It should come as no surprise that the Ontario Budget passed this morning, and that a potential election has been, for now, averted. But even before the so-called "breakthrough" was made between Premier Dalton McGuinty and NDP leader Andrea Horwath was announced yesterday, there was about as much of a chance of another Ontario election as there is for severe winter weather in southern Ontario this late in April, which is to say a small chance, but generally speaking not very likely.
The new budget now has a 2 per cent wealth surtax on 23,000 Ontarians earning $500,000 or more a year, raising $470 million next year, which will all go towards paying down the $15.2 billion deficit, while the levy, which costs someone making $600,000 an extra $3,120 annually, will be in place until Ontario balances the budget, now scheduled for 2017-18. The Liberals have also added $242 million in funding for child care, $20 million for northern and rural hospitals, and boosted welfare and disability benefits by 1 per cent at a cost of $55 million.
I forget who said it, but the best compromise is the one where no one is happy, and by this standard, the budget is a remarkable compromise indeed. So the first major test of the McGuinty minority government ends in a passing grade for the Liberals, but who comes out a winner and a loser in this whole scenario?
Dalton McGuinty: WINNER - He proves himself able to work and play well with others, despite the fact that his first at bat with the budget he played it like he had a majority. But better late than never, as they say, and perhaps this will create more congenial McGuinty moving forward because if the Premier has one thing going for him moving forward it's that no one wants an election right now. McGuinty was able to get NDP support, but able to tune it his way by putting that extra money to the deficit. Ultimately, McGuinty's knack for pleasing everyone and no one at the same time has worked in his favour again.
Tim Hudak: LOSER - Finance minister Dwight Duncan was right when he said of Hudak that, “The leader of the opposition missed the boat and now he’s on the dock waving frantically." Certainly the budget, which still had many social justice advocates decrying it even after the NDP-approved amendments, was more in-line with Tory philosophy than NDP. But consider this, just what was it about the budget that Hudak and the PCs hated so much? I can't remember the specifics, but I know that Hudak said before a single line of the budget was known that he and his party were going to vote against it. While Hudak was correct in pointing out that the other parties were on just as much a war footing as the PCs were, he was still fighting an uphill battle. A Globe article from the weekend pointed out that Hudak's Tories sit only three points behind the Liberals in popularity, while Hudak's own personal numbers on trustworthiness, competence and vision have fallen to 52.6 per cent from a high of 71.3 per cent last spring. If Hudak wants to change he's fate, he may first have to change his strategy, and they may mean being less partisan in the short term.
Andrea Horwath: WINNER & LOSER - On the one hand, like Jack Layton before her, Horwath has earned herself points from independents and undecideds for being willing to work across party lines, and keep government functioning. She, like McGuinty, was able to achieve some semblance of a moral victory, pushing the Liberals to tax the wealthy and grant some increases to social spending. On the downside though, or at least in the short term, Horwath's taken a hit on the NDP brand. There's also the fact that the NDP caucus abstained from voting for the budget, which on reflection seems kind of a cop out. Still Horwath will ultimately come out of this looking the best of all party leaders, and in the political game, maybe that's the best victory of all.