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
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.
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