That Premier Kathleen Wynne made the decision to end her minority government came as no surprise. That it was the Liberal party’s failure to secure majority Legislature support for a proposed budget that triggered that decision also came as no surprise.
There was, however, surprise in the way it ultimately unfolded.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath, upon whose shoulders the opportunity to hasten the Liberal government’s demise has rested ever since her party seized the balance of power in the 2011 election, was criticized by some for first delaying her response to last week’s proposed budget, then ultimately rejecting it to trigger Wynne’s decision.
The Opposition Conservatives contended that, thanks to a series of obviously-planned “leaks” about the contents of the document, the New Democrats should have already known — as the PCs insist they did — whether or not the budget was something to support. By waiting a day or so after Finance Minister Charles Sousa completed his address to MPPs, Horwath’s party was simply making a brash, bumbling attempt to grab the media spotlight and make their leader out as some sort of hero.
Commentators more likely inclined to support the NDP, meanwhile, wondered how Horwath could justify turning aside the proposed budget, given that it included many initiatives that have been championed by the party over the past five years.
The Service Employees International Union’s Healthcare divsion, representing more than 55,000 healthcare and community service workers across Ontario — an organization that surely sounds like it should be an NDP stronghold — sent out a news release urging the passage of the proposed budget.
“Personal support workers in home and community care haven’t had this good a reason to celebrate change in years,” said SIEU Health Care president Sharleen Stewart. “The hourly wage raises the government is promising are desperately needed.”
But is it really true that the budget proposed by the Liberals last week should be something that NDP supporters should embrace? An insider in numerous recent New Democrat campaigns in Perth-Wellington over the past several years suggested to the Journal Argus on the weekend that, despite what was certainly a colossal number of expenditure targets requiring a colossal amount of government funding, there were key areas of social policy — areas that have long been important for New Democats — that were ignored in the proposed budget. In particular, the party insider identified a failure to make any suggestions about decreasing the effects of poverty among the province’s children in the document.
Another area of established Liberal strength, in which support seemed lacking in Sousa’s proposal, was education. A news release immediately after the proposed budget’s release from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) quoted union president Paul Elliott, saying, “this budget does nothing to restore the shortfall created by inadequate funding through the Grants for Student Needs announced in March . . . For our members, this means that the compensation cuts imposed in 2013 have been unilaterally extended by the government well beyond the end of the agreed-upon two-year term. By keeping our members frozen on the pay grid, the government is setting the stage for unnecessary conflict between OSSTF and local school boards in September.”
That hardly sounds like the type of teachers’ union reaction that the Liberal Party could take to heart, and hope to draw on to secure the hefty endorsement that helped Wynne’s predecessor, Dalton McGuinty — famously referred to early in his tenure as “the Education Premier” — win successive majorities.
The battle lines have been drawn, but they aren’t necessarily running straight and narrow. And they cross on more than one occasion. It should make for an interesting fight.