With a budget vote looming on Tuesday, Dalton McGuinty is hoping to find common ground with the New Democrats so that Andrea Horwath can lend her support. If he doesn’t, his government will have a hard time being re-elected, according to two polls released this week.
An Environics survey reported by Ontario News Watch shows support for the Liberals has dropped to only 27 per cent, well below the 38 per cent the party took in the Oct. 2011 election. The governing party is now third in public opinion, with the Progressive Conservatives sitting at 37 per cent and the New Democrats at 30 per cent.
For Tim Hudak, that is two points more than he took in the last election. For Andrea Horwath, that is a seven point leap.
A survey by Forum, released by the Toronto Star, puts the three parties in the same order. The Tories lead with 34 per cent, the NDP trails with 31 per cent and the Liberals bring up the rear with 28 per cent support.
Of course, the Tories held an even wider lead in the weeks before the last election campaign began. But what is different this time around is that the NDP has made a giant step forward, competing primarily with the Tories outside of the Greater Toronto Area, according to Environics.
The source for the NDP’s newfound popularity is its leader. Andrea Horwath outscores both Hudak and McGuinty by a wide margin, with 46 per cent approval compared to only 27 per cent for McGuinty and 24 per cent for Hudak. However, it should be recalled that Horwath was the most popular leader throughout the last election campaign as well, when the NDP finished third with 23 per cent of the vote and 17 seats.
But the changes that Horwath and the NDP are hoping to see in the budget are resonating with Ontarians. According to Forum, fully 78 per cent of voters support their plan for tax increases on salaries over $500,000. It is solid populist red meat that Finance Minister Dwight Duncan and the Liberals will have difficulty ignoring.
On the Liberals' side, however, is the reluctance the NDP might have to pull the plug on the government. Elections are rarely popular, only 34 per cent support holding another vote so soon after the last one, and 60 per cent are against it. This would only serve to drive turnout down even further, a state of affairs that would most likely penalize the New Democrats, considering they get much of their support from groups that already do not turn out in big numbers.
The polls do, on the other hand, give Andrea Horwath a good deal of bargaining power. The Liberals know that what the NDP is proposing is popular and that the New Democrats have more to lose in supporting the budget than they do in defeating the government and taking their chances on the hustings. Will cooler heads prevail?
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls, and electoral projections.
The 2012 Ontario budget freezes pay for doctors, and extends a pay freeze for health care executives. The province will begin means-testing seniors' prescription drugs, paid for under the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan, effectively meaning that the 5 per cent wealthiest seniors covered by the plan will have to pay more into the plan. Seniors with incomes over $100,000 and senior couples with combined incomes above $160,000 will be affected. Increases in health care spending will be capped at 2.1 per cent per year.
The budget freezes pay for teachers. A pay freeze for educational executives, already in place, will be extended. School boards in low-population areas will be amalgamated, and "under-utilized" schools will be shut. Student transportation will be cut by $34 million.
The province will begin means-testing seniors' prescription drugs, paid for under the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan, effectively meaning that the 5 per cent wealthiest seniors covered by the plan will have to pay more into the plan. Seniors with incomes over $100,000 and senior couples with combined incomes above $160,000 will be affected.
Welfare rates will be frozen and planned increases to the Ontario Child Benefit will be delayed.
There are no tax hikes in the 2012 Ontario budget, but it does freeze the corporate tax rate at 11.5 per cent, foregoing planned reductions in the tax rate to 10 per cent. The freeze is expected to save $1.5 billion over three years.
Ontario will cap the 10 per cent hydro bill rebate at 3,000 kilowatt-hours, a limit high enough that most homes won't be affected, but businesses could be. Reducing the tax credit will save $470 million over three years.
On top of the four jails the province already plans to close, the budget adds two more to the closure list -- one in Brantford and one in Chatham. Overtime for jail guards and the Ontario Provincial Police will be reduced.
Ontario plans to reduce spending on business support programs by $250 million by merging a number of different programs.
The province aims to increase revenue by increasing the number of gambling facilities. [Details to come]