To a person, Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals insist they are excited about the budget they will introduce on Thursday and want it to be passed.
Still, they might pull the plug on their government as early as next week.
A strong contingent of Liberals – including, many sources say, campaign boss David Herle – is arguing that if New Democrats do not signal some willingness to support the budget shortly after it is introduced, the Premier should call an election quickly rather than wait to be brought down.
The quasi-official reason for this impatience, offered by MPPs and advisers alike, is that their financial plan is too important to be delayed, and that the third party should easily be able to support it. Liberals also somewhat unabashedly point out that because most of the budget’s contents have already leaked, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has no excuse for the lengthy deliberations she favoured the past couple of springs.
There are a few better reasons, though, why Ms. Wynne might soon visit the Lieutenant-Governor.
To begin with, the last thing the Liberals want is to cede the spotlight to Ms. Horwath for several weeks while she slowly makes a case against their government before finally announcing she can no longer allow it to stand. The Liberals will be competing primarily against the NDP, more than the Progressive Conservatives, for votes during a campaign, and they are mindful that post-budget attention last year seemed to cause a temporary uptick in that party’s numbers.
If they decide at least a few days in advance when the campaign would be called, and were able to prevent it leaking out, the Liberals could also have a significant readiness. For instance, they could buy prime television advertising space – something in relatively short supply, and too expensive for parties to pay for if they are not certain they will need it.
On top of those considerations, the Liberals would want to make sure an election happens before school lets out for the summer. To the extent Ms. Wynne’s party can still rely on the support of teachers, as in past elections, they would be much easier to mobilize before the summer vacation.
The Liberals’ opponents further speculate that a quick election would prevent more embarrassing legislative committee hearings into the gas-plants saga. While it is enormously unlikely that would be enough incentive for a writ drop – few Ontarians are going to get much more enraged by that scandal – it could be a side benefit.
However, the Liberals are far from united on the merits of going to the polls soon; a chunk of caucus, in fact, is quite vocally opposed.
The best argument from that side is that Ms. Wynne’s pitch to her province has revolved partly around her desire to “make government work” and be reasonable in dealing with other parties. Abruptly triggering an election before the NDP ruled out playing ball could confuse her brand.
Here too, though, is a less overt reason. Plainly, some MPPs – particularly in regions, outside the Toronto area, where the Liberals’ polling numbers are dire – are not confident of keeping their seats even if their party clings to power. So they will hang on to any hope of surviving another year until it is extinguished.
Even relatively cautious Liberals do not seem to expect Ms. Wynne to wait until the end of May, as she could, to see if the NDP might be brought on board. It will be up to the Premier, in the days ahead, to listen to the competing voices and decide how impatient to be.