Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has jumped directly into the federal election campaign with her aggressive campaigning in support of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and by taking shots not only at Prime Minister Stephen Harper but Tom Mulcair as well.
Her strategy, however, is a neither winning strategy nor in Ontario’s best long-term interests. If this is Wynne’s idea it indicates a lack of judgment in dealing with the business of running Ontario; if it emanates from her political advisors, it may be time to acquire a more balanced team.
On the surface, Kathleen Wynne’s approach may seem understandable, given Harper’s perceived lack of support for her agenda when it comes to federal transfers, infrastructure, pensions, and energy and environmental policy. Trudeau’s policy positions seem to be most in sync with Wynne’s vision of Ontario.
But recent polls show a tight three-way race between the Conservatives, NDP and Liberals, with much of the Conservative strength in Ontario’s GTA. Wynne undoubtedly believes she can derail the Conservative vote in the GTA and direct it towards the Liberals, thereby cementing support for her political agenda.
Unfortunately, Wynne’s overtly activist support for Trudeau ignores the reality that, as Premier, she governs on behalf of Ontario’s long-term economic and business interests rather than any short-term advantage or political agenda. By putting all her eggs in Trudeau’s basket, Wynne is undermining her future relationship with whomever is elected Prime Minister if Trudeau is defeated, as well as with other provincial premiers who represent an assortment of political views.
Wynne’s support for Trudeau could also very well be a two-edged sword. She and her advisors seem oblivious to the fact that Ontario voters have historically been inclined to send opposite parties to represent them at Queen’s Park and Ottawa. Her support may not necessarily translate into votes for Trudeau given the economic mess Ontario is currently in, its uncompetitive economy, its high electricity prices and its large debt and deficit. Throw in the potential for civil service strife this fall and Trudeau may very well have to publically ditch Wynne in an attempt to save his own campaign, making for some political embarrassment for Wynne.
Kathleen Wynne’s behaviour also harms the federal nature of Canada. Canadian provincial premiers have generally seemed to prefer a federal government with the power to observe but not intervene in provincial affairs – unless of course the intervention involves sending federal cash with no strings attached. As the leader of Canada’s largest province and largest electoral battleground, Wynne’s activist and overt campaign on behalf of Trudeau has introduced a new dynamic into the federal system that hopefully will not set a precedent.
While Harper has not been Mr. Congeniality when it comes to dealing with the provinces and federal provincial matters, Wynne’s strategy also introduces a potentially negative dynamic into federal-provincial affairs. Should Trudeau win, his authority on federal-provincial matters will be weakened, given that many premiers may view him as Ontario’s “kept” politician because of his debt to Wynne.
Finally, there is the unbecoming behaviour of a provincial politician actively campaigning in a federal election. One can only imagine the howls of outrage in the provinces if prime ministers start to take it upon themselves to start actively campaigning in provincial elections to ensure more favourable outcomes.
Ontario’s economy has suffered from over a decade of weak economic and productivity growth, which has in turn fed into poor fiscal performance. Kathleen Wynne should be running the province, not campaigning. The “Wynning” strategy to address Ontario’s long-term concerns should be trying to fix the economy rather than fix the federal election.
Livio Di Matteo is Professor of Economics at Lakehead University.