Friday, September 7, 2012

Ontario NDP by-election win humiliates opponents

Martin Regg Cohn, Opinion, The Toronto Star:

The premier promised to pave highways. He proferred patronage payoffs. He pounced on public sector unions.

Yet despite Dalton McGuinty’s best-laid plans and pretexts, voters have denied him a coveted majority government for the second time in a year: The NDP snatched the longtime Tory seat of Kitchener-Waterloo away from the two big parties — beating the Progressive Conservatives on their own turf, while beating back the overreaching Liberals.

At the end of the day —byelection day in the ridings of Vaughan and K-W — McGuinty learned the limits of his (spending) powers: There are no shortcuts to regaining his majority, no easy way out of the political box voters have put him in.

Now, Ontario politics is about to get more interesting — for us, and all three party leaders: The Tories’ old Big Blue Machine has been humiliated by the NDP’s (Ontario) Orange Crush and its increasingly popular leader, Andrea Horwath. The Liberals are also seeing red after being humbled by the orange steamroller, reduced to a disastrous third-place finish in K-W as the NDP peeled away progressive voters.

After nine years as premier — the last 11 months leading a minority Liberal government — McGuinty must be reflecting, privately, on his future, no matter his public pronouncements. At 57, facing another showdown next year over his spring budget, does McGuinty still have the fire in his belly — and the likeability in his public persona — to win big again?

Ontarians have twice voted against a Liberal majority, first in last October’s general election and again in Thursday’s decisive byelections. The two ridings at stake were microcosms of Ontario’s urban-suburban battlegrounds that should have been bedrock Liberal. These are seats the party must win and hold.

If the Liberals are feeling blue today, the old Big Blue Machine that Tory Leader Tim Hudak now helms is down in the dumps — outhustled by the third-ranked NDP and its leader, Andrea Horwath, who boasts the highest approval ratings of all three leaders.

It would have been easier for Hudak to explain away a Liberal victory in K-W by saying the ruling party used the levers of power to bribe and bamboozle voters. But what excuses can Hudak conjure up when he is beaten on his own Tory turf by the NDP?

The inconvenient fact is that he continues to trail his rivals — not just Horwath, but also McGuinty — in approval ratings. He blew a big lead in the last election. He remains on probation with voters, and his own Tory family.

Continue reading here.

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