Ontario election averted - but for how long?

The tussle over changes to the Ontario Liberal budget has ensured that the prospect of a provincial election isn't going away anytime soon.

"They lied publicly."

Those were the fighting words uttered by Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan on CBC's Metro Morning ahead of Wednesday's budget vote. They were directed at the NDP in general, but their leader Andrea Horwath in particular.

They are three little words — among many — used by Duncan as part of the new Liberal mantra to describe the collapse of a so-called budget deal between the Liberals and New Democrats. Eventually, the budget did pass with some changes, sending MPPs back to their ridings for a long summer break and averting a provincial election.

But make no mistake, Duncan's words will reverberate for a long time and keep the Ontario election clock ticking right until a byelection is held to fill the seat vacated by former PC MPP Elizabeth Witmer in Kitchener-Waterloo.

They will reverberate until a provincial election is called. It isn't known when that might happen. But after the budget soap opera, you can be sure of one thing — it will be sooner rather than later.

All three parties will now use the summer break to hit the hamburger and hotdog circuit and prepare for the byelection and the general election to come.

Already it's clear that the Liberals will try to paint Horwath as untrustworthy, as someone whose word is not her bond, as someone who can't be trusted. The need for such an attack is obvious.

Horwath is popular, more popular than Premier Dalton McGuinty.

And while polls suggest that public support for her has dipped, the rookie NDP leader still overshadows the veteran Liberal leader, particularly when it comes to contributing to the tone of the debate in the daily question period and throughout the budget negotiations.

'Steeltown scrapper' stands her ground 

Even a casual observer of the goings-on at Queen’s Park would be able to detect that Horwath, known affectionately by her caucus as the "Steeltown Scrapper," approaches politics differently than her predecessor Howard Hampton and many on the government benches.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has accused the Liberals of using bully tactics ahead of the budget vote. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

She is likeable, friendly, and a good listener. When she’s talking to you,  she’s talking to only you and not someone else behind you. She made a splash in the October election and is poised to build on that.

That’s what worries, even irks, the McGuinty Liberals, who believe in some way they have a right to govern and without having to bow down to anyone — especially Horwath and the NDP.

Hence what some are calling "the character assassination" of the NDP leader during the budget debate.

It’s a part of politics that says, "If you can’t beat them, beat them up."

But it’s an open question whether Ontarians will buy into that — especially among those women voters who have always been taken with Premier Dad.

Horwath has been, in her words, "bullied" through the budget process.

But she refused to bend and did get some changes, though she remains concerned — as are many Ontarians — about the vagueness of the Liberal plan to privatize some aspects of government.

But in the end, the budget passed and after the vote was counted, it was Horwath who walked the two-sword length distance between her seat and the premier’s in the House to shake his hand.

For McGuinty, that must have been as unexpected as the NDP wanting to pass the budget, insisting on changes, while keeping those political lawn signs in the garage for a little while longer.