An emerging referendum on the future of the governing party in Ontario
by The Honourable Joe Volpe, Publisher
TORONTO - This weekend may prove a pivotal one for the fortunes of Premier Kathleen Wynne. Her Party is meeting to hit the Reset button and to explore new directions. Loyalists will put on their “game face” to ensure that she remain an integral part of those directions.
It will be a valiant effort. At time of writing, the final results of the two bye-elections in Niagara Falls and Ottawa were not yet in but they will be on everyone’s lips as party members meander through the halls of the Convention. The atmosphere will not be jubilant, irrespective of their outome.
That is because Opinion Polls have been brutal for the governing Liberals and for the Premier for several months. Granted, generally speaking, polls have lost much of their credibility of late; however, in Ontario they are consistent in reporting on three troubling areas for the Premier personally (and consequently for her Party).
Her favourability rating is now consistently polling in the low teens and trending downwards. As one Queens Park aide put it, in a moment of frustration, “how can she currently be incapable of besting that mannequin”, in a not so subtle reference to the virtually unknown leader of the Conservatives.
It is a powerful argument, one that makes Liberals anxious about the seats they hold and need to keep if they want to continue to govern.
But the Party’s level of support is equally disturbing given its disproportionate reliance on Toronto.
It is highly unlikely that, with Premier Wynne at the helm, very many Liberal candidates outside of Downtown Toronto, parts of Ottawa and Northern Ontario will taste the nectar of victory in 18 months’ time.
Thirdly, pollsters are continually asking for responses to questions that no political leader wants or needs to answer – ones that used to be characterized as “when did you stop beating your wife?” with that context, discussions invariably are charged with provocative language pointing to favouritism, incompetence and corruption. True or not, the Clinton-Trump face off indicates that frequency and quantity of “charges” tend to stick to the target.
She, and her Party need to change the channel. It is easier said than done. Premier Wynne has focused on a Legacy issue that is “social/educational” in nature. Those who look to hard, economic, pocketbook issues in the long term have started to cast their nets further afield, so to speak.
Some of them, building and trade unions in particular, have started to encourage their champions in Cabinet to begin the required organizational planning in the event that the Premier opts to cede her position in the new year rather than fight it out.
They have ready-made organizational structures capable of making an immediate impact on future planning.
The whispers are becoming ever more insistent and the Cabinet Ministers ever more visible on “announcements” whose impact is measured only in terms of potential delegates leading to that eventuality.
The Premier is still the Premier. Political circumstances can always change. Some of those Cabinet Ministers should slow down, lest their impatience turn into tears for themselves and their colleagues.
(Friday 18 November 2016)