03.14.2013 12:26 PM

Ontario political body language

They live in interesting times, Ontario’s political leaders do.

The Liberals need to accommodate the NDP if they want to stay alive. But if they give away too much, they risk being seen as weak, and having traded fiscal probity for self-interest.

The PCs have relegated themselves to the sidelines, once again – but, as Jean Chrétien used to remind us, the job of the Opposition is to oppose. And too much cooperation – as Dion and Ignatieff can testify – can be toxic to your brand. (Too much “being nice,” as well.)

The NDP, meanwhile, can’t lose. If they continue to extract concessions from the Wynne Liberals, they’ll get to claim credit. And, when the relationship has outlived its usefulness, they can summarily execute the Grits and say “it’s time for a change.”

As I write in Fight The Right, even progressive voters think an abundance of cooperation and consensus is synonymous with weakness. It’s a mistake to always equate conciliation with strength. It isn’t. Ask Stephen Harper.

If I’m right, the Ontario NDP has the upper hand. One of their opponents appears inert, the other seemingly lies prostrate.

The only risk to the Horwath New Democrats, at this point, is being seen as propping up the government for too long. My hunch? They’ll continue to take what they can, then stick in the knife after April’s budget.

What’s yours?


  1. You’re bang on, as always. Though I have a feeling that the NDP may prop things up just a little TOO long, which will slightly hurt their chances in the election as a result.

  2. Philippe says:

    We see what happens when people oppose just for opposing’s sake – that’s what the house GOP’s done for 4 years & they’re having to switch strats now because 70% of the American electorate want to see cooperation- they’re tired to the “strong” chest-thumping and fighting.

    My belief is that bipartisanship will be rewarded in future, because that’s what we the electorate want. Work together for the good of the country, rather that act like Politicians (which we despise).

  3. Tiger says:

    I’m surprised they’d wait that long.

    But the NDP does make a big thing out of wanting to cooperate. Part of their brand. So maybe they’ll prop up the Grits for far longer than I expected.

  4. Kevin says:

    This Liberal government deserves a knife in the back. OMG the outrages: gas plants. ORNGE, eHealth…..hundred of millions of waste as I slave away to pay taxes.

  5. Steven says:

    The Ontario Dippers have learned well from “Jack (Layton) the Knife”.

  6. Paul says:

    “…and having traded fiscal probity for self-interest.”

    They don’t need to kowtow to the NDP to do that… They never had any “fiscal probity” (I learned a new word today!) in the first place.

    How about: eHealth, Green Energy Act, cherry-picking from the Drummond report (ignoring the tough and politically difficult recommendations) and then there’s the gas plant debacle which, according to an independent expert, is going to cost us more like $828 million when all is said and done.


    Fiscal probity my butt.

  7. Michael says:

    We are going to the polls in June, you can take that to the bank.

    Wynne has met with the opposition leaders in an attempt to make the minority work. But she is going to call Horwath’s bluff, auto insurance rates are not something you want to cause an election over. Especially when some of the NDP proposals would have meant lower insurance rates for GTA drivers, and an increase for rural folks.

  8. Klaus Van Buren says:

    Brand Essence and Names

    For a true coalition to emerge, both at provincial and federal levels, move beyond the left-right, progressive-unprogressive dichotomy – “I do not like these “left” and “right” classifications; they are conditional concepts, they are loosely bandied about, and they do not convey the essence” (Solzhenitsyn).

    Liberal and Progressive Conservative used to be good names for political parties. Liberal/liberal, mainly because of trends originating from our Southern Neighbour, has been debased from a word implying generous, open-hearted and minded (prior to the 1950s most Republicans would have had not problem being called liberal) to now perceived negative constructs, e.g. “socialist” is linked to “National Socialist” (something the New Democratic Parties have yet to figure out) and other Statist, Communist notions. Complication matters, in British Columbia, the Liberal Party is decidedly “right” of center, absorbing much of the mentality of the old Social Credit Party (again, the problem of the word “social”).

    The Conservatives, after passing through the great schism of PC vs Reform/Alliance finally settled on returning to Conservative wholeness but jettisoning progress – and herein lies the greatest weak point for opposition parties to exploit. No one can fight change.

    In a dream scenario, the NDP would drop the hardline “democratic socialism” as per their constitution, the Liberals would admit they went too far to the “right” during the Preston Manning years and too far “left” during the Trudeau years, and Bloc types would admit that logistically, the break-up of Canada would only be a loose-loose propositions for just about everyone except constitutional lawyers. After this soul searching and psychic cleansing, the new “Canada Party” would emerge – embracing “compassionate capitalism,” a wisely qualified immigration and multicultural policy, and an FDR-type of candoism (Canada Can!) etc, etc.

    Or, this is the alternative under the ascendant totalitarian corporatist/communist cargo cult (Animal Farm):

    The following statements were made soon after the Nazi occupation by the leaders of the Danish political parties:

    The Conservative party: The Prime Minister Erik Scavenius has been elected with the approval of the collaborating parties and also with the Conservative party. We are representing the government, and it is clear that the government can be certain about the loyalty of the party under which the government gathers. With satisfaction, we have heard the prime minister say that the government would be obligated towards Parliament and would continue the line for cooperation that has been followed up to this moment, and which tends to strengthen the possibilities of our people, and which reaffirms that we can continue as a free people independently.

    The Liberal party: The government has the task of fighting all forms of provocation and sabotage and everything which is turned against the occupation force. We’ll support the government’s position, for provocation is of no interest for anybody. It only hurts the individual, and so the whole society. At this time it is so, that every individual, through his conduct, and through what he says, can make foreign policy. We disapprove highly of this private foreign policy.

    The Social Democratic party: We give our government our support after the declaration that has been made, and we will distance ourselves from the people who try to disturb the order and excite to sabotage.

    The Radical party: When the government now comes before Parliament in a new form and under another name, it meets with its own face -its own possibilities, its own will-and it is also an expression for the agreement which has been enforced on the political line, which is imminent and must be followed on account of the difficulties of time and the evaluation of what the interests of our people should imply. It is the hope of my party that the government must be successful in gathering the whole population, and we will support every step in this direction to the best of our ability.

    Time to wake up.

  9. Publius says:

    The NDP can easily cooperate with the Liberals and vice versa. Liberals can also support the PCs, but it’s unlikely the PCs can work with the NDP.

    Let’s assume Ontarians elect a Hudak minority government next election, and they bring down an anti-public service budget; will the Liberals support it or would they join with the NDP and cause another snap election…. which Hudak would welcome and try to convince the electorate that Ontario urgently needs a strong and stable PC government to battle the wild public service union demands.

    Is this a possible scenario developing in Ontario? How long can Wynne continue without a mandate for her leadership, and how long can the NDP continue to prop her up and scoring political points with Ontarians? Is Ontario now a haven for Liberal and/or NDP governments, and reject harsh PC fiscal medicine to bring back the damaged Ontario economy?

  10. Jim Hayes says:

    My take is much different. Friends in the inner circle of the NDP tell me that it will take them a good 10 months or more before they are fiscally prepared for an election. Horwath will will find a way to keep the minority going through next year with an election forced after Xmas. Mark my words.

  11. Michael S says:

    The bus they rent is currently being used by an OHL hockey team. Season’s almost done.

    In any event nobody wants to go on the campaign trail while the trees are still bare. Nobody wants to canvas in that weather. Nobody wants to vote in that weather. Too cold and bad optics.

    So yeah, May.

  12. Publius says:

    You say:-“I still want Hudak to win a minority…

    A…for all the smart folks to join Justin.ca

    Why would you sacrifice the OLP for Justin’s LPC? Do you have a death wish?

    B…so he can show Canadians what a fool he is

    A fool in the government is worth two in the opposition!

    C…thereby destroying the Ontario racist Party…sorry…Conservative Party

    Why would you want to destroy the “Progressive” Conservatives in Ontario; are you so desperate now that you must play the race card?

  13. Brendan says:

    Warren, I respectfully disagree with you on the issue of cooperation in a minority government and the idea that too much cooperation can be toxic to your brand and that “even progressive voters think an abundance of cooperation and consensus is synonymous with weakness”. In 2009, when Michael Ignatieff cooperated with the Conservatives to pass the 2009 budget the Liberals and Conservatives were tied in the polls. In late summer 2009 when Ignatieff got tough and declared Harper’s time up and said the Liberals would force an election as soon as possible, Liberal numbers collapsed and the Conservatives became way ahead in the polls. The NDP came to the Conservatives rescue at that time and as we know the NDP did not suffer any backlash for propping up the Tories at that time as they went up to 103 seats and official opposiiton status in the subsequent election. 18 month after Ignatieff declared Harper’s time up he again got tough over the Conservative budget in early 2011. As he got tough over the budget, Liberal numbers in the polls began to collapse shortly before the 2011 election was called. After the election was called Liberal numbers collapsed further and they ended up with only 19% of the vote. That’s what getting tough in a minority government situation got Ignatieff: the complete collapse of the Liberal vote and the loss of his own seat. Whenever Ignatieff got tough and would not make the minority government work his numbers collapsed. By contrast, whenever he let the Conservative budget pass in both 2009 and 2010 the Liberals were tied with the Conservatives in the polls.

    I would also add that Tim Hudak has been criticized in the media many times for his tough stand on both last year’s budget and this year’s budget. Hudak’s tough stand last year and this year also hasn’t helped him much in the polls.

    Also part of Andrea Horwath’s appeal is the concept of making minority parliament work. That approach she has taken has not hurt her in the polls at all.

    • Michael says:

      Another very important factor is how the opposition is framed. If it is thoughtful, and principles with a sensible alternative, then yes it helps the poll numbers. If it is thought less knee jerk opposition without a clear credible alternative then it doesn’t help.

      In Ignatieff’s case, he was opposing Harper, but didn’t have a plan that was a lot different. In Hudak’s he is opposing just for the sake of opposing. Hudak has no clue what is in the budget, but said he will vote against it. Just makes him look like an a$$hole. He is in a no wynne situastion. If it is a good budget he looks stupid for saying he will be voting against it before it was even written. If it’s a bad budget, he still looks bad because he was going to vote against it anyway. He has taken himself out of the game.

  14. MikeM says:

    I recently got a letter from the “official leader of the opposition” here in Ontario. So now I’m wondering who the un-official leader is.

    • Michael says:

      I have been getting letter for a couple of weeks now. A new letter every couple of days, from a different person. All asking me to donate, so they can get ready for an election.

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