Analysis

Why next week's Ontario budget might be Kathleen Wynne's last chance: Robert Fisher

We might find out soon if Kathleen Wynne is going to step down as leader of the Ontario Liberal party before the next election. CBC's Ontario political analyst Robert Fisher says it all depends on what people in the province think of next week's budget.

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

If Kathleen Wynne is going to step down as leader of the Ontario Liberal party before the next election we might find out soon. CBC's Ontario political analyst Robert Fisher says it all depends on what people in the province think of next week's budget. 7:35

We might find out soon if Kathleen Wynne is going to step down as leader of the Ontario Liberal party before the next election.

CBC's Ontario political analyst Robert Fisher says it all depends on what people in the province think of next week's budget.

Fisher spoke with the CBC's Conrad Collaco about the future of the Liberal leader just a little more than a year out from the next provincial election. 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)

How important is this budget to not just the Liberals, but to Premier Kathleen Wynne?

On a scale of one to 10, I'd say it's a 20. You and I have talked about hydro rate cuts that haven't moved the political yardsticks, so this budget clearly must, as well as the housing and rental initiatives the government has unveiled. This budget will set the tone for the election campaign.

What will follow the budget next Thursday will be a massive sales pitch featuring the premier, the finance minister and members of cabinet. MPPs will be given marching orders to go out and sell the budget. It will largely determine the future of the premier and perhaps the future of this government as well.   

Why have voters turned away from Wynne?

That is a huge and important question that I'm not sure the Liberals themselves have figured out. You see it in the polling and anecdotally. When you ask people what they think of Kathleen Wynne, they tell you they simply don't like her.

I think it's a combination of a lot of things, most of which is an accumulation of almost 15 years of unhappiness with Liberal policies under Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne. She is the one feeling the discontent and hoping that all the largesse from the government will win her back, with taxpayer's money, the favour she had back in the 2014 election.

The Liberals' chief fundraiser has quit, there are reports the party is having trouble recruiting candidates to run in the next election. Is that related to Wynne?

It has to be traced back to her. She is leader. You see coaches with the Blue Jays and Maple Leafs being pushed aside for not making the playoffs and that's what this is all about for Kathleen Wynne. Governments don't die of one cut. They die of 1,000 tiny cuts.

You have an unpopular premier. You have bad polling for the party. The money doesn't seem to be coming in. Candidates are saying "Gee, I think I'm going to sit this one out."

And then you build in what is seen by the public as a slowness to respond to high hydro rates. It's a good indication of the government being asleep at the switch. It took them months to respond to the increased rates, even though their own internal information told them to flag this because it's a big problem.

There's the delay in recognizing the problem in housing costs and rental costs in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area. Mix into that pending court cases and allegations of criminality. It is a government that, in the minds of an awful lot of Ontarians if you believe the polls, has reached its best before date.

We're getting close to the one-year countdown to the provincial election next June. Do the Liberals really have time for a leadership race?

Kathleen Wynne continues to say that she's not going anywhere. But if she comes to a point where she believes she is really and truly hurting the Liberal party, she might decide to go. That would leave a very narrow window for the Liberals to organize a leadership convention.

If there's no bump in the polls from the budget then she might take a walk in the sand instead of a walk in the snow and decide to go. For now, she has dug in her heels. She knows there are people in the party who don't like her but she believes she has a job she was elected to do in 2014.

For people in Hamilton concerned about health care, particularly at hospitals, watch for an infusion of a lot of cash. We're getting towards the H3 election — hydro, health care and housing — all planned by the government to get it re-elected. 

Robert Fisher will be part of CBC's special coverage of the provincial budget next Thursday starting at 4 p.m. He'll be back here with us next Friday, the morning after after the provincial budget is released.