Queen's Park Watch: Why Nobody Wants an Election But We Could Get One Anyway
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Queen’s Park Watch: Why Nobody Wants an Election But We Could Get One Anyway

It's still a long shot, but the odds of a provincial election are ticking up slightly as nobody wants to back down on budget talks.

Just as it became possible to answer the door without being greeted by some grinning baby-kisser bearing a sheaf of ironically-named political “literature,” the odds of another election in the province are getting shorter. With less than two weeks left for the NDP and Liberals to come to a deal on passing the government’s budget and avoiding a vote, the parties remain distant and the rhetoric is getting snippy.

This week, NDP leader Andrea Horwath released the full set of NDP proposals/requests/demands for changes to Dwight Duncan’s budget. Among other things, the Orange want a surtax on people earning over $500,000 a year, the removal of HST from home heating bills, a new jobs tax credit, and a scrapping of the Liberal plan to privatize the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

Dalton McGuinty responded by saying that the proposals would cost $1 billion in new spending, a circumstance unlikely to sit well with bond buyers, rating agencies, and other international austerity enforcers.

The NDP in turn countered that the Liberal costing (details of which have not been released) is a crock, and that the whole thing would be a wash, with new spending funded by the Thurston Howell III tax, leaving probably $30 million or so left over to spend on deficit reduction or a souvenir TTC token for every resident of the province (our idea, not theirs).

The first question: is there still a middle ground to meet in? Both parties have been playing a friendly game thus far, with the Liberals not including anything outright horrifying to the NDP in their budget, and the New Democrats responding with a set of ideas that they legitimately believe the Grits can live with.

Of course, without the new tax, the most meaningful of the NDP demands become unaffordable. And having promised “no new taxes,” a flip-flop means the premier would lose more face than a clown passed out in a puddle of Vaseline. That in turn could kill the Liberals in the next election, whenever it happens, especially if the sun doesn’t shine on their deficit reduction projections.

The second question: who would gain most from an election—or more importantly, who thinks they would gain most? The Grits would be hard-pressed to find anything they’ve done that’s going to pick them up seats, having already got farmers, northern residents, public servants, and Ford nation in a state of high dudgeon. Penny-pinching (er, nickel-pinching?) is never popular, and an election based on this budget would be neutral for the Liberals at best.

The NDP don’t want an election either—they are even less financially prepared than the Grits—but feel they could run a strong campaign on their budget ideas. A recent poll by the Broadbent Institute indicated that a majority of Canadians are comfortable with taxing the rich to prevent cuts in social programs, and tax credits for job creation are likely to find favour in a province where employment has barely recovered since the depths of the Great Recession.

The Conservatives have already defaulted to forcing an election if the Liberals and NDP don’t reach an agreement. If they won the contest, Tim Hudak would redeem himself from the defeat he pulled from the jaws of victory last fall, and if they lose, the Tories probably get to look for a leader who has a better shot at running the province. Either way, somebody’s problem gets solved.

Against the bromide that voters will “punish” the party which forces an expensive, annoying election—well, who are the electorate going to beat on anyway? All the politicos will be pointing figures at the guy or gal across the aisle, and they’ll all be right.

So what are the odds we’ll be re-opening the polling stations this year? If Team McGuinty can give Horwath and Co. some real wins without raising taxes—say, keeping Ontario Northland, funding a jobs tax credit out of the Jobs and Prosperity Fund, hard-capping public sector executive compensation, and maybe a couple of others—we can still have a pleasant spring. If not, get ready for a rumble.