All this because of a missing financial accountability office? Really?
Of course, it’s not so simple, but Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says she can no longer support Premier Kathleen Wynne and won’t back her budget, citing the unfulfilled promise as a key reason why she believes the Liberals can’t be trusted.
“I have lost confidence in Kathleen Wynne and her ability to deliver,” Horwath said in a dramatic speech on Friday morning.
As a result, Wynne’s left-leaning budget — chock full of solid measures such as higher wages for home and daycare workers, a made-in-Ontario pension plan and a start on transit expansion — will fall victim to politics.
And, frankly, that’s OK. After more than 14 months of governing as Dalton McGuinty’s unelected successor, it’s time that Wynne sought her own mandate from Ontarians.
Obviously, the premier was hoping to avoid this election by presenting a budget that the NDP could support, but she should welcome the opportunity to go to the polls. If voters give her the chance, Wynne will be able to chart her own course, out of the long shadow of McGuinty.
Chosen by the Liberals to take over from McGuinty, Wynne has tried to distinguish herself from the previous administration, whose legacy was badly marred by the $1.1-billion gas plant scandal, ORNGE and e-health.
But every time she puts forward her own policies, up pops the ghost of McGuinty to spook the voters. It’s as if she’s trapped in 2012. Equally problematic for her minority government were the partisan games used by opposition parties to block her government’s plans — including, the Liberals claim, Horwath’s request for that financial accountability office. Time, energy and good ideas have been wasted.
So now that Ontario voters are going to the polls on June 12, they will have a clear choice between Wynne’s vision as set out in the budget, and Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak’s unapologetically austere plan to attack spending and the deficit at all cost. Wynne is painting that as a choice between “safe hands and risky tactics” — a line we will hear many times over the next few weeks.
To his credit, Hudak has been nothing but transparent about the direction he intends to take if he wins the opportunity to shape Ontario’s future.
He promises higher employment but under the Tory plan, thousands of public servants will lose their jobs, even though many are lower-paid women. He would slash government spending. And, even though Hudak backed away in February from a proposal to pursue U.S.-style right-to-work legislation, many believe that he will still take steps to weaken the labour movement and, in effect, depress wages to make Ontario more “competitive.”
It’s not a good direction for the province, but at least his direction is clear.
The big mystery lies with Horwath and the NDP.
Horwath’s policies are fuzzy. She hasn’t promoted traditional NDP issues, such as minimum wage increases. Instead, she has embraced a populist, anti-tax agenda focused on the “middle class.”
Horwath says she’ll roll out her platform in due course. It had better be fast. The good news is that she won’t be able to dodge policy questions much longer.
As for Wynne, she has already signalled that she intends to campaign on the budget. It certainly reads like an election platform, particularly one designed to steal votes from a New Democrat Party that seems to have lost its left-wing way. Even the unions — traditional NDP supporters — are split on Wynne’s budget proposals, and there’s no guarantee they will line up behind Horwath’s party.
For now, Wynne must launch her campaign with a better explanation of the costs behind her big promises, such as costly transit expansion in the Toronto region.
It appears that new or repurposed taxes won’t raise enough money, which suggests that more borrowing is the Liberals’ only option. That’s a risky idea, given that Ontario’s net debt has increased to $289.3 billion this year. The Liberals need to sharpen those vague plans.
Ontario’s voters now have a chance for some necessary spring cleaning. That will put things in their proper place and after a winter of squabbling and scandal, it may even be therapeutic.