TORONTO – Don’t worry Ontario voters: you’re in safe hands with the All-State Liberal government.
That seems to be the message Premier Kathleen Wynne is sending ahead of a possible spring election: stick to the status quo.
“Safe hands and a steady balance” is the phrase she’s using – a slogan perhaps better suited for an insurance company than a government fighting for its life.
But Wynne gets more fired up when it comes to attacking her opponents, saying Ontario can’t afford to experiment with the “reckless” and “radical” right-wing Tories or the “untested,” anti-business New Democrats when the economic recovery is still fragile.
The Liberals are painting an apocalyptic picture of the province under the Tories’ rule – an all-out war with labour unions and workers with no retirement income security or fair wages.
The NDP have no plan on any of the issues and “are just relying on some bumper-sticker slogans,” Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi, a former party president, said Friday.
“You can’t govern a province or grow an economy that way.”
The Liberals’ approach to economic and job growth is guided by “fairness, balance and stability,” he added.
Wynne’s message echoes the successful slogans of her predecessor Dalton McGuinty, whose steady-hand-at-the-tiller message saw him through three election victories.
Yet Wynne has also been trying to distance herself from McGuinty and the scandals that plagued his government since she became premier just over a year ago.
The Liberals say their policies offer security, but they want voters to pay sky-high premiums, say the opposition parties.
Their “safe hands” are the ones that are driving up energy prices and saddled ratepayers with the estimated $1-billion cost of cancelling two unpopular gas plants – one in the dying days of the 2011 election campaign, said the NDP.
There are two criminal investigations underway, one into deleted emails related to the gas plants and another into the suspicious business activities of Ornge, the province’s publicly funded air ambulance service.
“If that’s the steady hand of who you want running this province, God help us all,” said Progressive Conservative Jane McKenna.
The Liberals are making every effort this weekend to prepare for a tight race that may be just around the corner if they can’t secure support for their spring budget.
The convention, which started Friday and will wind down on Sunday, is focused on getting the party faithful ready for a campaign.
The Liberals’ campaign leaders are expected to talk to an estimated 1,000 delegates about their strategy for the next election battle. They’ll also get an update about consultations on the party’s platform.
The training workshops will focus on routine tasks such as planning for election day, fundraising effectively, communications, organizing and recruiting volunteers and rural campaign strategies.
The latter will be important, as Wynne has been making every effort to erase the perception that her party is too Toronto-centric.
The proposed selloff of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission and the slow development of the potentially lucrative Ring of Fire chromite deposit has turned off voters in northern Ontario.
Closed factories, layoffs at embattled BlackBerry, government cuts to the horse-racing industry and anger over wind turbines have also fuelled discontent in the south.
Wynne’s determination to find billions of dollars to pay for a massive public transit expansion in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area hasn’t helped either, raising fears in small communities that the much-needed cash for bridges and roads will be diverted to subways they don’t use.
They’re also facing troubles in urban ridings, with the New Democrats breaking Liberal strongholds in Niagara Falls and London West in byelections.
The Liberals say Wynne’s leadership style will win out in the end. But the Tories say voters won’t forgive those Liberal mistakes.
Wynne can’t wash her hands of the scandals when she was sitting at the cabinet table at the time, said Progressive Conservative Vic Fedeli.
“This is a government that’s plagued by scandal, brought on by themselves,” he said.