Editor's note: Last spring, before the extent of the SARS crisis became fully apparent, the Ontario Legislature was abuzz with rumours that the election would be called any minute. John McGrath took the pulse of the Legislature — and the press gallery — and filed this dispatch.
by John McGrath, CBC Radio News
May 26, 2003
What's it like working at Queen's Park with everyone on tenterhooks about the possibility of a spring election?
Well, it isn't pretty.
For one thing, reporters have been under more than usual amount of stress over "The call." We have our reputations to think of, as we have all gone on the record about whether we feel there is going to be a spring or fall election. It's a bit of a mug's game, given that only Premier Ernie Eves knows when the election will be, but none of us want to be proven wrong. (I am predicting a fall vote.)
The Liberals, though, have even more at stake than the reporters. The Grits desperately want to go to the polls in the spring. They are ready, the Conservatives are trailing, and the stars may never be better aligned for the Liberals.
But the latest flare up of severe acute respiratory syndrome may put the election off for awhile. As I asked Tony Clement at the Tory training session on Saturday, "Where do people want the minister of health, on the job, or on the campaign trail?"
This reoccurrence of the problem with SARS seems to have thrown the Liberals off balance. They're worried that their best chance to defeat the Conservatives may be disappearing because of something beyond anyone's control.
You could sense the heightened level of frustration with MPP George Smitherman on Saturday, when he came by the Conservative training session to be the Liberal attack dog. One reporter asked him whether it was appropriate to hold an election while there are renewed problems with SARS.
Smitherman replied, "I'm not certain that 12-million Ontarians should put their lives on hold ... as a result of [SARS]." If Smitherman wasn't so anxious to be on the campaign trail, he would not have made such a callous comment.
One Conservative I talked to thinks Smitherman's comment is a sign the political tide may be moving in the Tories favour. Given the bad year Eves has had, any Tory is tempted to say, "It's about time."
The Conservatives say they've had good public reaction to their newly minted platform, which promises a partial deduction of mortgage interest, and a ban on teacher lockouts, strikes and work-to-rule campaigns.
There is also a possibility the Liberals' frustration with a delay in the election could cause them to make more mistakes.
So Wednesday will tell.
That's generally conceded to be the last day for Premier Eves to call a spring election, (for an election on June 26).
Legally, I have been told, he could call it on Thursday and count that as a campaign day, effectively shortening the campaign by one day. But that would be a big break with tradition, and this government caused itself a lot of trouble when it broke with tradition in March and released the budget in a Magna training facility in Brampton instead of inside the legislature.
But none of this answers the really important question here at Queen's Park. When will the election be called?
To paraphrase an old radio serial: only the premier knows.
Here's what we do know.
There has never been a July provincial election in Ontario. And there's only been one in August, in 1943.
Liberal house leader Dwight Duncan thinks the election will now be called on Aug. 20 and held on Sept. 18. This has buoyed the hopes of my colleague Robert Fisher, who already had money down on that September date in the election pool.