Despite some public criticism of Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Andrea Horwath’s risky gambit of announcing that she would not support the latest Liberal budget and therefore not prop up the Wynne government for one more session, it was a good call.
Some voices within labour organizations, including the Ontario Federation of Labour’s Sid Ryan, are among the critics who feel that this budget was really designed to ensure support from the NDP. The $130.4-billion budget promises to tie Ontario’s Child Benefit to inflation, to allow more access to dental service and school nutrition programs for children, and to increase social assistance payments. The budget also includes the NDP-driven lowering of vehicle insurance rates and the promise to increase the minimum wage.
But before the budget was even leaked, never mind being read, Premier Kathleen Wynne had voiced her determination to take the budget to the electorate if need be. Horwath wasted little time in making her decision public.
One would have to consider that the Liberal Premier would have some sense of relief in calling for the election. Because, whatever the outcome on Election Day June 12, going to the polls would put the posturing on any number of contentious matters to rest. It means that whatever comes of the election results on June 12, the main Opposition Progressive Conservatives can stop harping on the $1.1 billion gas plant fiasco and any number of other multi-million dollar mistakes the Liberals have made.
While we firmly believe that the Liberals must face the penalty for such abject abuse of public monies, the unbridled focus on it by the Opposition has turned the Legislature into a daily slugfest that puts all other matters of governance in the shadows. It is bad psychology and leaves the people of Ontario feeling as if their other priorities are secondary to party politics and gamesmanship.
In the weeks leading up to Election Day, the Liberals will no doubt try to keep the focus on the promises made in this budget which was designed to also serve as a campaign platform. We can expect that they will work to manage the message on their past record to lower the temperature among voters regarding past fiscal imprudence.
There are few complaints about the proposals in the budget, including establishment of an Ontario pension plan, transit and infrastructure improvement and the aforementioned increase in the minimum wage. The promises to lower electricity rates for low-income households and to retire electricity debt are also welcome.
Nevertheless, the Liberals will have to explain, especially to Conservatives, why they are taking the tax-and-spend approach instead of building in deficit reduction. Ontario continues to lead among provinces in indebtedness although it is battling Quebec for that title.
The Liberals have been dogged by their many costly mistakes over the past nine years they have been in government and it is about time that the people of Ontario voice their acceptance or rejection of the Liberal record. The debt issue and the province’s lowered bond rating will not be overlooked. So the strategy to sell their promises is their best offence.
Horwath, on the other hand, has not said she does not like what the budget contains. Instead, she will place her vote of no confidence in the Liberal government on the premise that they will not fulfill these promises.
Many voters would like to find a place to park their vote and be optimistic that this budget will be realized. But, like Horwath, the question remains at to whether these promises can or will be kept. It wouldn’t be the first time voters are swayed by promises only to be let down. Or, to see money earmarked for a social program transferred to something meant to appease only a narrow sector that likely could have gotten by without a government handout.
The June 12 election will also be the acid test for Wynne, who has been slagged as not having been elected to the premiership. Already indications are that we will end up with another minority government, whether Liberal or PC. Horwath may be enjoying personal popularity, as polls show, but it is unlikely the party that triggered this election will come out ahead. As of now, the NDP are polling in third place behind the PCs and Liberals, respectively.