WARREN: Trudeau has copied Wynne’s tactics before — he may do it again
On the heels of the latest federal budget and on the eve of an Ontario budget, the Kathleen Wynne Liberals are betting that voters care more about investments in health care, infrastructure, senior care and program spending in people than they care about a balanced budget.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne swung left of the NDP to win a majority in 2014. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau copied this strategy, ate Thomas Mulcair’s lunch, and won a huge majority in 2015 by winning 80 seats in Ontario.
Many pundits and experts are talking about Trudeau’s trip to India and other gaffes of the past year as indicators of what will happen in the 2019 federal election. But what happened this week in Ontario politics will be more revealing as to what is the correct political strategy to win the 2019 federal election and who will govern in Ottawa than anything that has happened federally to date.
The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario is in an all-out civil war. The party has faced many challenges with its former leader, the party internal operations, candidate selection and the selection of a new leader. All of the leadership candidates have rejected key elements of the party campaign platform.
A core tenant of why voters make a decision to support a candidate, party or leader is based on competence. The Ontario PC Party does not currently look competent.
Whereas, as much as Kathleen Wynne may be personally unpopular, you can make an objective argument that she is competent. Economic growth is up. Unemployment is down. Social files, such as health care and education are manageable. Fifteen years of government does come with 15 years of problems, but the benefits outweigh the bad.
The Ontario deficit from the recession had been eliminated and the books were just balanced. And now, this past week, we get the surprising announcement that the Ontario Liberals will not balance the budget in 2018/19 and will instead spend.
The upcoming budget will not be balanced as the premier has promised and, instead, they will go into an election promising new program spending on health care, senior care, pharma care and other people-focused programs.
This is yet another big shift to the left. And we know whoever is leader of the PCs today will promise tax cuts and a balanced budget. That will require spending cuts to the existing programs and the elimination of new promised programs
The ballot question this June in Ontario will be between big investments in people along with deficits or tax cuts and less programs with spending cuts. What do people want? And do we care about a balanced budget?
When Jean Chretien became prime minister and balanced the budget, there was great fanfare but that is not what we remember him for. Former prime minister Stephen Harper brought in balanced-budget legislation and hardly anyone would remember that as well.
Balanced budgets have economic benefits but they do not seem to have political benefits. At least that appears to be the strategy of Wynne and Trudeau.
If Wynne can pull off a comeback and successfully fight off the Tories on this ballot question, it will be sign to Trudeau and others who face re-election in 2019 — this includes Alberta Premier Rachel Notley — that they can shift further to the left.
Jim Warren is a Liberal strategist who previously worked for Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman.