Liberals Eye 2018 Election With 2017 Budget
With the release of the 2017 budget by the governing Ontario Liberals, the unofficial election campaign for 2018 has begun. With their centerpiece promise of pharmacare, featuring free prescription drugs to youth aged 24 years old or younger, the Liberals hope that this budget will propel them to a fifth consecutive mandate from the Ontario electorate. While some may see this promise as the desperate last-minute “Hail Mary” pass from, as public opinion polls reveal, a politically unpopular Premier Kathleen Wynne, Liberals, nonetheless, see it as a continuation of their self-described agenda of making life better for Ontarians.
While pharmacare was the centerpiece of the budget, the Liberals also announced that they had achieved their promised balanced budget goal for this fiscal year. With their balanced budget accomplished, Liberals are confident that they can spend on programs that will help Ontarians and, ultimately, their own re-election prospects.
The Liberals will get an opportunity to gauge the popularity of their budget prior to the 2018 general election because a byelection has been called for Thursday, June 1 in the recently vacated riding of Sault Ste. Marie. With former Liberal Cabinet Minister David Orazietti resigning at the end of 2016, Wynne had until the end of June to call the byelection. With all three parties having already nominated current or former municipal politicians to contest the race, the byelection will be an important barometer of the Liberals’ future political chances. And for Wynne, the stakes in the byelection are very high, as the Liberals have held the riding since Orazietti’s first victory in 2003. So, a byelection loss in this northern Ontario riding would do great damage to the prospects of regaining the seat in the subsequent general election. It would also significantly erode Wynne’s political outlook beyond her strong Greater Toronto Area base. If the Liberals were to lose the byelection, despite a budget that is perceived as politically saleable, the pressure on Wynne to reconsider her political future would resume. For Wynne, if the Liberals can’t win the byelection, she needs to hope that they are, at least, competitive. A poor showing would greatly demoralize Liberals and reignite questions about Wynne’s continued leadership, despite her assertions that she will still lead her party into the 2018 election.