Ontario Liberals, Harper Conservatives: Not BFFs, but meddling minimal
WATCH ABOVE: Tom Clark goes 1-on-1 with Premier Kathleen Wynne following her stunning majority win.
OTTAWA – BFFs they are not.
In the lead-up to Thursday night’s stunning Liberal majority, Kathleen Wynne painted herself as a leader “willing to stand up to the Harper Conservatives for their wilful indifference to Ontario’s interests.”
And the federal government – via Treasury Board President Tony Clement – responded by endorsing Wynne’s rival, Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak.
“Every day, Kathleen Wynne has gone out of her way to attack the federal government’s policies, now attacking Stephen Harper personally,” Clement, the MP for Parry Sound-Muskoka, said in May.
“I have a right, as an Ontario citizen and taxpayer, to express my opinion.”
Like distant relatives who must dutifully pass each other the peas at Thanksgiving, the federal Conservatives and provincial Liberals will continue to tolerate one another, at the very least, for another year and a half – if the 2015 federal election is held on schedule next fall.
Following the election, Wynne said she hopes the Conservatives are listening.
“I think that the government of Canada can look at what we are going to do here in Ontario, the investments we are going to make in our people and in the communities in this province, and I would hope that they step forward and partner with us,” Wynne told The West Block‘s Tom Clark. One example would be to invest $1 billion in infrastructure in the Ring of Fire, she said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered his congratulations in a press release.
But just what impact the Liberal win will have on the federal scene remains up for debate.
Experts agree – the meddling will be minimal.
“The federal government has been really good, ever since it’s been in power in , at basically letting provinces do their own thing,” said Cheryl Collier, political science professor at the University of Windsor.
“There hasn’t been a lot of heavy-handed direction from the federal government.”
The federal Conservatives can expect more opposition from the Liberals on certain files, Collier says, such as increasing contributions to the CPP, which Harper has opposed.
Another issue likely to come up is equalization payments to the provinces. As in, Ontario wants more money.
“Some of that you can see is a little bit of posturing. I don’t think Ontario really wants to open the formula right now, but that looks better for them and it helps their fiscal discussions,” Collier said.
The momentum of the Ontario Liberal win could extend itself to federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, however. Notably, the party ate away at the provincial NDP support in the centre of the universe – Toronto.
Adam Vaughan, a former Toronto city councillor and current federal Liberal candidate in a Trinity-Spadina byelection June 30, says the result will “come to fruition” next year.
“Liberalism is back. Back in Toronto, back in Ontario, and I think you’re going to see this come to fruition next year when you see Justin Trudeau hitting the hustings,” he told Global News Thursday evening.
Nelson Wiseman, Canadian government professor at the University of Toronto, notes that only NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Trudeau campaigned in the Big Smoke.
“I thought one of the most interesting features of this campaign was that both Mulcair and Trudeau were here campaigning with their provincial leaders. Harper – nowhere to be seen,” he said.
“That’s interesting, and that’s calculated, because the provincial Conservatives recognize that he won’t be an asset to them, and he recognizes it as well.
“Look, he hung a star on Rob Ford and Hudak last time. Remember, they were going to have a hat trick.”
But Wiseman doesn’t see a link between the voting habits of provincial and federal elections.
“People know the difference between apples and oranges. And they vote that way,” he said.
“Do I think the last provincial election was influenced by what had happened in the federal election the year before? Absolutely not.”
Wiseman said a variety of factors determined the election, but for the past three elections in 2007, 2011 and 2014, “the election was for the Conservatives to lose.”
And the NDP – which angered its own supporters by voting down a progressive Liberal budget – “blew its chance last year” when there was more momentum against the Liberals’ $1 billion controversial gas plant cancellation, Wiseman said.
For the next four years, at least, the Liberals will rule Ontario.
And there’s nothing the Conservatives can do about it.
As Clement put it: “We’ll work with anybody who forms a government, of course, in the national interest and in the provincial interest.”
With files from The Canadian Press
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