McGuinty went over the top, must now publicly fold, or face the voters
By Bruce A Stewart
In October 2011, the voters of Ontario gave Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals a minority.
Post-election, the spin was “it’s a major minority” — and true, it only takes one extra vote from either the PCs or the NDP to pass something.
But McGuinty forgot two important things. His party doesn’t control committees: between them, the PCs and the NDP do. He needs to find that vote for everything he does.
In the spring, the budget was introduced at Queens Park. The PCs under leader Tim Hudak immediately indicated it was unacceptable to them and that they’d vote against it.
Andrea Horwath, the NDP leader, negotiated with Dalton McGuinty for some changes, then promised to support the budget on that basis.
Meanwhile, McGuinty got cute. The budget is wrapped up in 300+ pages of omnibus legislation, modifying many other acts, and mandating courses of action outside the budget itself.
According to the Liberals, these are required to implement their budget package. I won’t argue that.
For Horwath and the NDP, mandating the outsourcing of Service Ontario without adequate oversight was a step too far, especially after the ongoing oversight problems the McGuinty government cooked up with ORNGE earlier in the year, and eHealth before that.
After second reading comes the finance committee. The PCs and NDP hold five seats between them; the Liberals, four.
Amendments were passed, 5-4, changing the Liberals’ omnibus bill.
Apparently this was the equivalent of slapping the Premier with a wet fish, because he immediately called the press in to tell them that “we’re the government, you’ve now broken your word, you can back down or on Monday I go to the Lieutenant-Governor to ask for a writ of election”.
This morning, the NDP leader, Horwath, has proposed some changes to the amendments. The one blocking outsourcing Service Ontario will be removed.
The ones putting a proper governance and oversight structure in place, on the other hand, are staying. Her party spent the weekend debating whether or not to stand firm, or to offer something. The ball is now in McGuinty’s court.
McGuinty is now between a rock and a very hard place, brought on by emulating Joe Clark’s inability to tell the difference between a minority and a majority.
The last set of polls in the province (new ones are due any day now) showed the PCs leading by enough that a majority for them was likely. Horwath’s NDP are in second place and likely to take 30 seats. McGuinty’s Liberals are in third, and likely to return only 15, down from today’s 54.
He threw the gauntlet down. It’s highly unlikely a PC or NDP MPP is going to be “strategically absent”, or vote with the government, to carry the day. Meanwhile the amendments will be reported out of committee, and McGuinty will have to amass enough to vote each one down, then to pass his budget, if he wants what he put forward.
All the parties are moaning about the $150 million a second Ontario election will cost, but the reality is that all of them have money issues. On the other hand, if McGuinty folds now, his government will be on the ropes throughout — and it’ll be likely his party will start thinking about replacing him as leader.
Better he should face the voters and try to salvage something in the campaign.
Bruce Stewart is a consultant, educator and philosopher with a passion for public affairs currently located in Toronto. He is well known across the Internet for his blogs on management (Getting Value from IT) and social affairs (Just a Jump to the Left, then a Step to the Right) and for his daily stream of commentary on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.