Bad news keeps coming for Kathleen Wynne
Some veteran MPPs are retiring, but it looks bad when others leave as an election looms
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.
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?