The Inside Agenda Blog

The First Chance to Take Down the Wynne Government

by Steve Paikin Tuesday February 19, 2013

One week ago, Kathleen Wynne was sworn in as Ontario's 25th premier.

Kathleen Wynne has been premier of Ontario for a week. The opposition will have its first chance to defeat her new government starting now.

A week ago, Wynne unveiled the cabinet she hopes will turn the page from the Dalton McGuinty years to the fresh coat of red paint she hopes to apply to public affairs in Ontario in 2013.

Just as the Liberals called Ernie Eves' new government "The Harris-Eves Government" in 2002, the PCs are now doing the same thing. They consistently refer to the new Liberal government as "The McGuinty-Wynne Government," hoping to tar Wynne with McGuinty's "sins."

And today, Wynne will have the lieutenant-governor read her first ever Speech from the Throne -- usually a flowery but vague recitation of the governing party's hopes for the upcoming session.

What could make this throne speech different is how it was created. For the last nine years, the governing Liberals have essentially put their priorities into the throne speech without much interest in what the opposition's views are. Even when McGuinty won his "major minority government" in October 2011, that didn't change, and no doubt contributed to the poisonous atmosphere in the house.

But Wynne got elected Liberal leader last month on the promise of being able to make minority parliament work better, including more expertly reaching out to the opposition parties.

Would Tim Hudak's Conservatives ever support the government's throne speech?

So already, the new premier has had twice as many face-to-face private meetings with the leader of the opposition in her three weeks as Liberal leader as the former premier had in nine years. Both sides say the meetings were cordial and focused on getting the house to function better. PC Party leader Tim Hudak used those meetings to urge a major volt face on the Liberals' part, hoping the government will implement what the Tories say are their "bold, cost-cutting moves."

Wynne was apparently polite in her replies, occasionally saying things such as, "Sorry, Tim, I can't do that exactly, but I am committed to ..." -- that kind of thing. No immediate commitments on what would be in the throne speech were sought or offered.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath has made her wish list for the throne speech well known.

The NDP have also been very public about what's on their wish list for the throne speech. Leader Andrea Horwath has held two news conferences over the past couple of weeks, outlining the items she'd like to see in the throne speech. She's described her list as very doable, with no outrageous, grandiose schemes or ultimatums should those ideas not find their way into the speech.

The conventional wisdom at the legislature is that Hudak's Tories will certainly find Wynne's program lacking in fiscal austerity, and therefore will vote to bring down the government after the requisite throne speech debate has concluded. The Tories insist they haven't yet made the decision whether to vote yea or nay on the speech, waiting to see what's actually in it. It's hard to imagine, short of adopting the entire PC platform, how the Liberals could garner Tory votes on the speech. The PCs are, after all, the official opposition, and even in a minority parliament, the opposition's job is almost always to oppose. There are exceptions (Bill 115 imposing contracts on the teacher unions was passed with Liberal and PC votes) but it is rare.

The Tories were all class, attending the Wynne Cabinet's swearing-in, even applauding Wynne's remarks and offering a standing ovation. Most Liberals and New Democrats inexplicably skipped the event. But are Tim Hudak's days as Mr. Congeniality now over?

That, once again, puts the spotlight on the NDP to determine whether Wynne's Liberals will continue to govern, or send Ontarians into a spring election.

The betting is that the two female leaders will find a way. The Liberals certainly don't want to go to the polls with a leader who's had virtually no time to put her stamp on the new government. And the NDP would risk significant punishment at the polls for torpedoing the first-ever female premier of Ontario, after just one week in office.

Would Andrea Horwath really pull the plug on the first female premier's government after just one week?

But stranger things have -- and often do -- happen at your Ontario legislature.

For more of The Agenda's coverage of Ontario politics, visit our Ontario politics feature page.