After a week of budget chicken, everybody's ready for summer vacation. Who were the winners and losers?
After a few days of excitement (or, what passes for excitement) in provincial politics, the Liberal budget went through yesterday with only a few minor concessions to the NDP. Team Horwath had been looking to strike major portions of the bill they’d already agreed to support, with Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives cheering from the sidelines for no better reason than to watch the Premier squirm.
Premier McGuinty in turn threatened a snap election, although it’s unclear whether he did that as a calculated political move, or out of sheer frustration.
In the end, of course, it didn’t happen. Only a wildly confident or desperate politician would try to roust voters from cottage and patio just nine months after an election in which less than half of us bothered to cast a ballot.
What we did get was a chance for all the key players to do some final posturing before the summer break. The hope is that when Ontarians emerge from their seasonal torpor in the fall, enough of the manufactured sound and fury will linger in their collective subconscious to keep them interested in voting. Think of it as an end-of-season TV cliffhanger, only more boring.
So as we drift into summer and a blessed respite from the the look-at-me antics of our legislators, here’s how we score the latest round.
Progressive Conservatives: The Tories look like the losers here, demonstrating once again a spectacularly poor sense of timing. With huge deficits and a stumbling economy forcing McGuinty into playing hardball with public sector workers, they made their first mistake by failing to form an entente cordiale with the Grits that would have shifted the provincial agenda to the right. Instead they abstained from the budget process and let the NDP drive.
Learning nothing, they repeated the error last week when the NDP wanted to scrap proposed labour arbitration rules they felt were too harsh. Looking to drive a wedge between Horwath and Mcguinty, Hudak supported the NDP idea (although for exactly opposite reasons), missing a chance at a compromise more aligned to Tory thinking than what they’re likely to get when the issue is revived in September.
Tim Hudak ends up looking irrelevant, like a jealous third wheel showing up unbidden at an awkward first date. Somebody should explain to him that “my way or the highway” isn’t an approach that works well in opposition.
NDP: The Dippers broke even on this one. After scoring big points with concessions from the Grits on the original budget, they confused us by trying to go back to the well again. Kids in grade school know that a deal is a deal; you don’t get to come back later and ask for more just because you think you can get away with it.
That said, true Orange supporters will find the last-minute attempt to put the game into overtime to be heroic rather than tacky, and no doubt the uncharacteristic realpolitik will be forgotten by fall anyway.
Liberals: Dalton McGuinty played a risky game, but things turned out pretty well. Had he actually called an election, he would have had to deal with an electorate peeved not only by having to spend the next month dumping campaign flyers into the blue box, but by his whole “austerity” concept that has yet to capture the province’s imagination.
However, he managed to talk tough and still pull out a decent compromise that really didn’t involve giving anything away.
He’s also bought time until the next big milestone: the by-election (timing TBD) in the Kitchener-Waterloo riding formerly held by PC Elizabeth Witmer, who stepped down in April to take a job with the Workplace Safety Insurance Board. If the Grits recaptured that seat, they would have a de facto majority at Queen’s Park.