Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals have put up a strong front since winning a minority government in the Oct. 6 election, and will continue to do so when the legislature returns next month.
But on occasion, Mr. McGuinty will seek common ground with the opposition parties, if only to show that he listened to voters who handed him a weakened mandate. And there are at least a few potential compromises lurking.
A PALER SHADE OF GREEN
Mr. McGuinty is not about to back away from green energy, after doubling down heading into the election. Still, having lost most of their rural seats in Eastern and Southwestern Ontario, the Liberals could be looking to change the impression they’ve been indifferent to communities’ concerns.
During the campaign, Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives promised to restore municipalities’ authority over wind-energy projects within their boundaries. The Liberals have long argued that taking that power away was the only way to avoid developments getting endlessly bogged down by local politics.
Since the election, there has been a softening in some Liberals’ tones on that front. Without returning full control to municipal councils, the government may find a way to give them more say.
A staple of Mr. Hudak’s campaign stump speech was that if you take any three letters of the alphabet, you’ll get an acronym for some government agency, board or commission.
The Liberals don’t really disagree that there are too many such organizations. Having eliminated about a dozen (mostly low-profile) agencies in the final year of their last mandate, they seem open to chopping a bunch more.
Local Health Integration Networks, which Mr. Hudak and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath both want scrapped, are here to stay. The future of the Ontario Power Authority, which similarly fell into the PC Leader’s sights, is less certain. And in general, the energy sector seems a prime target for consolidation.
Both the Liberals and New Democrats promised in their platforms to expand homecare services. And while the Tories focused more on adding long-term care beds, it’s unlikely they’d object to keeping more ailing seniors in their homes.
Where the Liberals may find the need to move a little is on the structural side. Ms. Horwath claims it would be possible to spend less money while serving more patients, by chopping management and administrative costs by 20 per cent. That may be an exaggeration, but Liberals acknowledge there’s room for more efficiency.
The government probably won’t go as far as the NDP would like, which would involve ending the competitive bidding process and shifting homecare delivery to a single public system. But an overhaul of Community Care Access Centres, which co-ordinate regional homecare services, seems a reasonable prospect.
PAYING THE BUS FARE
The NDP pledged during the campaign to help municipalities by matching public transit operating costs dollar-for-dollar. In return, Ms. Horwath said, fares would have to be frozen for the next four years.
A straight 50-50 split could be difficult for the province to pull off, if austerity is the focus of the next budget. But the Liberals would have a hard time arguing against a more stable funding model.
One option would be to share more of the provincial gas tax with municipalities. The Tories might get behind that as well, since they called for it in their platform – albeit without the requirement it be spent on transit.
BELT-TIGHTENING IN THE BOARDROOMS
Mr. McGuinty’s officials are openly contemptuous of the NDP’s vow to cap the salaries of public-sector CEOs at about $420,000. They’re not wrong that, contrary to Ms. Horwath’s rhetoric, the savings would be marginal to the point of budgetary irrelevance.
But the Liberals are also aware they need to show they’re in touch with Ontarians struggling to get by. If they could hand Ms. Horwath a symbolic victory to get her support for other government policies, it could be worth their while.
The trick, if they go that route, will be to find a sweet spot – if such a thing exists – at which they can sate populist appetites without losing top executives to the private sector.