The Ontario Liberal government is certainly planning for the next election in the quise of fiscal reform as it attempts to steal the Tories’ thunder.
In a backhanded sort of way, the Liberals were handed a gift when voters along the length (Muskoka to Cochrane) of the Ontario Northland Railway chose not to return a single Liberal to the legislature.
That made the decision to close down the railway and sell it and the rest of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission’s assets to the highest bidders much easier to make and announce. Northern Development Minister Rick Bartolucci is taking the heat on these announcements, but his Sudbury riding is safely away from the railway corridor that is completely represented by Tories and New Democrats.
The Tories (Norm Miller in Parry Sound-Muskoka and Vic Fedeli in North Bay) although not pleased with the loss of the railroad and its attendant jobs have had to a great extent been careful in their condemnation of the Liberals because of Tory leader Tim Hudak’s vocal stance on the necessity of government cost cutting.
Taking on the teachers and bargaining with them as a whole, rather than board-by-board, with the threat of wage rollbacks and the elimination of the payout, at the time of retirement, of up to six months’ unused sick days is very likely something that Mr. Hudak would have liked to do himself but Premiere McGuinty beat him to it by dint of that single seat that gives the Liberals the right to form a minority government (albeit by this narrowest of margins) but nonetheless the Liberals still are able to introduce legislation.
Depending on how this session goes with the teachers, the Liberals could very easily be taking on the rest of the public service sector and, as contracts come up for negotiation, attempt to strip them of perks (such as the payment for accrued sick days that the government will attempt to wrest away from the teachers in this round).
Mr. McGuinty and his much-diminished caucus came as near to becoming the Official Opposition as they possibly could without having to move themselves across the floor of the legislature.
The ground they have chosen to plough in preparation for the next jousting at the polls would usually have been that of the Progressive Conservatives.
The New Democrats will appropriately and vehemently oppose any such measure designed to diminish the welfare of organized labour, representing their significant bloc of support.
Who knows: by the next election, the Tories and the New Democrats may be scrapping over who will carry the banner for the centrist vote if the Liberals continue this (unusual for them) move to the right.
In any event, should the opposition parties gang up to defeat the Liberal government, Mr. McGuinty can suggest that he is simply trying to bring the government’s books under control-maneuvouring the Tories into decidedly uncomfortable position.