For those who follow Ontario politics closely, it’s a growing mystery.
Kathleen Wynne had a very good first few months in office – bucking the odds by getting a budget through her province’s minority legislature, while winning back some support for the governing Liberals on the strength of her personality. But a strange sort of policy inertia seems to have set in, in which the rookie Premier is failing to put forward an activist agenda that shows she has answers to the province’s economic and fiscal challenges, and as a result is struggling to turn the page from her party’s gas-plants scandal.
It’s not as though Ms. Wynne lacks for either personal energy or policy smarts. But there are a few other possible explanations for what’s going on.
She’s suffering for how she came into office
Like most leadership campaigns, the one to replace Dalton McGuinty was very light on policy. Unlike most winners of such contests, Ms. Wynne not only went straight to running government, but did so with a commitment to bring back the legislature almost immediately.
She and her advisers have since spent so much time dealing with Mr. McGuinty’s baggage and playing defence against a highly aggressive opposition – not to mention fighting mid-summer by-elections – that they’ve had limited chance to catch their breath and look forward.
Her priorities and the province’s short-term imperatives don’t easily align
Ms. Wynne is not as far to the left as some believe, but her “fair society” rhetoric upon taking office made clear her interest in social investments. She managed to do a bit of that through the budget, but the province’s $10-billion deficit means she doesn’t have much real money to play with. And while aggressively fighting that deficit might be framed as a way to maintain a social conscience in future, her appetite for cost-cutting appears limited.
That leaves her now identifying job creation as being her top focus, but it’s not clear if that’s out of conviction or because polls told her it’s what Ontarians want to hear.
She’s getting too much advice
It’s a refreshing change from Mr. McGuinty, who maintained an extremely small inner circle, that Ms. Wynne seeks wider counsel. She also has what is by all accounts a very sharp mind for policy, quickly grasping issues and asking smart questions about them. But it’s possible that she’s falling into the Paul Martin trap, in which too many voices and too much information leads to indecision. Sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, Mr. McGuinty was capable of picking a lane. It remains to be seen how easily Ms. Wynne can do likewise.
She took too much from her early success
There’s little sign that all the positive reviews early on caused Ms. Wynne’s ego to swell. But they may have given a little too much comfort to her and her team that she would be able to get by on charm and on her ability to play whatever cards were dealt to her.
After the Liberals entered the summer feeling pretty good about themselves, by-elections in which they lost three of five seats they held previously gave some pause. They may be paying for lacking enough urgency sooner.
She’s saving her best stuff for closer to an election
Many Liberals are now talking as though a general election next spring is inevitable. They also know they’ll be hard-pressed to get much of anything through the fractious legislature before then. So they may be waiting for a budget that could double as a campaign document to unveil their most substantive ideas.
That’s probably the most optimistic theory. But it would also suggest that Ontarians are in for another few months of their government doing little to change the status quo.