Opinion-Policy Nexus

Published May. 6, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record

Who says Canadian politics is dull?

In this neck of the woods, we are witnessing three fascinating political battles. At Queen’s Park, Premier Kathleen Wynne is fighting for survival. Last week’s budget bought her Liberals some time, enough to get through the summer, I think, and probably the fall. My guess is she won’t make it – or want to make it – past next spring’s budget.

In Ottawa, the Liberal party, perceived to be moribund following three general election defeats, is struggling to return to life under Justin Trudeau, its fifth leader (including interim Bob Rae) in seven years. It’s beginning to look as though the Liberals will manage to self-resuscitate. A Harris-Decima poll for Canadian Press last week put them a surprising seven percentage points ahead of the Conservatives and 13 points ahead of the sagging New Democrats. These are early, honeymoon days, but those numbers aren’t at all shabby for a Liberal party that is running on charisma alone. Hope has returned to Liberal-land.

Meanwhile, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, master of all he surveyed for the past seven years, is struggling to reassert control. His caucus is restive. Some MPs resent the discipline he imposes on them in Parliament; others refuse to distribute the ugly anti-Liberal propaganda produced by Tory party central. Among the public, there appears to be a growing sense that the Tories are going too far with their television attack ads.

Toughness is a quality that Canadian accept, even admire, in their politicians; meanness is not. The Conservative attack ads on Justin Trudeau cross that line. The Harper people don’t seem to care that some of their “facts” are distorted while some are simply untrue. Stephen Harper is becoming seen as Stephen McNasty, who plays politics hard and dirty.

He also needs to regain control over his legislative agenda. Whatever else they may be, the Harper Conservatives use to pride themselves on being competent managers. But no longer. Not with the F-35 debacle, the cabinet’s inability to organize the purchase of new search and rescue aircraft, and now there’s a report that the fleet of Arctic patrol ships the government plans to buy are not suitable for use in Arctic waters.

Not least, there is the “missing” $3.1 billion that Parliament approved for anti-terrorism security. The money is not technically lost; it’s just that the government’s financial wizards can’t find it. (Perhaps Treasury Board President Tony Clement hid it in one of his gazebos.)

But back to Kathleen Wynne, Andrea Horwath and the soap opera at Queen’s Park. The facts are simple. Premier Wynne and her finance minister had to bring in a budget. Being a minority government, they didn’t have enough votes to get it through the Legislature. The Conservatives had their feet planted in cement, but NDP leader Horwath was willing to deal. She presented a number of demands. Wynne accepted all the important ones.

“Thank you, Kathleen,” Horwath might have said. “Bless you. You are saint.” And she could have told her party, “Hey, we won! We won! Break out the soda water” (or whatever New Democrats uncork to toast a triumph).

But no. Hearing whispers of dissent, Horwath declared the deal was not yet a done deal. She decided she wanted to consult the people, so she opened a phone line and a website. She plans to meet the premier, probably this week, to seek assurances that the Liberals will change their spots and become more accountable in the future than they have been in the past. Good luck to her!

The NDP is playing with fire. If Howarth reneges, Wynne would not even have to wait to be defeated in the house. She would be within her rights to march down the hall to the lieutenant-governor, tell him the situation is untenable, ask for dissolution and call a snap election. She could win a Liberal majority on back of the faithless New Democrats.

Nothing dull about that, is there?