Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hot Tempers and a Summer Election

As the debate over the federal budget comes to a close the rhetoric over Ontario’s budget is heating up. Steve Paikin of TVO did a far better job than I could at summarizing the controversy, but I will do my best. A few weeks ago Andrea Horwath (ONDP - Hamilton Centre), leader of the NDP, managed to extract some concessions from Dalton McGuinty’s (OLP – Ottawa South) Liberal government’s budget. It was a tense negotiation and the ONDP were able to extract a few concession, including a significant new tax to offset spending cuts.

When it came time to support the bill in the Legislative Assembly the ONDP abstained from voting, allowing for the superior numbers of Liberals to outnumbered the Progressive Conservatives and pass the budget. This tactic also gave the ONDP deniability to the budget, as it did not pass with their support.

The budget then moved to the finance committee where Ontario New Democrats made several amendments to the budget with the support of the Progressive Conservatives. The Liberals claimed that this was a breach of Andrea Horwath’s promise to pass the budget. On Monday Premier McGuinty threatened to call an election if amendments were made. The Opposition called his bluff and eliminated five sections of the budget.

That being said, it appears the budget will pass tomorrow and Ontarians will be spared an election. Watching this debate unfold in social media was interesting. Those allied in common cause to fight the federal Conservative budget quickly turned on each other and sniped at one another over this Ontario dust-up. The differences between Liberals and New Democrats once again became quite clear, and on some level that made me sad.

The discussion around the Ontario budget, in my opinion, has been flawed. Criticism has been harsh against the Ontario New Democrats, and relatively silent about the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. If the PCs did not side with New Democrats on the amendments they would not have passed. One might have thought this was a carefully constructed plan. Especially given how many of the amendments went against Tory policy. From very early on Tim Hudak (PCPO – Niagara West-Glanbrook) has refused to participate in the process.

Recent polling has the three parties in Ontario virtually tied. The PCs lead in the mid-30s, the NDP around 30% and the Liberals in thehigh-20s. All parties risk a great deal with this budget brinkmanship. The fortieth Legislative Assembly of Ontario may not be long for this world, while it may survive the dog days of summer, the fall may see us going back to the polls.  

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