Ontario’s governing Liberal Party is polling near annihilation with 15 months to go before the next election and it’s hard to imagine how embattled Premier Kathleen Wynne can possibly pull another rabbit out of her hat and extend her party’s dynasty. Yet,
How bad is it?
Pretty bad. A Forum Research poll conducted Feb 15-16, 2017 found Ontarians very unhappy with the Liberals. If the election were held then, the Progressive Conservatives would receive 44% of the votes, the NDP 25% and the Liberals 24%. The Greens (as if they matter) would garner 6% of the vote. According to Forum president Lorne Bozinoff, these results would produce a PC majority government with 84 of the 122 seats available in an expanded legislature. The NDP would form the Official Opposition with 27 seats and the Liberals would be reduced to a rump of just 11 seats (down from today’s 57 of 107).
Premier Kathleen Wynne has personally fallen out of favour as well. Fallen hard. The same Forum poll found her personal popularity has dropped to a record low of 11%. This finding is backed up by a similar finding from Mainstreet Research who polled Ontarians February 12 and found just 18% of respondents approved of Wynne personally, up slightly from a low of 14% in its poll two months prior.
So, how can the PC Party of Ontario possibly lose?
Well, frankly, they're very good at it. Ontario's PC Party has proven masterful at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the last four Ontario elections. So, don’t count them in just yet.
Wynne is a smart and capable politician. She knows how to run a winning campaign, and the Liberal Party – for all its faults – is a brutally effective campaign machine. They have 15 months before the next election and they’re already doing what they need to do to win.
What is Wynne's plan for victory?
I'm sure there will be surprises. But, based on what we've seen in the last few weeks, here are some elements that seem clear so far...
Step 1 – Clear the decks.
Wynne has taken a number of steps over the past several months to clear the decks of all the most annoying issues that are festering under the skin of an inflamed electorate. She's...
- Shuffled ministers from unpopular files to new positions, putting fresh faces that haven't incurred as much wrath in their places. Liz Sandals out of Education and Mitzie Hunter in, for example
- Taken just enough action to deflate the Autism Issue, buying peace with angry parents up in arms about changes to the funding model.
- Bought labour peace with teachers, who'd been at war with the government last year, by agreeing to secret backroom deals that will at the very least sideline teachers during the election or, more likely, keep them on the Liberal campaign bus.
- Saved thousands of votes from 905 commuters by killing the possibility of road tolls on Toronto highways.
- Remortgaged the province’s future to reduce electricity rates by 25% – robbing PC Leader Patrick Brown of his most potent weapon.
Step 2 (a) – Make a deal unions can’t refuse
Union support has been the key to Liberal victory in Ontario for years. Once the labour movement grew frustrated with the perpetual failure of the NDP, it switched horses to the Liberals during the Mike Harris years. Since then, it's been the power house behind successive Liberal governments at Queen's Park. All that looked doomed last year, however, as the government was warring with its public sector unions and newly minted PC leader Patrick Brown was making nice with the unions.
But, I expect Wynne will use a new report, expected in the next few weeks, as an excuse to rewrite the province’s labour rules and re-earn the fealty of Ontario's powerful unions. Some of the proposed changes that have union leaders salivating include:
- Limiting % of workforce that can be from temp agencies.
- Ban/limit use of replacement workers in a strike.
- Make it easier for franchise employees to unionize.
- Allow domestic workers in private homes to unionize.
Chris Buckley, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour described the proposed changes as “a once-in a generation opportunity,” according to the Toronto Star.
Step 2 (b) – Go even further and buy blue collar votes
The same process that will bring unions back to the Liberal fold is expected to recommend further changes to the Employment Standards Act designed to be very enticing to blue collar workers and young adults beginning their work careers:
- Increase the minimum annual paid vacation from 2 to 3 weeks.
- Abolish lower minimum wages for students and alcohol servers.
- Mandating a minimum number of paid sick days.
- Reduce the threshold for overtime pay from 44+ hours to 40+ hours per week.
- Compensation for last-minute schedule changes.
A majority of callers to my NEWSTALK1010 Sunday show, a bunch normally very opposed to the Premier, admitted even they may be seduced by the promise of an extra week's paid vacation or a bump in sick days.
Eliminating the reduced minimum wage for alcohol servers and students, means an immediate 15% and 6.5% respective increase in wages for those groups. That's pretty hard to turn down.
Step 3 – Don't fuck up
Kathleen Wynne is a disciplined campaigner. And, she's entirely likeable. Once she's put this plan in motion, all she really has to do is be nice and stick to the message: "she's not scary. she's making real change."
Step 4 – Wait for the PC's to fuck up
Privatizing Hydro (Round 1 under Ernie Eves 2003.) Faith-based schools (John Tory 2007.) Chain gangs (Tim Hudak 2011.) 100,000 job cuts (Hudak again in 2014.)
You know she's hoping it will happen again. You know it's not an unreasonable hope.
So, that's the plan as I see it
Of course, the PC’s will oppose some or all of this agenda, arguing rightly that it will be bad for business – and therefore reduce real employment, hurting workers, and drive up costs, hurting lower income shoppers. This means *surprise* that the only way to enjoy these benefits, if you want them (and many will) is to re-elect Kathleen Wynne as Premier.
That's Kathleen Wynne's plan, anyway. I think. I could be wrong, I suppose. But, it's exactly what I'd do.