Premier Wynne’s upcoming balancing act

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday February 13 2013 in Opinion
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Kathleen Wynne will be starting her rocky road of the premiership with an even rockier road than was anticipated. Two members from her side of the Legislature have announced their resignations – not waiting for the next election as would be the custom. That reduces the Liberals’ benches to an even greater minority government.


Both finance minister Dwight Duncan and energy minister Chris Bentley decided to make a hasty getaway. We can read all sorts of reasons into why they are both choosing this route, given the tenuousness of the government. The one reason that stands out clearly appears to be a lack of confidence in the new premier. What other reason would there be that you would jeopardize your party’s standing given the knife-edge balance that now exists?


At prorogation, the party standings, according to the Legislative Assembly’s website, were Liberal 53, Progressive Conservatives 36, and New Democrats 18 for a total of 107. If the next Speaker, who is expected to be elected when the House resumes, is from the Liberal benches, that reduces the government’s votes by at least three.


So, if Wynne hopes to keep her government going for a while, there will have to be some serious negotiations with the opposition parties. Otherwise, she will face a non-confidence motion, likely after the presentation of her first budget, which could place her continued premiership in the hands of all voting Ontarians.


The Premier has elevated Michael Coteau, the former Toronto school board trustee from the backbenches to the position of citizenship and immigration minister, replacing Michael Chan. Coteau was parliamentary assistant to Chan for the Tourism portfolio. Chan retains the Tourism, Culture and Sport ministry. Margarett Best, the only other African-Canadian on the Liberal benches, was not reappointed to a cabinet post.


An aside, worth noting, is that the deputy minister for citizenship and immigration is also an African-Canadian, Chisanga Puta-Chekwe, who has been there since 2009.


Beyond economic factors – matters such as jobs, layoffs in the public service, the deficit and a few other items, there is not likely to be anything that the government will announce that specifically affects our community. This is not to suggest that those items are not important to our community. The quest to reduce the budget deficit, no matter how you slice it, will have an impact on our community, particularly in youth employment.


The unemployment rate among Black youth has consistently been higher that the provincial average. Many of the programs that have been put in place to support youth employment are Band-Aid solutions at best, yet some do help to increase their employability by providing, among other things, work experience.


But PC leader Tim Hudak continues his campaign, much in the tradition of the U.S. Republicans and the Tea Party, of wanting to severely cut government expenditures and damn the social costs implied. The province continues to suffer the consequences of the last premier who ventured down this road, Mike Harris. We continue to reap the results of his sowing.


As it stands, the more natural ally for the Wynne Government is the NDP, led by Andrea Horwath. The NDP leader has repeatedly stated that her preference would be to avoid an election because, to paraphrase, there are important issues to which the people of Ontario want their elected officials to attend. It does not mean, as we have seen, that there is a formal coalition – or a Peterson-Rae-type pact of 1985 – between the Liberals and the NDP.


The 1985 accord between the Liberals and the NDP did not end particularly well (or maybe it did) for the NDP. At the end of the two-year pact, Peterson called a general election and swept to power with a majority. The NDP became the official opposition. Three years later, without needing to, Peterson called an election, and thus ushered in the first and only NDP government in Ontario.


So the table is set for what appears to be an issue-by-issue relationship between the Liberals and the NDP. Hudak’s hard-line approach, unless he is converted in the near future, will likely see him sitting in the observer seats and trying to make himself relevant.


Whatever the eventual relationship, Premier Wynne will be performing the equivalent of a gymnast on a balance beam. Fence-mending with teachers, reigning in the deficit, reassuring a worried public sector and satisfying an ultra-sensitive business community is not going to be a cakewalk. The Throne Speech will signal what is to come when Lieutenant Governor David Onley delivers it at the resumption of the Legislature.


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