matter of some importance since the government continues to spend more than it takes in.


To put it kindly, there seemed to have been some misunderstanding between McGuinty and Horwath over their agreement to gain the NDP’s support for the budget. In fact, during the first round of voting, the NDP abstained rather than vote in support of the budget after the Liberals made concessions the NDP demanded, such as an additional tax on Ontarians making over $500,000.


While ordinary people’s daily lives are affected by the decisions these politicians make as they cut services here and there and seek to take more revenue through taxes and fees, many are also frustrated when they see these political games being played out.


While the Liberal and NDP camps where driving up the rhetoric, Conservative leader Tim Hudak, who did side with the NDP in its attempt to extract further concessions from the government prior to the final vote, was playing his own game of refusing to get involved in the process claiming that the budget didn’t go far enough to create ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ as if that has ever been truly a central plank of conservative policy.


In fact, Hudak’s behaviour did more to present him as being outside the loop while the other two parties, as messy as things were, made the effort to get the budget passed in order to avoid an election.


Minority governments are usually not bad for the electorate which can benefit from the compromises governments have to make to get their agenda through parliament. When the federal Conservative government were in a minority, the NDP, led by the late Jack Layton, was able to get some significant policy approved, for example in the protection of seniors, while agreeing to support Conservative budgets. But the provincial Liberals haven’t had much practice in compromise, having spent the previous seven years as a majority government.


McGuinty’s tactic of threatening to send Ontarians back to the polls if he does not get his way, will only work for so long. He will have to work harder at the art of compromise in order to gain the support of the other parties in the future.


Unless, of course, he really wants to call another election.


A note on Euro Cup diversity…


It’s called the Euro Cup but if the teams on the soccer field represent a microcosm of Europe then we have to see that Europeans today comes in many hues. Can hardly wait for the World Cup in 2014. In the meantime: Go Italy!

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