Katharine Wynne: a new leader with old leader woes

January 28, 2013

TORONTO, ON, Jan. 28, 2013/ Troy Media/ – When Kathleen Wynne won the leadership of the Ontario Liberal party, she noted in her acceptance speech that “that was the easy part.”

Boy, was she right. Governing as Premier for more than a few weeks will be much tougher than becoming leader.

Dalton McGuinty and his government were circling the drain when he prorogued the legislature on October 15 and resigned as Premier and Liberal party leader.

Endless revelations of fiscal malfeasance at ORNGE, the provincial air ambulance service, cancellation of another eHealth Ontario initiative, and questions concerning the expenditure of over $200 million to cancel and relocate power plants were leading to contempt of parliament motions against McGuinty’s energy minister and rumours of action against the Premier himself.

So, McGuinty cut and ran and Wynne gets to clean up his mess.

Wynne has promised to resume the legislature right after Family Day with a throne speech coming on February 19. Ontarians’ anger at McGuinty’s shutdown of the legislative house remains, and that bitterness is confining the Liberal party to third place..

The only thing giving Wynne a chance to enjoy the Premiership is that the Progressive Conservative leader, Tim Hudak, is the only major political figure in Ontario less desired than McGuinty. His party currently polls at 35 per cent, but Hudak, despite numerous policy announcements, remains unpopular.

It will take time to repair her party’s battered image, and Wynne is going to have to get a lot closer to the province’s most popular political leader, Andrea Horwath of the NDP, to buy that time.

Horwath (as with her party) remembers the last time the Ontario NDP ‘helped’ a Liberal gain and retain the premiership. That was when Bob Rae did an ‘accord’ with David Peterson in 1985 ‘” and saw, less than two years later, Peterson call and win a snap election the moment the polls were favourable.

This time, the price is likely to involve seats at the cabinet table and a coalition agreement structured like the one between British Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg and the Conservatives’ David Cameron which will  define hard rules for how the partnership ends.

There is ground to build on. Wynne is considered to be more to the left side of her party. She’ll probably go for much needed improvements to Ontario Works (Welfare) and the Ontario Disability Support programs, causes dear to the NDP heart. Horwath, in turn, recognizes the need for the program put forward by Wynne during her leadership run to unlock the gridlock in the Greater Toronto/Hamilton Area and make up a three decade long absence of needed transit expansion, which will be good for a regional economy that has doubled in population without a corresponding increase in the ability to move people and goods around.

Meanwhile, Wynne faces opponents inside the Liberal party itself. The knives were already being sharpened hours after her Saturday win.

There are those who don’t believe a Torontonian should be leader, those who don’t believe a lesbian should be leader,and those who actually want her government to fall so that the election forces a second round in the leadership campaign. Losing the next election would allow the party to purge the McGuinty record completely.

For the non-believers, the most favourable outcome is for the Wynne’s government to go down in defeat almost immediately after a spring election. Wynne, in turn, faces guaranteed confidence motions on the throne speech and budget.

That’s why Wynne doing a deal with Horwath matters so much. Hudak’s PCs will vote against the Liberal party, no matter what.

If Katharine Wynne, a new leader with old leader woes, wants to be Premier for more than a few weeks, she needs to be getting her votes in place and making deals now.

Troy Media Syndicated Columnist Bruce Stewart is a management consultant located in Toronto.

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