If you can’t beat them, buy them.
That seems to be Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s answer to his dilemma in the legislature — what he used to call his "major minority."
He worked out a deal with NDP leader Andrea Horwath on the budget with some back pedalling on a tax hike for the rich.
And he now feels he and Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak may find common ground on a public-sector wage freeze.
But McGuinty didn’t seek a third term last October just to play negotiator with the two H’s.
No. He wants his majority back and is clearly prepared to do whatever it takes to make that happen.
Recently, he swooped in on Conservative veteran Elizabeth Witmer with an offer she couldn’t refuse to head up the Workers Safety and Insurance Board for a tidy $188,000 annual remuneration.
A tale of two Witmers
One of the last remaining red Tories in Hudak’s caucus, Witmer was ripe for the political picking. No matter what’s been said publicly, she could obviously see no future as the MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo with Hudak at the helm.
Nor could her son Scott, currently a Waterloo city councillor, who was being groomed to replace his mother if and when she decides she'd had enough of Queen’s Park.
Most observers think the younger Witmer would have been a shoo-in to succeed his mother, who won more than 42 per cent of the votes in her riding in the last election.
But with neither Witmer running, one poll already suggests the governing party could win a Kitchener-Waterloo byelection.
McGuinty protests, with his boyish grin, that his "motives are pure" in appointing Witmer to the WSIB. She is the best candidate for the job, he says.
That may be true. But it’s also true that McGuinty and his closest advisors have been trolling the halls of Queen’s Park looking for Conservatives and New Democrats who might be willing to cross the floor for a cabinet spot or at the very least a plum appointment with a six-figure salary attached.
Those MPPs exist. And all parties know that.
They're veteran Tories and New Democrats who know they are nearing the end of the line politically.
They are not necessarily keen on their current leader and they know as well that no pension waits for them on the other side of the front door of Queen’s Park. Thanks to former Premier Mike Harris, they will have to make do instead with an RRSP.
McGuinty 'always looking for partners'
Add all that up and you’ve got MPPs waiting for a call from the Liberals or wanting one.
McGuinty hasn’t been shy about wanting some opposition MPPs to make a move — telling the Legislature recently that "we’re always looking for partners of any political stripe when it comes to moving ahead … [with the Liberal] agenda."
Now, without judging those who hear the premier’s siren call to come on over, there is an aroma about the Liberal overtures that smacks of not being able to accept what voters said in the last election.
Since then, McGuinty has said on many occasions and in many ways that he was prepared to "accept the will of the people."
Democracy spoke loudly in last fall's vote. But, as the premier watched the results on his hotel television on election night Oct. 6, he clearly had the sound down. And it’s still down.