New session at Queen's Park is all about your vote: Robert Fisher

Expect the new session of the Ontario legislature, set to begin next week, to sound a lot like a year-long election campaign. CBC's Ontario politics expert Robert Fisher explains that your hydro bill, public transit, the Spring budget and your vote will be the focus of the next few weeks at Queen's Park.

Robert Fisher's Ontario political analysis appears here every two weeks

Hydro rates have remained a top issue in Ontario while Queen's Park took a break for the holidays. With the legislature set to resume next week, our political analyst Robert Fisher talks about what to expect. 10:14

Expect the new session of the Ontario legislature, set to begin next week, to sound a lot like a year-long election campaign. CBC's Ontario politics expert Robert Fisher explains that your hydro bill, the Spring budget and your vote will be the focus of the next few weeks at Queen's Park.

Fisher spoke with the CBC's Conrad Collaco about the return to legislature work for MPP. Listen to the full interview by clicking the image at the top of the page or read an edited and abridged transcript below.

Robert Fisher, Ontario politics analyst

Veteran political analyst Robert Fisher delivers his insights into Ontario politics every two weeks. (CBC)

Why does it seem the Liberals haven't been able to get a handle on their hydro bill problem?

The last time we talked before they adjourned for the long winter nap that MPP's traditionally get and head back as you say on Tuesday. This was a big issue and I think it was a big issue and continues to be so because a lot of people in Southern Ontario for example living in rural parts of the province were upset over the high rates for the transmission costs and getting their power long before the Liberals really recognized this, in particular the Premier, recognized this as a major problem so yes there was a cut that took effect January first.

Everybody got their notice. Everybody was looking forward to that but it's now become clear to the government that that's just not enough to do and so the Premier is now, as they say in Queen's Park 'seized of this issue.' With an election just seventeen months away it's amazing how people can become so focused on a problem. And so you heard this week CBC Mike Crawley's breaking a story that more savings are now on the way. Premier Wynne has got options in what to do. I think we probably should know within a matter of weeks about where they're going. But clearly there's now an urgency for the Liberals to deal with this issue because they have finally realized it's something that's just not going away.

The liberals also need to stop fighting with so many people. I mean they're at war with teachers, doctors, the federal government. So, you see them starting to maneuver now because we are so close to that election with getting teacher contracts extended. The last thing the Liberals want is teachers walking picket lines in 2018. The government has decided that they're going to go back to the bargaining table with doctors to try and resolve the dispute that has lingered for what almost three years and now you see the Premier stepping up her attacks on her old friend Justin Trudeau complaining that Ontarioo is not getting its fair share when it comes to health care funding. So all of this is designed to kind of clear the decks knowing that we are now so close to the next election. 

Premier Wynne put a stop to Toronto Mayor John Tory's idea of tolls on the Gardiner Expressway. What made the premier do that?

Well, I think, politics more than anything else. Clearly, for the Liberals to get their reelection in June of 2018 they need to hang on to an even pick up or more seats in the 905. Personally I think Kathleen Wynne would have been among those who would have favored tolls to cut down on the traffic, to lessen emissions from cars and everything else. That would have been the old Kathleen Wynne. The new, more practical and more political Kathleen Wynne is saying 'boy those people in the 905 may be very unhappy with tolls' and I'm sure they are.  

So, to deal with that she told Mr. Tory 'you know you're not going to get the tolls' but we'll give you more money in gas tax. But that's not going to solve all of the problems and it leaves hanging over her again, so close to an election, the prospect of a battle with John Tory who has been very close to Wynne since he became mayor.  It's an issue that I think that politics determined the outcome on long before the Premier even made the announcement that she was opposed to road tolls. 

Conservative Leader Patrick Brown and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, representing Hamilton-Centre, have been pretty low key during the break - why do you think that is?

If you have major issues like road tolls and health care funding and hydro rates are being you know discussed by the government in Queen's Park, it's kind of hard to shift your focus to a tour Tim Hortons restaurants in Northern Ontario by Patrick Brown or Andrea Horwath moving around the province talking to riding associations and various groups. This is critically important work, particularly for Mr. Brown who has got to get himself known. Seventeen months before an election and people are still asking who is the Tory leader and what does he stand for.

So, that's why you see him beating the bushes talking to people over that double double maybe going to the odd rubber chicken dinner to speak to a service club or a local organization, a chamber of commerce that kind of thing to get out there and to get known. Andrea Horwath is doing the same kind of thing. It's for her though kind of a problem because she's always sort of been seen in recent polls as being in third place. So, it's kind of 'me too, me too, me too' but again her big issue is now to try to convince people that she and her party are still relevant and the polls would indicate that at this point they are not.

When she gets back to the legislature next week is there one issue that Horwath must seize on to get her out of this perception that she is forever trailing?

You know it that so that's a very good question. I suspect that you know the NDP will work to get her up to speed on the issues that they ought to be tackling.  I think one of the problems for the NDP right now is something that plagued her after the 2014 campaign and that is people in the NDP worried about where she's taking the party. There were people who were very upset that she did not support the introduction of tolls on the Gardiner and the DVP which would have been a traditional NDP issue.

But again politics played into something and that's why she voted against it. It's a difficult go for her, though the polls may change. And while people often see her as as the person who could make the best Premier it never really seems to translate for the party.

What do you see as being the big issues to be debated in the legislature during this session?

The government is promising a host of bills on various issues to cover all kinds of things but I think clearly the issue that will focus everyone's mind is going to be the spring budget. All of that as the premier is going to spend a lot of time so the border in this Donald Trump period on what some people are calling her charm offensive talking to U.S. governors and American business but you know if you take a look at the polls that have been out over a period of time it seems, while the initiative in the United States is important, the charm offensive is really needed to here in Ontario.

There's a lot of work for all three party leaders but Kathleen Wynne is determined to be reelected. It would be a mistake for the opposition parties, especially the Tories to, shall we say, order the drapes for the Premier's office. I don't think you can really ever discount the ability of Kathleen Wynne to come back against great odds. It seems insurmountable now but you know in politics you never know what can happen.

When you take a look at the history of Kathleen Wynne, she has the ability to overcome all kinds of obstacles when people have written her off completely. The comeback this time is going to be a bigger climb but she is an extraordinarily good campaigner. She cannot be discounted. So it seem important for her to lay the ground about changing attitudes in this session to get ready for that next election because seventeen months are going to go by in the snap of a finger.