Posted this a year before the Ontario vote. It’s still true.

Let’s recap.

  1. The Ontario PCs raised $16 million last year, and the Ontario Liberals – the, you know, government – raised $6 million.  Ten million less.  The government.
  2. The most powerful mayor in Canada – a very, very popular guy who has helped the governing Liberals out of many tight spots – has all but declared war on them. And Ontario’s extremely ambitious Transport minister is Number One on John Tory’s hit list, now.  Not good.
  3. And, last night in the Sault, the Ontario Liberal Party came third in a crucial by-election – and the PCs, who haven’t held that seat since the 1981 election, crushed them with more than 40 per cent of the vote.

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That’s just the past week. Previous weeks have been just as crummy, if not more so.  The budgetary goodies, the Hydro rate cut and youth pharmacare haven’t really done what they were supposed to do.

Radical change is needed.  Three suggestions:

  1. Fire the Wizard.  The “chief strategist” is doing to the OLP what the Wizard and his pals did to the LPC ten years ago: killing it.  Get rid of that crew, now, and bring in people who know how to win.
  2. New blood, new ideas.  The OLP desperately needs both.  Caucus – and some excellent staff in the Premier’s Office and minister’s offices – say the same thing: the OLP brand is strong, but it needs excitement.  It needs new and better ideas.  It needs new blood, in the form of some impressive candidates and thinkers.
  3. Reflect.  I know Kathleen Wynne.  I’ve worked with Kathleen Wynne.  I admire Kathleen Wynne.  And I know that Kathleen Wynne will not let the Ontario Liberal Party go down to third place in 2018.  She will do the right thing.  If she is dragging down the party, she will make the selfless decision.

As of this month, the election is twelve months away.  That leaves enough time – barely – to make some big changes.

Let’s make them, now.


Column: will Wynne’s story have a sad ending?

There are all kinds of clichés about how and why governments lose.

That they defeat themselves. That they die by degrees. That they become the very thing they had ‎once pledged to always oppose.

Mostly, though, governments forget the plot. All of governing – all of the politics – is telling a story, every single day.

Some folks call that a “narrative,” and assert that you need a narrative to win. And, it’s true: having a compelling, easily-understood story is pretty important.

People are busy. They’ve got a lot of stuff going on. ‎Taking a kid to early-morning hockey practice, getting an aging parent to the clinic, trying to get to work on time, catching up on sleep.

So, political parties need to get their attention. You don’t do that by throwing statistics at voters. You do that by having a narrative, a story. Facts tell, stories sell.

Barack Obama had one: “Yes we can.” Dalton McGuinty in 2003, too: “Choose change.” Justin Trudeau: “Hope and hard work.” Those were good ones. They worked, big time.

Kathleen Wynne, now less than 60 days from an election many expect ‎her to lose, has no story to tell. There’s no narrative, there. No bright red thread that runs through the stuff that she says and does.

She has briefly prorogued ‎the Legislature so that she can have a Throne Speech, sure. But Joe and Jane Frontporch don’t care about Throne Speeches. They don’t pay attention to those. The media and political people do, but that’s it.  Normal people don’t.

So, the last opportunity‎ Wynne has to tell her story – any story – is in the budget that is being unveiled at the end of this month. We don’t know much about what’s in it, but we do know one thing: Charles Sousa lost the argument.

Wynne’s Finance Minister was rightly proud of having balanced the budget last year. It was a big deal. But then he was told – instructed, really – to go back into deficit. So he will: $8 billion worth of red ink. That’s a lot.

When I heard that, I was shocked, and I don’t get shocked by politicians very much any more. That figure strongly suggests we are about to witness the most expensive Hail Mary pass in Canadian political history.

I don’t think it’s going to work. Not because Kathleen Wynne isn’t an amazing communicator and a wily campaigner. Not because she doesn’t know how to beat Conservatives. She does, she does.

I don’t think it’s going to work because it bears a strong resemblance to a previous political failure: the orgy of spending promises that took place in the dying days  ‎of Paul Martin’s regime in 2005.

Remember that? It possessed all the dignity of that helicopter lifting off that rooftop just prior to the fall of Saigon. It felt as desperate as a death row at midnight in the deepest South.

Martin promised to amend the Constitution in the middle of a leader’s debate: he actually did that. He proclaimed a stirring new vision for indigenous people without allocating a plug nickel to pay for any of it.

He promised tax cuts, lots of them. He started spending money, lots of it. “Mr. Martin, known for his careful stewardship of Canada’s public finances under Mr. Chretien,” The Economist wrote disapprovingly at the time, “has gone on a bit of a spending spree in the run-up to what he knew would be an early election.

The magazine continued: “The government promised $39 billion in new tax cuts and spending over the next five years. Mr. Harper accused of Mr. Martin ‎of promising over a billion dollars a day in order to hold onto power.”

In yesterday walks tomorrow, goes the saying. Down here in Toronto in 2018, it’s feeling like Ottawa in 2005 all over again. You know: spend like a proverbial drunken sailor, throw every single policy Vietnam at the wall, just to see if something sticks.

But, you know: if it didn’t work in 2005, it is unlikely to work in 2018.

So why is Kathleen Wynne making a losing narrative her only narrative? Good question. Lots of Liberals are asking the same question. “She’s smart,” they say. “Why the desperation?”

The answer may be found not in Wynne. More likely, Ontario Liberals say, the authors of the Hail Mary Pass Budget are found with those around Wynne, and not Wynne herself.

And guess what? Surprise, surprise: the ones who Kathleen Wynne are relying upon for strategic advice are the very same men who advised Paul Martin in his bunker back in 2005, as the blue horde was closing in. Same guys.

Same strategy, too. It has three parts. One, bet the house on your opponent doing some career-ending stupidity. Two, promise everything to everyone. And, three, spend like money is water. ‎ Go crazy.

Now, full disclosure: this writer doesn’t much like those Paul Martin guys around Kathleen Wynne. They hounded my friend Jean Chretien for years, and – as a result – they wrecked the Liberal Party of Canada for a decade‎.

They look like they’re getting ready to do the same thing to the Ontario Liberal Party – a political party about which I’m rather nostalgic. I ran the aforementioned McGuinty guy’s three war rooms, and I want to keep the OLP off the endangered species list, you know?

But the polls. The polls – Doug Ford, um, notwithstanding – have been showing the Ontario Liberal Party facing a possible third-place finish. Even against Doug Ford.

Doug. Ford.

The solution to that isn’t to ape Paul Martin’s losing narrative. The solution isn’t to go nuts with other people’s money.  The solution is to craft a narrative that makes sense. One that captivates peoples’ hearts and minds.

They don’t have one. They just don’t. And they’re out of time.

That, pretty much, is why the Ontario Liberal government is likelier to lose than to win.

They don’t have a story to tell anymore.


Canadians to Trudeau: smarten up

From Angus Reid:

The passage of time appears to have done nothing to soothe Canadian voters irritated with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau since his highly criticized passage to India last month.

This, combined with a simmering unease among the electorate over the federal government’s deficit spending has, for the first time, driven Trudeau’s disapproval rating north of 50 per cent.

All of this adds up to a ten-point gap between the Liberal and Conservative parties in vote intention. The latest polling analysis from the Angus Reid Institute shows that if an election were held tomorrow, the CPC – led by Andrew Scheer, would be in range to form a majority government.

Meanwhile, my guy Chretien’s successors always make him look good:

National Observer on Doug Ford


And while Doug Ford isn’t exactly like Donald Trump, he shares enough similarities with the current U.S. president to merit the comparisons. Like Trump, even though he’s well off and enjoys considerable wealth, Ford fashions himself a man of the people; someone who is here to defend the average folk’s best interests, immune to backroom deals and the party establishment. Like his late brother, Ford aims to harness the same anti-establishment grievances to win this race.

It’s the kind of populism Trump ran on and garnered him large support, despite being born with a silver spoon in his mouth and having never financially struggled for anything. Ford’s “man of the people” shtick also extends to his direct use of language. Warren Kinsella is right when he recently wrote that Ford “never uses a 20-dollar word when a two-dollar word would suffice.” That appeals to a lot of voters.

Don’t count Horwath out

Check this out:

An NDP government would provide Ontarians with dental benefits and pay off students’ post-secondary loans, said leader Andrea Horwath in a speech Saturday that gave a glimpse into her party’s election platform.

“We know we can do better to make sure that everyone can build a good life, right here in Ontario,” she said, outlining five key parts of the party’s upcoming promises for the June 7 election, which also includes improvements to health and long-term care, returning Hydro One to public ownership while cutting rates, universal pharmacare, and boosting corporate tax rates.

“We can help people be healthier, and make more life affordable in Ontario, if we help more people go to the dentist,” she told the NDPs provincial council.

“We are going to make sure every working person in Ontario has dental benefits. And we will make the largest investment in public dental coverage in Ontario’s history — so that every senior can get the dental care they need. And every person on social assistance can get the dental care they need.”

The dental program will be called “Ontario Benefits” and will be portable, moving with Ontarians when they switch employers, she said.

It’ll be pretty hard for Wynne to attack her over this, given the spending spree that is about to be unleashed in the upcoming budget.  Ford can attack it, but everything Horwath is saying is pretty populist.

This election is going to be fun.  Don’t count Horwath out of it!

My St. Patrick’s message, every year since 1980

There’s nothin’ for us in Belfast
The Pound’s old, and that’s a pity
OK, so there’s the Trident in Bangor
And then you walk back to the city
We ain’t got nothin’ but they don’t really care
They don’t even know you know
They just want money, we can take it or leave it
What we need

Is an Alternative Ulster
Grab it and change it, it’s yours
Get an Alternative Ulster
Ignore the bores and their laws
Get an Alternative Ulster
Be an anti-security force
Alter your native Ulster
Alter your native land
Take a look where you’re livin’
You got the army on the street
And the R-U-C dog of repression
Is barking at your feet
Is this the kind of place you want to live?
Is this where you want to be?
Is this the only life we’re gonna have?
What we need

Is an Alternative Ulster
Grab it and change it, it’s yours
Get an Alternative Ulster
Ignore the bores and their laws
Get an Alternative Ulster
Be an anti-security force
Alter your native Ulster
Alter your native land
They say they’re a part of you
And that’s not true, you know
They say they’ve got control of you
And that’s a lie, you know

They say you will never
Be free, free, free
Alternative Ulster
Alternative Ulster
Alternative Ulster
Alternative Ulster
Oh, you’ve done it now!