This Ontario balanced budget stages the house for 2018

It remains to be seen whether Premier Kathleen Wynne and her Liberal government will win back some love from the electorate as they present the first balanced budget since the Ontario economy was battered to its knees in the 2008 recession. It remains doubtful that the ship of Liberal fortunes can be turned before it hits the iceberg of our discontent, but if ever events should change political fortunes, the current state of the state in Ontario would seemed primed to provide a responsive helm.

There were some signs that the long knives in the Liberal shadows have been returned at least halfway to the sheathes—witness the backtracking of Liberal ‘elder statesman’ Greg Sorbara in the wake of the budget release. Mr. Sorbara had called for Ms. Wynne to fall on her sword for the good of the party as her personal popularity, and that of the party, were being dragged into the abyss by a seemingly relentless gale of Hydro One angst, but he has since uttered some conciliatory murmurs in recent days. As veteran political operator, he could be expected to have his nose on the wind gauge of public sentiment.

In the coming weeks, the polls will no doubt provide some indication of which way the wind is blowing. Generally, electoral popularity ebbs and flows in a rhythm, much like that seen in the business cycle, although not always in tandem lockstep with the fortunes of the 500.

The tide of Liberal fortunes has been on the ebb for quite some time, so it would seem timely for a budget that has the potential to rebuild their battered fiscal rep while opening up a laneway to a safe harbour of progressive spending in the lead up to the 2018 election. In this light, this provincial budget might be seen as having the potential to lift Liberal boats in just about every riding.

Although Premier Wynne may well remain vilified even up to the next election, history has proven that sticking with a personally unpopular leader is not necessarily a sure course to electoral disaster. While Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown has done little to plot his own course clearly in the public mind, he is likely to remain more cautious than his predecessor, Tim Hudak, a leader who proved unable to keep his head down long enough to let his opponents sink themselves. Mr. Brown has proven himself to be both pragmatic and somewhat ruthless, first in seizing the helm of the Tory ship by harnessing the social conservative undertow and then by blithely abandoning that flagship the moment it was deemed too limited to meet his greater ambitions.

It will remain to be seen whether a ruthless course to power will translate into a sense of fiscal stability and trust in the public mind, at least long enough to secure victory in 2018 or whether his established record of tacking with the wind will sink his ship over the long haul.

The next year and a half are destined to prove interesting times and the winds blowing from the south may yet capsize those on the best laid course.