Saturday, May 06, 2006

Marginalizing McGuinty May Backfire

The West is in, Harper has taken semi-permanent residence in Quebec City, and Ontario looks to be marginalized. There is no question that Harper has concluded that his best prospects for a future majority don't include a substantive outreach to Ontario. Ontario's McGuinty looks the odd man out, whether it be at the last meeting of first minister's, or in the general way the federal government approaches provincial relations. I have heard many commentators speak to Harper's strategy of undermining McGuinty, in the hopes that this will translate into a John Tory win the next provincial election. I would suggest that Harper's approach will ultimately allow McGuinty's stature to rise with the public. Early signs:
Harper called Tory "the next premier of Ontario" and declared: "Ontario needs John Tory because a strong Canada needs a strong Ontario and because John Tory is a nation builder."

Queen's Park veterans cannot recall a previous prime minister attending such a partisan provincial event, least not having a speaking role in it.

To the best of their recollection, Pierre Trudeau, John Turner, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin did not attend provincial Liberal fundraisers in this province, nor did Joe Clark or Brian Mulroney go to provincial Conservative fundraisers.

"What it tells you is that this is the most partisan prime minister we have seen in many years," said one seasoned Queen's Park MPP.

Nor can the juxtaposition of Harper's brief meeting with McGuinty and his attendance at the Conservative fundraiser have been accidental.

The current political landscape allows for a curious historical precedent. Canada's most populus province is relegated to the fringes of the national government's thought process. The federal/provincial tension articulates a "regionalism" that people in Ontario have largely been immune too. Canadians first, Ontarians a distant second in terms of psyche. Harper's strategy may have the effect of galvanizing Ontarians against a perceived common threat. McGuinty, already emerging as a pseudo opposition leader, can frame himself as the defender of Ontario against the feds- this strategy has been quite effective elsewhere in Canada. Harper's hyper-politicism allows McGuinty the opportunity to show strong leadership and look Ontario's caretaker, which to date may be his biggest flaw heading into another election.

McGuinty will go to the the "fiscal imbalance" talks with the sole purpose of defending Ontario from the perceived incursions. If McGuinty is successful, then he demonstrates his effectiveness as Premier, if Ontario gets the shaft, he can play the "disenfranchised" card. Obviously, John Tory will attempt to use the argument that McGuinty is obstructionist and we need a Premier that will work with Ottawa, but there is a counter to this line and McGuinty has already begun to articulate it:
The Liberal premier chose his words carefully Friday as he responded to the comments by the new Conservative prime minister.

"I don't think it's helpful when it comes to establishing a good, positive, working relationship between the people's representative - duly elected - and the prime minister of Canada," McGuinty said. "But I will continue to make efforts to reach out to the prime minister."

However, Ontario Education Minister Sandra Pupatello wasn't nearly as diplomatic as her boss Friday in criticizing Harper's actions at the Conservative fundraiser.

"I think it is total inexperience on the part of the prime minister," Pupatello said in an interview. "He may really not realize how rude his behaviour is being interpreted, never mind by us, but by the people of Ontario."

As long as McGuinty gives the appearance that he is "reaching out", he blunts any criticism that he is unnecessarily confrontational. McGuinty must frame Harper as picking this fight and outside factors will serve as evidence. Afterall, Harper's electoral strategy is well known, which gives McGuinty's argument outside weight. Stephen Harper is "bad for Ontario" may be the buzzword for the next federal election. Good luck achieving a majority by writing off a third of the national seats- it's just bad math.

4 comments:

Pete said...

"Canadians first, Ontarians a distant second in terms of psyche."

I know what you mean. It's strange reading "Ontarian" and thinking that it applies to me.

talk talk talk said...

Ditto.

I wrote on this too, but from the perspective of John Tory. I'm worried that Harper will get McGuinty elected, in spite of all his broken promises and appearing weak on the national stage.

FurGaia said...

I too found Harper's conduct with the Premier of Ontario (never mind Dalton McGuinty) petty and rude. He may have been elected Prime Minister (albeit by the skin of his teeth), but he has still to "become" one.

Harper forgets that even if he is presiding over a minority government, he still for better or for worse represents all Canadians and as such has responsibilities vis-à-vis all of us. As our Prime Minister, he is bound to treat all of the Premiers of this land with respect, if not with warmth and congeniality, as the legitimate representative of their constituents. Pity Harper is still behaving as the petty and spiteful provincial MP!

Not that I am complaining! Suddenly McGuinty has grown in stature and class besides Harper! Way to go!

Simon Pole said...

This is a friggin huge misstep.

It will do nothing less than take the curse off all the Ontario candidates for the Liberal leadership.

Politicians from Ontario will now be seen as leading the charge against Tory "mean-spiritedness." They can cast themselves as representing the national interest rather than Toronto.