The Ontario budget is the starting gun for a provincial election just over a year from now. For most people, budgets are dry affairs filled with lots of charts and numbers. Economists, pundits and stakeholders pore over these documents and then go out and pronounce their verdict in a Groundhog Day media circus that few pay attention to.
Recently, governments have made major announcements prior to the budget presentation. In some ways it has become anti-climactic since we already know what most of the government’s big plans are.
So today’s event is more political theatre than substantive governing. It pulls the pre-budget announcements together and puts them into a neat package.
But most importantly it sets the government’s direction and priorities.
After years of fiscal restraint the province, according to its own calculations, is in balance. It also projects that it will be in balance for the next few years.
As a result there is now room to spend on the Premier’s agenda. She has indicated that some of those priorities include a basic income pilot project, increased daycare spaces, housing and hydro relief in addition to her already announced infrastructure and transit commitments.
It is a Liberal election tenet that you campaign from the left and govern from the right.
With the NDP learning their lessons after the failures of both the provincial and federal party to gain traction with voters by campaigning on fiscal issues, Andrea Horwath has signaled a return to NDP progressive dogma.
For his part, Patrick Brown continues to offer little of substance on how he would govern. His chameleon-like effort to be all things to all people has not offended anyone but has not earned him much support either.
So Wynne is appealing to a set of key demographics that she hopes will form a winning coalition of voters in the next election. Among these key demographics are workingwomen, senior women, mothers with children, labour, millennials, urbanites/suburbanites and minorities.
In this respect the budget addresses a number of these demographic groups. Plus Wynne has hinted that there will be additional policy announcements that will target the concerns of those not covered off in this budget.
Wynne’s efforts are designed to showcase the government and not her. Given her poor personal appeal compared to the party it is not surprising. A recent Campaign Research poll found that PCs were leading the Liberals by only five percentage points and the NDP was six points back of the Liberals.
What the Liberals are attempting to do is show as much contrast between them and the Tories as possible and take up the progressive middle that the NDP is trying to regain. When voters see clear differences between parties it makes it easier to sort things out and it becomes less of a personality driven campaign.
Don’t doubt that strong leadership will be a hallmark of the Liberal campaign against Patrick Brown. Wynne will wrap herself in the Ontario flag and position herself as the only leader that can defend provincial workers against Donald Trump and “Buy American” forces, having already succeeded in beating back an attempt in New York State.
So the budget serves as a convenient springboard to rev up the troops and get out on the road selling the latest Liberal strategy for salvation and success. In this respect it is exactly the reboot Wynne needs in order to stay in power.
Marcel Wieder is President and Chief Advocate of Aurora Strategy Group. He is an award winning political consultant who has worked on campaigns for over forty years.