College strike 'not a good news story' for Kathleen Wynne: Robert Fisher

A college faculty strike is in its fourth day, and students fear losing their years. Ontario's auditor general blasts Premier Kathleen Wynne's Fair Hydro Plan, saying the premier is "improperly" keeping its debt off the government's books.

Robert Fisher's Ontario political analysis appears every two weeks

Robert Fisher talks about Wynne's hydro plan, the college strike and Patrick Brown 7:45

A college faculty strike is in its fourth day, and students fear losing their years. 

Ontario's auditor general blasts Premier Kathleen Wynne's Fair Hydro Plan, saying the premier is "improperly" keeping its debt off the government's books.

There's plenty going on at Queen's Park this week, seven months before a June provincial election. Markus Scwabe from CBC's Morning North in Sudbury talked to analyst Robert Fisher about what it all means.

The following answers have been edited for length.

Robert Fisher, Ontario politics analyst

Q: Talk about the teachers' strike at colleges in Ontario. How could that hurt the Liberals?

If you're in government and there's a teacher strike, no matter what level, it's not good news. And if you're a government that's relatively close to seeking reelection and trying to portray yourself as a government that's brought labour peace to education, it's even worse. This is not a good news story for the Liberals in any way.

Q: Could the government step in and bring this strike to an end?

No. 1 question for students at colleges across the province. This is day four, as you know. No negotiations going on. None planned at this point.

Both the premier and the advanced education minister, Deb Matthews, have said they want both sides back at the table as soon as possible. Kathleen Wynne has described this college strike as "very, very distressing." Both women have answered questions in the legislature and outside it, making it very clear that they respect the collective bargaining process. But they say they're paying very close attention to what's going on.

Ontario's college teachers strike is in its fourth day with no negotiations planned. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

For me, that may well be code for a gentle political nudge toward both sides, but perhaps more so the College Employer Council, to get this thing settled.

The longer it goes, the more in jeopardy students' semesters or maybe even school year is, the more the government will wear this disruption, and the more it erodes that long-standing promise to bring labour peace to education.

Q: How have the Liberals handled the auditor general's report on hydro rates so far?

It's pretty stinging condemnation by the auditor general, but this is not the first time Liberals and Bonnie Lysyk have sparred on a particular accounting issue. There may be more in the future. Who knows?

Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk had some harsh words for the Liberal Fair Hydro Plan. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Watching question period yesterday, I was struck by the fact that cabinet ministers were getting up and saying, "We were simply acting because consumers told us that they were getting killed by the high hydro rates, and something had to happen." That's one sort of defence. The other is that they totally disagree with the auditor general and her accounting interpretation. She calls it needlessly complex — I would say deliberately complex — and really designed with one thing in mind and that's next June's election.

Q: PCs have called for Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault to step down. How likely is that to happen?

Not gonna happen. You dance with the guy that brung you, and Kathleen Wynne got the Sudbury riding with Glenn Thibeault. She encouraged him to join the Liberal party, and leave the federal NDP. He's not going to go anywhere. Ministers under fire don't get dumped by premiers or prime ministers when they're under fire.

But the opposition will continue to raise it and will continue to talk about political corruption. They'll keep this issue alive because they smell some blood here. It dominated question period yesterday, and I suspect at 10:30 on the clock, as they say at Queen's Park, it will dominate again.

Patrick Brown was animated in the legislature, using some unparliamentary language in question period this week. You've covered question periods for decades. How does this compare?

It sort of goes in cycles. A year or two ago, you and I were talking on a regular basis about the gas plant scandal and how that dominated question period. Just as when the role's reversed, the Liberals were after the Conservatives in power for whatever indiscretions they thought were happening. These things take on a life of their own.

The Ontario PC party, led by Patrick Brown, will have a convention in Toronto on Nov. 25. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

(The PCs) will keep it going until such time that another issue overtakes it. You're going to get a repetition of questions. You'll get calls for Mr. Thibeault's resignation. You'll probably get calls for (Minister of Finance) Charles Souza's resignation. You'll probably get calls for premier's resignation. But none of that's going to happen and all of this will disappear in the background when some issue crops up that the opposition wants to go after the government on.

Q: The PCs have rolled out 139 ideas that will form the backbone of their election platform. What can you tell us about that platform?

Tory delegates will vote in advance online before this Nov. 25 convention in Toronto, so the party is going to avoid those messy floor fights over controversial issues. And it allows the party to have more control over that Toronto event.

The resolutions are so vague. They include things like more options for child care. Who would be opposed to that? Even Kathleen Wynne could vote for most of these PC resolutions. Are we closer to knowing what Patrick Brown is all about? No, not really. And will we know any more after that Nov. 25 convention? I think not.

It's something the Liberals want to hold close to them, but as a colleague of mine at the Toronto Star reported, playing possum with policies has some risks. I think at some point, people are going to want to know what this guy is all about before they mark that X on the ballot.