By PATRICK HUNTER
Premier Kathleen Wynne’s first test of the public’s response to her government was partly successful, if you want to use the “glass half-full” analogy. Five by-elections were called to fill seats previously held by Liberals. At the end of the day, last Thursday, two Liberals were elected, two NDPers and one Conservative.
We have come to accept that by-elections provide a mid-term performance assessment: How well is the party in power doing? Is it being responsive to the electorate? Is it handling the economy well by helping to create and maintain jobs? Is it being responsive to those who are vulnerable?
In most cases, there are usually two or three seats to fill during a by-election. This time there were five. It was almost like an overhaul, created by the resignations of five former cabinet ministers, among them, a former premier. This is where the by-election results took on a different perspective.
The government, under then premier, Dalton McGuinty, made some very serious political miscalculations that saw the province wasting half of a billion dollars – and counting – to cancel gas plants. And, as if that were not enough, what has emerged is a series of decisions that tried to cover up those errors in judgment. There are some things that you expect political strategists to understand: Sooner or later, the truth will get out. If you are lucky, it will happen when it can no longer affect your party or government. More often than not, it happens when it can do the most damage.
So, Wynne inherited the problem and has been spending a lot of time trying to distance herself from that bungled decision when, no doubt, she wanted to put her own mark on the party and the government. One could say that given the results of the by-elections, then, she has managed to convince some people that the party is not all bad and they are making an effort to be up front going forward.
Of course, not everyone was convinced of that message. The punishment came with the loss of three valuable seats, particularly as it is a minority parliament.
On the other hand, Andrea Horwath, the NDP leader, can also claim some credit. Her negotiating stances to have the government respond to some key demands in the budget to earn her party’s support did her well. She won back the Windsor seat, and a critical London riding.
A misread of the situation within Toronto may have cost her a valuable candidate. She decided to allow a high profile candidate, Adam Giambrone, to contest the Scarborough-Guildwood seat against Mitzi Hunter. Now, either Giambrone will have to face Hunter in the general election or, if he goes to another riding, he could give the appearance of shopping around, or being a parachute candidate, which is not always good.
Emerging from this mid-summer madness was Tim Hudak, who finally got to take the stage beside a winner in a Toronto riding. Doug Holyday, the now former deputy mayor of Toronto, decided to move to provincial politics at Hudak’s urgings, no doubt, to challenge another city councillor, Peter Milczin. How influential was Hudak in this win? I suspect that the combination of Holyday’s name recognition and the gas plant cancellations fiasco had more to do with it than the dubious leadership Hudak provides.
So, when the Legislature reconvenes, perhaps in September, the balance of power will not have changed. Horwath, while still not the Leader of the Official Opposition, will still have negotiating advantage, at least until the next budget.
Tim Hudak will likely continue his “no-to-everything” posture, unless or until his party decides enough is enough and that it is time for a change. Winning the Toronto seat will not give him a great deal of leverage, especially if the forecast polls suggests that he is still not making any inroads into Toronto (416/647), in spite of the bloodstains from the gas plants’ cancellation. The other part of that story is that there are no obvious heir-apparent. Christine Elliott, who was a runner-up to Hudak, may be the obvious choice. But, there is also the chance that someone from the Conservative Party of Canada, who may be somewhat disenchanted with the Prime Minister, may decide to take a stab at it.
There could be interesting times ahead, or more of the same old, same old.
Congratulations to Mitzi Hunter on her win. She has strong credentials which would make her a good candidate for cabinet. For that reason, it was not surprising to see Wynne spending a lot of time with her during her campaign.