Jun 132013
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Liberals' hugs, handshakes halt at NDP side; by-elections loom.

from Inside Queen's Park Vol 26, No12

Premier Kathleen Wynne and Finance minister Charles Sousa celebrated the passage of Budget 2013 with gleeful hugs. When, however, they crossed the floor to acknowledge the crucial backing extended by Andrea Horwath’s NDP in return for auto insurance premium cuts and other budgetary concessions, the exuberant moment on the Speaker’s right hand quickly melted away into decidedly un-exuberant hand-shakes on his left-hand side.

The last ten days of the spring session had prompted little celebration.  The opposition — first Peter Tabuns and the NDP and then Vic Fedeli and the PCs — had borne down very hard on the disgraceful scrubbing clean of government e-mail evidence;

  • IPC Commissioner Ann  Cavoukian weighed in strongly;

  • ECO Gord Miller slammed the government’s latest round of climate-change inaction;

  • Ombudsman André Marin denounced jail guards for abusing prisoners;

  • the Health ministry was caught rewriting old news after failing to crack down on abusive treatment of those in care facilities;

  • the PCs lucked in to a Treasury Board list of fees, charges and other revenue-generating tools; and

  • terminating the employment contract of E-health supremo Greg Reed a  few months before it expires entitled him to $400K. 

(Health minister Deb Matthews insists she had no option but to pay what the contract provided.  So was it a previous Liberal minister who wrote that contract in the first place?  Or was it the Tooth Fairy, perhaps?)

A new government leader being hammered for the misdeeds of her predecessor will be urged by many real pundits and by flocks of them who have not even sat the pundit exams, let alone passed them, to "change the channel".  Very much easier said than done.  You have no sooner lowered the boom on, say, inappropriate office attire than you’ll stand indicted for addressing a problem far less concerning than, say, deleting e-mails.  And brace yourself to be told that you had better not ‘change the channel’ in so frivolous a fashion.
By-elections ahead
Dalton McGuinty‘s resignation as MPP for Ottawa South sets us on a course which could result in  five more by-elections in the 40th Legislature — on top of the two called in 2012.

Of course, Premier Wynne could go to the Leftenant Governor and request a dissolution to free her from the shackles of minority government, which would quite properly be granted — and which would consolidate a series of individual by-elections with a general election.  But after negotiations on a deal to pass Finance minister Charles Sousa’s budget, the time does not look right for ‘an election event’ — as Elections Ontario quaintly calls  those conversations that now draw in something short of half the electorate every four years.  Wynne has on occasion said she would welcome an electoral test, but she seems very much more attached to governing than to campaigning.

McGuinty is the third sitting MPP to depart the 40th Legislature.

McGuinty is the third sitting MPP to depart the 40th Legislature. Former Finance minister Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Tecumseh) and former Energy minister Chris Bentley (London West) both resigned as MPPs on February 14, 72 hours after the formation of the Wynne government. Ontario election law provides that the date of a by-election must be set within six months, i.e. in these cases by the middle of August.  (There is a strong convention requiring all pending by-elections be called at the same time even if the ink on the latest resignation letters isn’t dry.)  The premier can call any pending by-elections or all of them, but it is not her prerogative to call some and not call others.

And there are two more LIB MPPs who might very well choose to bail out now rather than stay at Queen’s Park for a couple of years. Former Northern Development minister Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury) was not retained in Wynne’s cabinet, and Harinder Takhar (Mississauga-Erindale) relinquished his Government Services and Management portfolios in May for health reasons — and shortly after announced that he would not run again.  So we might see five by-elections called for mid-August, on top of the pair since the 2011 general election.

That would return Queen’s Park to the era of more frequent by-elections. There were a total of 48 by-elections contested in the nine Legislatures from 1977 to 2011, or an average of 5.3 per mandate.   The largest number was ten in the 38th Leg. (2003-2007); next was the five by-elections in the 39th Leg. (2007-2011); and the Windsor and London by-elections plus the Kitchener and Vaughan contests put the current by-election roster at four. 
NDP mull Green candidate's win in BC
The NDP’s failure to win the expected victory over the Liberals in the May 2013 BC provincial election was bad enough but it came accompanied by at least one other very worrying development — the Greens were able to win a seat outright.  They handily took Oak Bay-Gordon Head, where the party ran well known climate scientist and UVic academic Andrew Weaver. 

(There was also an Independent candidate elected, in the Delta South riding.  That’s of no great concern to the NDP but for an IND to get elected as an MLA is something of a slap in the face for the political parties —  all 30 of them registered in Lotus Land.  Ontario voters get to choose among nine fewer parties.)

IQP talked to Bernard von Schulmann, psephologist-in-chief for the BC Greens, to ask what the numbers meant to him.  He was emphatic that he had been unable to identify any pattern which showed Green gains causing NDP losses. For him, the explanation for the Weaver victory was simply that a very prominent candidate had attracted such a throng of supporters as to make possible a fully-staffed and well-financed winning riding campaign.

About Inside Queen's Park

This article was first published in Inside Queen's Park, which is published twenty-two times per year by GP Murray Research Limited. IQP offers widely respected analysis of, and insight into, the inner workings of Ontario government and politics. Its contents are copyright and reproduction, in whole or in part by any means without permission of the editor, is strictly forbidden.

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