Why an Ontario election this summer is unlikely

While there is all kinds of political noise these days at Queen's Park, neither voters nor the three party leaders can want a summer election, and for good reason.

Here's some advice for Ontario political watchers: book your summer vacation and take it.

While there is all kinds of political noise these days at Queen’s Park, it’s not only voters who don’t want an election. The three party leaders, for all their posturing, don’t want one either and for good reason.

All three have a lot at stake for themselves and their parties.

Some recent polls have suggested that Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals are trailing the Progressive Conservatives in popularity, and in some cases, the NDP. So if you’re running in third place, a summer vote even based on principle becomes a very risky piece of business.

On top of that, is McGuinty prepared to once and for all answer questions on the campaign trail about the excesses at the Ornge air ambulance service? If his track record inside the Legislature is any indication, the clear answer is no.

The Premier mostly ducked the opposition on Ornge, turning time and time again – for some unexplained reason – to his House leader John Milloy to answer, though Milloy clearly proved day after day that question period at Queen’s Park is not necessarily answer period.

Then, there is the question of the Liberal brand in Ontario.

Federally, the party is struggling and that battle for the hearts and minds of voters could spill over provincially.

One recent poll also suggests that most voters would blame McGuinty for interrupting the summer with an election. And there is no guarantee that the premier would be able to campaign on the slogan: ‘Trust me because you can’t trust Andrea Horwath.’

Horwath risks erasing hard-won gains

The NDP leader is popular and seen by many as the person who has worked the hardest to make the minority work, despite some rather mixed messages along the way.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is likely to face many tough questions on the campaign trail if an election is called. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

But Horwath too knows a summer vote is risky and puts in question the potential loss of political and personal momentum gained in the Oct. 6th election.

While the NDP goals were set higher, the 17 seats the party won represented quite an accomplishment for a rookie party leader. And, with a few more votes here and there the total could have been much higher.

The NDP plan for the next election had been to build on that. But if voters punished her for the election – nine months after the last – all that Horwath gained could be wiped out.

PC Leader Tim Hudak, shut out of the McGuinty-Horwath budget negotiations by choice, is sticking to his simple message — the budget won’t help Ontario and needs to be defeated.

But he has yet to earn his leader’s stripes within his own party. All has not been forgiven for — in the view of some Tories — blowing the last election.

But Hudak was grudgingly given another chance. If he fails this time, he’s gone and privately there are some Tory MPPs who wouldn’t be unhappy with a change at the top.

So, is Hudak ready to fight an election with a divided caucus and a multimillion-dollar campaign debt? There has been and will be a lot of tough talk. But again, the reality faced by Hudak is that this is not the time.

He may lead the polls now. 

But being in a witness protection program and almost invisible politically is not a recipe for an election win, even though Ontario voters have in the past voted for the simple Conservative message. But I know Mike Harris and covered him for years and Hudak’s no Mike Harris.

In the backrooms at Queen’s Park, Hudak, Horwath and McGuinty all  have their hawks and doves on the election question.

On the Liberal side there is a growing dislike of Horwath. Some MPPs privately say "enough is enough." That dealings with the NDP need to come to an end and as one veteran puts it, "it’s time McGuinty got off his bended knee" in trying to woo Horwath.

She too has her hawks who believe this is the time to strike. That the party can build successfully on what happened in October.

But that is far from certain and Horwath knows that.

So, she’ll continue to demand and then find compromise leading up to the Wednesday budget vote.

McGuinty will do the same, playing the good cop to Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s bad cop. The premier will seek some middle ground despite the harsh language he used to begin this budget.

And, as has been the case throughout this debate, Tim Hudak will be left on his own, on the campaign trail that wasn’t this summer.