TORONTO – Kathleen Wynne is marking her one-year anniversary as premier of Ontario by suggesting she’s in no rush for a general election, even though the Opposition says she needs a mandate from voters, not just from the Liberal party.
Wynne sent letters Monday to Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath asking for their input on the provincial budget, a fiscal plan that many predict will trigger a spring election.
It appears the premier is looking for another budget deal to keep the minority Liberal government alive, at least for a while longer.
“It is in the best interest of the people of Ontario that we make this legislature work, and I believe there are areas of shared interest where we can concentrate our efforts,” Wynne wrote the opposition leaders.
The Conservatives weren’t exactly receptive to Wynne’s overture, saying “she’s gone on far too long” since Ontario Liberals selected her as party leader and premier last year, and needs to “go to the polls” to get her own mandate.
“The voters of Ontario deserve to say who the premier of this province is,” said PC critic Doug Holyday. “And I think that they’re going to send her a resounding message. I think they’re fed up with the Liberal financial boondoggles and waste.”
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Wynne herself has sent conflicting signals about the prospects of a spring election, saying Monday that she “wants to govern” as she wrapped a four-day, 12-community campaign-style tour as Liberal leader.
Wynne’s blitz included stops in Niagara Falls and Thornhill, where byelections will be held Thursday, the outcomes of which could help determine the timing of the next election, but won’t affect the status of the minority government.
The NDP said if Wynne wants another budget deal, she has a funny way of showing it.
“Who knows what she’s trying to do because she sent all kinds of mixed messages,” said NDP house leader Gilles Bisson. “She says one day she wants a budget and then heads off on a political tour bashing the hell out of both opposition parties. How does that get you a budget?”
The Liberals are trying to craft their third budget as a minority, knowing the Tories will oppose virtually everything they put forward, so even though Wynne appealed to both parties, she is really looking for another deal with the NDP.
The New Democrats forced major changes in the last two budgets, including a tax on high income earners and a promise of a 15 per cent cut in auto insurance rates, in exchange for not teaming up with the Tories to defeat the minority government.
“Last year, we were able to incorporate opposition ideas and still put forward a budget that spoke to Liberal values,” said Wynne. “And that’s what we want to do again this year.”
The NDP say they’re still consulting the public on whether or not they think the Liberals lived up to their previous commitments before deciding whether or not to strike a third budget deal to keep the government alive.
Wynne’s outreach to the opposition parties and her campaign-like tour are really parts of a political game to try to determine what’s best for the Liberals, said Bisson.
“Kathleen Wynne has not managed to separate herself from the nine-and-a-half years of Liberal rule under (former premier) Dalton McGuinty,” he said. “And I think what that (tour) was all about is them trying to figure out what they’ve got to do, what works out there as far as trying to do what’s right for the Liberal party.”
The government’s focus in the provincial budget, expected in late March, will be on infrastructure, skills training, youth jobs, the “knowledge economy” and help for small businesses – all areas the opposition parties should be willing to discuss, said Wynne.
“I want feedback, and those ideas will augment our plan to keep Ontario’s economy growing,” she said.
The Liberals have also made it clear they intend to campaign, at least in part, on creating an Ontario Pension Plan after they failed to convince the Harper government to allow higher payroll deductions to improve benefits under the Canada Pension Plan.
Political observers say the government will be even more anxious for a budget deal, but the NDP less so, if the Liberals lose both byelections Thursday. However, if the Conservatives fail to take at least one of the two ridings, observers say, the Liberals will be more open to a spring election.
Wynne will mark her anniversary Tuesday with a special one-hour ‘Ask Me Anything’ session on the Reddit website, a popular new fad among politicians, business leaders and other news makers.