Final year of mandate is crunch time for Wynne
With the Ontario Legislature set to resume on February 21 for its 2017 winter/spring session, prospects for another election victory in 2018 for Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals seem to be eroding. With Wynne’s approval ratings at an historic low of 13 per cent, it would appear the chances of a fifth Liberal mandate, and second for Wynne, are dimming. Having suffered a devastating 2016 by-election loss in the apparently safe Toronto-area riding of Scarborough—Rouge River, Wynne has acknowledged that her government has lost focus on the day-to-day financial struggles of Ontarians. Her mea culpa on hydro rate increases and her statement that financial relief is on the way may help many cope with the rate increases, but it does not ameliorate the perception that she is out of touch with ordinary Ontarians.
When Wynne emerged victorious in the Liberal leadership contest in 2013, many perceived her as a breath of fresh air who would do politics differently. Her deft handling of past Liberal scandals, such as the gas plant cancellations, was crucial in her stunning majority government victory in the 2014 general election. Wynne entered her mandate with great hope and optimism. But the realities of day-to-day governing slowly started to dull that hope and optimism for many Ontarians. And, with Wynne’s desire to ameliorate as many of society’s ills as possible during her tenure, her focus may have become dispersed. For any politician trying to create broad changes in society, focusing on a few issues becomes difficult. While it may be true that Wynne has paid specific attention to a few major issues such as transportation infrastructure, her partial sell-off of hydro has enraged many of those who voted for her in 2014.
In the last year of her mandate, Wynne will need to convince voters that she cares more about tangible improvements in the lives of Ontarians, and less about trying to fix all of society’s problems. If she is able to do that, she may have a chance to win again. Failing that, she may be headed for a devastating defeat.