The Ontario Liberals convene next weekend to choose their new leader and the province’s next premier. Making that choice, however, may be harder than it looks.
In an ideal world, leaders should be chosen on their merits, policies, and ideas, rather on the strategic political benefits they purported to deliver to the party. An example of the former is front-runner Sandra Pupatello, whose platform is solidly aimed at healing the wounds the province has suffered from The Great Recession.
Ontario is ill. With manufacturing and financial jobs increasing at a rate much lower than the previous decade, the province has some serious structural issues to address. Moreover, the United States, Ontario’s main trading partner, has lost economic standing relative to rapidly industrializing Asian markets. Such developments coupled with a high dollar and a boisterous oil industry have moved Canada’s economic growth to the West, ultimately leaving Ontario stagnant.
One does not need to cite the Drummond Report to know that Ontario’s tax base will stay contracted for the next ten or so years as a result of this stagnation, making it hard for the government to sustain services necessary to Ontarians.
Let us not forget the province is severely indebted.
Pupatello says her government will focus on jobs and the economy to ensure that growth returns to Ontario, cultivating the tax base, and avoiding the loss in quality of government services any citizen dreads.
Nevertheless, the political theatrics of the Ontario Legislature must be taken into account. The Liberals are governing in a minority situation and Tory leader, Timothy Hudak, is preparing for the pyrotechnics of a spring election. With the polls predicting that the Liberals will struggle, it might be in their best interest to find a leader who could make this legislature function correctly.
Enter the other front-runner, Kathleen Wynne.
Her centre-left leaning makes her the leadership candidate who can most likely create an alliance with Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats, and avoid an unnecessary election.
The rhetoric matches the assertion. “My objective will be to reach out to the opposition leaders. I want to bring in a budget that is not doomed to failure, that can pass,” Wynne said.
Horwath has also stated she is keen on making this government work. “I don’t believe we can wave a wand and tackle our challenges overnight. But I do believe this legislature can make real progress if we’re ready to admit where we’re going wrong . . . and concentrate on what we can achieve and how we can achieve it.”
Hence, a dichotomy appears – do the Ontario Liberals choose a leader who can govern, or do they choose a leader who can create consensus and who can remedy political deadlock?
Albeit, some might argue that Pupatello can make this parliament work, and that Wynne has the right priorities to govern effectively.
Wynne’s main priorities are curing the ailments in our health and education system. Yet, she eludes to this without offering significant structural reforms to either ministry, and resorts to resolving the tribulations in these services by making promises to spend more.
Likewise, Pupatello’s feisty and steely demeanor works well in an election, but not when Liberals are trying to avoid one. Flares of belligerence closely follow her rhetoric on cooperation: “I know how to beat [The New Democrats] like I have every time in Windsor.”
So whom do the Ontario Liberals choose?
The answer will be apparent Saturday, but delegates must remember not to vote for the candidate that keeps the Liberals in power at any cost, but rather for the candidate who has the right policies and who will be a responsible manager of the government and the province.
The politics comes second.
– Toufic Adlouni
(Featured Image: Sandra Pupatello. Creative Commons, Flickr)