Bad news keeps coming for Kath­leen Wynne

Some vet­eran MPPs are re­tir­ing, but it looks bad when others leave as an elec­tion looms

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - BOB HEP­BURN Bob Hep­burn’s col­umn ap­pears in Torstar news­pa­pers. bhep­burn@thes­tar.ca

Kath­leen Wynne can’t seem to buy a break this sum­mer when it comes to bad news.

With her per­sonal approval rat­ing near all-time lows and the Lib­er­als con­tin­u­ing to trail the Con­ser­va­tives badly in opin­ion polls, the On­tario premier is fac­ing a fresh wave of neg­a­tive news with just 10 months to go be­fore the next elec­tion.

First, Wynne will come un­der heavy pub­lic scru­tiny when she tes­ti­fies in early Septem­ber in a Sud­bury bribery trial in which her for­mer deputy chief of staff Pa­tri­cia Sor­bara and Lib­eral fundraiser Gerry Lougheed are ac­cused of vi­o­lat­ing Elec­tions Act laws. The trial will re­vive charges that her gov­ern­ment is rid­dled with scan­dals.

Sec­ond, a new poll taken in mid-July sug­gests the Lib­er­als may suf­fer huge elec­toral losses in down­town Toronto, con­sid­ered the strong­est of the party’s strongholds.

The sur­vey, con­ducted by Main­stream Re­search and pro­vided to QP Brief­ing news­let­ter, in­di­cated 49 per cent of vot­ers in the city of Toronto sup­port the Tories, 31 per cent the Lib­er­als and 15 per cent the NDP. Even in the down­town core the Con­ser­va­tives led the Lib­er­als by a 43-37 mar­gin.

If the re­sults hold, the Lib­er­als could be head­ing for a mas­sive de­feat in the June 7, 2018, elec­tion, given that the Con­ser­va­tives have solid leads in al­most all parts of On­tario. In­deed, there’s a real pos­si­bil­ity the Lib­er­als could fin­ish in third place if the NDP holds on to the 20 seats it now has in the leg­is­la­ture.

Third, Wynne lost one of her key cab­i­net min­is­ters when En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Glen Mur­ray re­signed on Mon­day. Mur­ray, who rep­re­sents the Toronto Cen­tre rid­ing, isn’t the first Lib­eral MPP to jump ship be­fore the coming elec­tion — and he isn’t likely to be the last.

While both Wynne and Mur­ray, who will now head the Cal­gary-based Pem­bina In­sti­tute, in­sisted the res­ig­na­tion isn’t a vote of non-con­fi­dence in the Lib­er­als’ re-elec­tion chances, a high turnover rate in a rul­ing party’s ranks is of­ten a sig­nal of bad re­sults to come. That was true in the 2015 fed­eral elec­tion when Stephen Harper lost more than 25 per cent of his cau­cus, in­clud­ing high-pro­file min­is­ters, such as John Baird, Peter MacKay and James Moore, be­fore the vote was called.

In the past year, sev­eral other On­tario cab­i­net min­is­ters have re­signed, in­clud­ing Madeleine Meilleur in Ot­tawa and David Ora­zi­etti in Sault Ste. Marie. Speaker Dave Le­vac has announced he won’t seek re­elec­tion, as has vet­eran Toronto MPPs Mario Ser­gio and Monte Kwin­ter. Both have been at Queen’s Park for decades. Kwin­ter, at 86, is ac­tu­ally the old­est MPP ever to serve.

The Con­ser­va­tives have nom­i­nated vir­tu­ally all their can­di­dates for the 2018 elec­tion. How­ever, the Lib­er­als still have dozens of rid­ings with­out can­di­dates, in­clud­ing many oc­cu­pied by a sit­ting MPP. Even Wynne ex­pects even more of her MPPs to pack it in.

Their pub­lic rea­sons will range from hav­ing served for decades, want­ing more time to spend with fam­ily or find­ing a new job in the pri­vate or pub­lic sec­tor. None will ad­mit they are leav­ing be­cause they see the Lib­er­als as a sink­ing ship and they fear they will lose seats in the next elec­tion or be rel­e­gated to the back­bench op­po­si­tion row.

At Queen’s Park, Lib­eral in­sid­ers in­sist the current turnover is all part of nor­mal churn, sug­gest­ing that “at the end of the day you need a slate of can­di­dates that bal­ances ex­pe­ri­ence with new blood.”

As for Glen Mur­ray, his res­ig­na­tion won’t put his seat in jeop­ardy. It’s con­sid­ered the sec­ond safest Lib­eral rid­ing in On­tario, topped only by Health Min­is­ter Eric Hoskins’ down­town Toronto rid­ing of St. Paul’s.

“There’s no good time to get into pol­i­tics and no great time to get out of pol­i­tics.” Mur­ray told re­porters.

True, but it sure doesn’t help an em­bat­tled leader like Wynne when a key cab­i­net min­is­ter sud­denly quits on the eve of an elec­tion.

In­deed, it can cause any party to scram­ble for high-pro­file re­place­ments and the party can lose the ad­van­tage of name recog­ni­tion, which is crit­i­cal in close rid­ing races.

For Wynne, though, such a last-minute res­ig­na­tion, cou­pled with the bad Toronto poll re­sult and the coming Sud­bury elec­tion bribery trial, only adds to her mis­ery.

If she can survive this sum­mer’s wave of bad news and start to re­verse her party’s for­tunes this fall, she will give the Lib­er­als some hope that an elec­tion mir­a­cle is pos­si­ble by the time next sum­mer rolls around.

MARK BLINCH, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Premier Kath­leen Wynne with MPP Glen Mur­ray, who is re­sign­ing Sept. 1. Some re­tire­ments make sense. Monte Kwin­ter is 86. But are some leav­ing be­cause Lib­er­als are down in the polls?

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